Friday, December 30, 2011

Waxing nostalgic for the community of small-town America

David Brooks' column yesterday focused on the small city of St. Francisville, Louisiana, population 1,712    (which is part of nonmetropolitan West Feliciana Parish, population 15,625). In particular, Brooks told of how native son (and conservative blogger) Rod Dreher had moved back to St. Francisville after living in a number of large cities.  He moved "home" because his sister Ruthie, then aged 40, had fallen ill with a virulent form of cancer.  The main point of Brooks' column seems to be how the town rallied around Ruthie.  Brooks describes how the town declared April 10, 2010, Ruthie Leming Day and how more than half of the town went to a fund-raising concert for her.  Someone even brought a camper-trailer so Ruthie would have a place to rest and take oxygen.  Dreher blogged:
The outpouring--an eruption, really--of goodness and charity from the people of our town has been quite simply stunning.  The acts of aid and comfort have been ceaseless, often reducing our parents to tears of shock and awe.
Ultimately, Dreher and his family decide to stay in St. Francisville rather than return to the Philadelphia area.  Dreher wrote:
Standing in Ruthie's kitchen the day after she died, laughing with all of [her husband] Mike's friends who had surrounded him to hold him up ('We're leaning, but we're leaning on each other,' Mike later said), I thought, 'Even with all the sadness, there's no place else in the world I'd rather be.'
Brooks continues:
They wanted to be enmeshed in a tight community.  They wanted to be around Ruthie's daughters, and they wanted their kids to be abel to go deer hunting with Mike.  They wanted to where the family had been for five generations and to participate in the rituals ....  They decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being part of a community.
The story of Dreher's family is undeniably very moving, but it leaves me wanting to know a few things.  Did Ruthie and her family have medical insurance?  If not, did the benefit concert raise enough funds to significantly defray the expenses associated with her treatment?  I value family and attachment to place as much as just about anyone, but I sometimes think we make too much of these small-town, communitarian tropes.  Would a family less esteemed in St. Francisville have been so supported by the community?  Where is "class" in this tale?  Where is race--the 46% of the parish who are black?  Where are the cold, hard economic realities of making do in places like West Feliciana Parish?  

No comments: