Here in Chesnee, South Carolina
[Originally published at https://www.theodysseyonline.com/@gracinwatson]
It's a three-red light town with a population of about 890, and that's enough for me.
If you search Chesnee, South Carolina on the Internet you will find some basic facts. These might include facts like the population hovers around 890 people, or the Bike Rally draws antique bike fanatics each July. You might discover that Trade Day, Chesnee's flea market, is comparable to a community holiday on Monday and Thursday mornings in the summer months. You can learn a lot about Chesnee, but here's what the Internet won't tell you.
You cannot see how each student of the 140+ graduating class is treated like a celebrity. You cannot see the standing ovations, the cheers and the tears that fill the small football stadium each May. You cannot see the parents' eyes fill with hope for a better life, more opportunities and pride. You cannot see the calloused hands of the dads grab their sons and daughters with excitement and relief that their children are going to make it.
You can't see how a car accident involving a beloved softball coach can bring the town to its knees. You cannot see how tragedies shake the ground beneath the feet of these citizens. You cannot understand why when my mom, the elementary school's principal, had a minor surgery, meals piled up on our door step. You cannot understand why cancer discoveries bring tears to the eyes of the entire town. Why hot dogs are sold, and silent auctions are held in hopes of lifting some of the financial burdens of hospital stays.
Gossip spreads like wildfire, but so do celebrations. You cannot comprehend the way each new generation is rallied behind. They are supported, and they are prayed over. Their football games cause businesses to close early. They are bragged about in the surrounding towns. Their state championships, scholarships, college acceptances, awards, and recognition are proclaimed to the world by this city. They are celebrated with town parades, district-wide announcements, and newspaper articles. Each August, when I return home and work in my dad's small business in the heart of this small town, the number of times I am congratulated on completing another year of college exceeds my expectation. This town, all 890 of the citizens, have had my back through it all.
See, there are things about a small, three-red light town that you just cannot understand unless you live there.
In his song "Small Town USA," Justin Moore sings, "A lot of people called it prison when I was growin' up, but these are my roots and this is what I love. 'Cause everybody knows me and I know them, and I believe that's the way we were supposed to live."
Chesnee has no movie theaters, no bowling alleys, and no bars. It has no clubs, very few restaurants, and only two banks. Chesnee does not have a lot to offer, and most of the people in this mill village don't have lot to live on. But what we do have here is each other, and that's all I need.
As Moore put it, "I wouldn't trade one single day. I am proud to say I love this place... here in Small Town, USA."