Why Small Towns Matter So Much

For the past several years when I feel a need for a geographical (and spiritual) reprieve, I get into the trusty 2002 Toyota and head for Kernersville, my family’s personal oasis.  I take the long way from Greensboro, heading down W. Market Street, and enjoy passing the airport with all its impressive planes, going under an old bridge and by two roundabouts, stopping momentarily in Colfax to give the Bichon Frise a chance for a leisurely stroll.  With not much of a specific plan in mind, we engage in what an Italian friend calls “dolce far niente”- the sweetness of doing nothing.  Moments later we have entered Kernersville and, passing Whit’s Frozen Custard, I say out loud “See you in a couple of hours,” savoring the thought of a chocolate treat later .

Approaching Kernersville, we pass by a very old brick building with a gathering of vintage automobiles in the lot. We stop to take a photo, inspecting a green weather-beaten, but still regal, vehicle and feel as if we are frozen in a 1940s moment of time and a history no longer much in our grasp.From there we take a short walk in the Paul Ciener Botanic Gardens and check out some unusual blooms; we find a quince plant growing, something we have never seen or heard a word about. It is much like finding a quiet little treasure when doing so was the last thing on your mind. The garden is a bastion of peace and I say a little prayer thanking God for His omniscience and even the smallest beauties which are here on all of nature’s grounds.

On this particular Saturday, focused on finding the unexpected, which Kernersville always delivers, we come upon a Vintage Thrift Faire on the grounds of Kerner’s Folly.  Even though the heat is blazing, I find what I always do in this lovely city:  its denizens are so polite and eager to chat. I recall a quote from Jorie McDonald in the May issue of Southern Living– “There are three things Southerners take very seriously: fried food, college football, and good manners.”  When we drop by Musten & Crutchfield to pick up some locally produced items, the owner comes up to me and starts talking.  He personifies the habits of the heart and small town hospitality that is apparent everywhere.

Still looking for the unexpected, while walking downtown, we happen upon the earliest known building in Kernersville – the Spears House at 307 S. Main Street.  Its architectural loveliness stops us in our tracks and we take a photo of my son in his well-worn, beloved University of California, Berkeley t-shirt, holding his dog.  A Kernersville friend has told us not to miss the iconic 1925 Pinnix Drugstore Colonial Revival building, erected on a lot previously owned by the Sapp family who had a dry goods store there. The style and plain brick veneering and its large show windows hearken back to a former history when the building was also home to the telephone company and the town’s post office.  Although the drug store closed in 1986 it still contributes mightily to the historic district’s feel of days-gone-by.

Bent on exploring the city more, we stop at the library, disembark and suddenly see a beautiful spotted fawn on the lawn adjoining the building.  A passerby remarks to me that Kernersville has many deer, and bears as well.    Suddenly I am gratefully in the thick of conversation.  I remember a remark by the writer Sylvia Plath who said, “I love people.  Everybody. I love them, I think, as a stamp collector loves his collection.  Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me.”  As we are speaking, I am taking mental notes to include his reflections in an upcoming piece.  A second later my son who has gone ahead with his Bichon Frise, yells out “Mom, there’s a little lake here!”  Again, the unexpected has occurred and we move close in, better to observe the Canada geese and their rambunctious goslings.

After a stop at Whit’s for dessert on the ride back to Greensboro, I think about a Southern neighbor’s words about being “worn slap out.” I now know that the expression means “super exhausted” and it ably describes our own now-weary state.   A day spent in reach of a grueling sun has made us hot but put in high relief the sparkling beauty of Kernersville and the gentility of its citizenry. On a cooler day we will return to our beloved small town and rejoice in both new, old and unexpected things that Kernersville has in store for us.  We can always count on the kindness of strangers here and a helpful and well-intentioned word.


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