Hornbeak, Tennessee - our closest town - has an official population of 413. Average annual household income is just under $34,000, and property values here run significantly lower than the state average.
Hornbeak is a small town, and there's a lot we don't have here. No radio or TV station. No community college or YMCA. No McDonald's, no Wal-Mart, no Kroger, no Lowe's. No movie theatre or bowling alley. No coffee shop or bookstore. No dentist, doctor's office, or hospital. And not a single traffic light. Also, in the five years since we've been back in the area, there hasn't been a single murder, aggravated assault, or gang-related crime.
But we do have Lovette's Hardware store. The two ladies working the counter actually come out to wander the aisles with you, whether you're looking for a toilet, a radio alarm clock, or a jar of local honey. And they'll ask you if you're planning on going to the bean supper next Saturday down at the Fire Station, and they'll tell you who else is going to be there.
And we have Charles Harris's barber shop, which is the best place to find out who has died recently, whose uncle is in the hospital, how to grow good tomatoes, and where the fish are biting on Reelfoot Lake. Charles doesn't do hair styles - but, if you're kind of particular about your hair, you can walk to the back of the shop and his daughter will fix you up in her one-chair beauty parlor.
And we have BestWay, our local gas station/convenience store. The prices are a bit high, but if you're in a pinch and need diapers for the baby or ice for your cooler, it sure beats driving 25 minutes to Union City. You can check in your deer with the TWRA, and then brag about your hunting success to the old-timers hanging out in the parking lot.
And we have Blackley Chevrolet, the oldest Chevrolet dealership in Tennessee. Shoot, in a good economy, they may have 20 vehicles on their lot at one time.
And we have the junk store, the taxidermist's shop, the U.S. Post Office, and a tiny branch office of Reelfoot Bank.
In a hometown, what more could a person want?
(A quick aside in light of the media maelstrom surrounding the recent house fire in South Fulton: I think it incredible that people all across our country think there should be no problem with rural towns providing fire protection for home-owners living outside their municipalities. The average citizen of Hornbeak lives below the poverty level. There are not a LOT of these citizens, either. Their fire department is manned by volunteers, with very limited and dated equipment. These small knots of people get together, pool their meager resources, and figure out a way to try to help their towns. Then some stranger in New York or Oregon writes our local paper to say, basically, "Hey, if you guys are going to take care of your own little communities, then you have to take care of folks living way out in the hills and hollers, too. You're just a bunch of heartless, unfair hicks!" Perhaps instead of hammering rural fire departments, these concerned citizens should step up to the plate themselves and offer to personally sponsor one of these fire departments or help fund fire protection for out-lying communities. Folks, life is hard out here in the sticks, sometimes it's bone-crushing hard, and it comes with some pretty high-stakes risks. Most of us living out here know that, and we don't expect all the amenities of living in a big city. But we take our chances and choose to live here anyway, because we think it's worth it.)
2 days ago