When I think of villages I picture country hamlets in Ireland or Swiss chalets snuggled inside a valley framed by snowcapped mountains. I love villages.
Louisiana has parishes; Pennsylvania has townships; New York may still have a few touristy type villages, but authentic ones are dwindling. That makes me sad.
I discovered the village of St. Simons Island over fifty years ago. Legend has it that if St. Simons sand gets in your shoes you will always return. For many summers my young sons and I came back to frolic on the beach and eat shellfish until our skin turned the color of cooked shrimp. We plodded the shoreline in search of non-existent shark’s teeth and, after filling our shoes with as much sand as they would hold, we hit the village to fill our tummies with homemade ice cream.
My little boys had grown into fine young men by the time I went to St. Simons to live. Like the Resurrection Fern found on the island, the village bathed and transformed my wilted spirit and quickly welcomed me home like a mother.
Some years later, as hot flashes and global warming took control of our maturing bodies, we bought a summer cottage in the mountains. It took a while to find it, but our search paid off one fine day when a North Carolina village blipped on our personal radar screen.
Saluda, North Carolina lays claim to a main thoroughfare not much longer than a football field. Shops and restaurants line one side of the street with a playground on the other. This is a village where children still play outdoors on swing sets and monkey bars, and residents enjoy hearing their squeals of laughter. I love that sound.
It is reported that Saluda is the town that time forgot, a haven for those of us wishing we were still back in the day. We were lucky to find a village so like St. Simons knowing that we would have the best of both worlds.
People don’t text in restaurants in either one of my villages. Friendly townfolk make time for chatting with each other while munching hamburgers, hot dogs and milk shakes served in metal shakers.
Should you wander alone into one of the local cafés, someone will likely invite you to sit with them. That's when you will get news of grandbabies born the week before or an update on the Historical Society project. You will learn about the produce at the tailgate market. “The veggies are terrific this year,” you'll hear. “Best doggone corn and tomatoes since 1945.”
There could be a report on the Humane Society’s recent fundraiser when enough money was donated to build a new animal shelter. You may learn that local thespians plan to perform, “It’s a Wonderful Life” in December.
A tear or two might form in your table mate’s eyes as he tells you, “It’s official. Taps at Twilight will be held annually every Memorial Day along with a community barbeque in the park. All proceeds will go to the local chapter of the Wounded Warriors Project.”
My Georgia and North Carolina village people don’t bother to text because they prefer real conversations. They still speak and spell the language they learned in grammar school and they don’t even want to know what major innovations have taken place in the Silicon Valley.
My village people don’t give a hoot about fiber optics because electronics are not allowed to run their lives, inhibit their conversations or steal their humanity.
You won’t find my village people on Facebook or Twitter. They use Ma Bell to ask about a friend’s son serving in Afghanistan or if they just feel like saying, “Hey, how’s your mama and them.”
They support the lonely veteran struggling to adjust to a life without legs. They sit in church with the recent widow who feels abandoned since the love of life can no longer sit by her side. They attend town meetings; they donate blood to the Red Cross and they always vote.
My village people know that when you care and nurture each other it makes a difference.
After spending the last few years driving back and forth, we have decided to settle permanently in the village of Saluda. We know we will miss St. Simons Island especially on rainy days, but that's when the memories we collected through the years will resurface ~ just like Resurrection Fern.