How "Places" Help Us Slow Down & Rediscover What's Real
There are “places” in my life that allow me to slow down—and feel the most like me. Does that make sense? Are there places in your life where you feel the most like you? Places where you’re most relaxed. Places where you feel, or once felt, you belong. Places where you identify with your surroundings on a deep emotional level—but you’re not sure why. Places that draw out your “best self.”
I have two of those places. One is where I went to college, the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. I’ll talk about that in a future newsletter. Another is a small town in the South. Leonard, Missouri. Population 66. (Last time I checked.) My grandmother was once the oldest living resident there. But I suppose at 103 she would be the oldest resident anywhere she lived.
Leonard is the birthplace of my father and the destination of our annual family vacations growing up. There wasn’t much to see—except the relatives we loved and my Uncle Eddie’s farm. But it was more than enough for six city kids hankering to hang out with family and farm animals.
Take a walk with me there now.
Let’s start our walk from my grandmother’s house, then head up to the family farm…
A warm feeling washes over me as I walk down the dusty road that is likely Main Street. (There is no street sign.) Across the street is the only gas station in town. Local boys are sitting on worn kitchen chairs adjacent to the gas pumps playing cards over a barrel. A Coke machine with the original glass bottles and bottle caps stands behind them. They wave as if they know me. I’ve never seen them before, but it doesn’t matter. This is the South. They don’t have to know me to be friendly. I dip my head in response. I feel like I’m in a time warp. Everything just slowed down—or stopped.
Along the road is the only restaurant in town, the only grocery store in town and, of course, the only post office in town. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to call this Main Street.
Down the street is the only church and the only cemetery. It's the final resting place for my grandfather I never met, and my uncle, who never saw age 10. I would have liked to have known my grandfather. I'd love to meet the man who helped shape two boys that would later become great men of integrity--my father, and Uncle Carl.
On a gravel road, perpendicular to Main Street, I turn left and walk past a creek over a small, wooden plank bridge on my way to Uncle Eddie and Aunt Mildred’s farm. A pick-up truck drives by. Of course, the driver beeps and waves. He leaves a cloud of dust in his wake. Pastures line both sides of the hilly road. I pause. The aroma is a blend of hot, humid summer air—and livestock in the distance. It’s the fragrance of a farm—it’s filled with memories—and it brings me home. The scent is distinct. Familiar. Somehow reassuring. I continue to walk, remembering childhood summers here with my five siblings visiting cousins Roger and Vicki.
Vicki is warm, engaging, confident and forever cheerful, just like her mom, Aunt Mildred. She makes us feel loved. Roger, even as a teenager, is a straight talking, cowboy boots-wearing, no-nonsense guy, like his father, Uncle Eddie. Yet, he has a twinkle in his eye—he can’t wait to pull a prank on his naïve, unsuspecting cousins from the big city.
I turn right at the end of the road and approach the family farm. I see the farmhouse and the barn. I remember horseback riding on Topsy and later, Pride; playing with the puppies of the farm dogs, Queenie and Ginger; building campfires in the woods; fishing in the pond out back with brother Bob; running the bacon clean off the pigs with brother Chris; and chasing chickens (just to see if I could catch them). Why our relatives put up with us city slickers, I’ll never know.
I walk back to Grandma’s house as the sun sets. I find her waiting for me on the porch swing. “You were out for a walk, were ya,” she says with a smile. “Well, that’s alright now. I expect you’re hungry.” After she steps into the house, the screen door slams behind her. I sit and sway gently on the porch swing, realizing it’s the perfect metaphor for a simpler life. I hear the shrill of cicadas in the treetops and the crickets begin their ballad as night falls. It's not all I hear. I can hear myself think. My busy city life is now muted and in perspective.
Life feels different here. Always has. It's slower. Simpler. Happier. Family conversations over chicken dinner at Grandma’s after church are rich, meaningful, sometimes silly, but always memorable. Southern cooking, southern hospitality, and southern accents make life feel real. Genuine. Authentic.
Leonard, Missouri is small town America. There’s not much left there now. But there is a place—an old house and a farm down the road chock-full of memories. Memories that still speak to my heart—and somehow flush out my best self.
Where do you go to bring out your best self? Let me know.
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