My parents would be the first to tell you I probably wasn't much of a farmhand growing up. A set of knees and elbows don't lend themselves well to manual labor. But as I've gotten older I long for the days of working cattle and just being on the farm. (Side note: For those of you from Texas, we call everything a "farm" where I'm from. You have a crop farm or a cattle farm. For those of you from Arkansas, people from Texas are very particular about a farm versus a ranch.)
I grew up in this little community called Jethro. Back in the day Jethro had a schoolhouse and post office, but that was way before my time. Now Jethro has a few family farms, access to the Mulberry River, a Pentecostal church, and nostalgia of hay meadows and friendly neighbors (half of whom are related). Every time we plan a visit back home, my mom asks what I want to do. Every answer has some version of riding 4wheelers to see the cows and the neighbors, and no trip would be complete without Mrs. Helen coming for breakfast at least once.
A couple of weeks ago we finally got to go back. It was the longest stretch of my life without being in Arkansas--6 hard months. Some may laugh at that, but I was having one of the most homesick spells of my life. Mom knew I was homesick something fierce, so she scheduled for their hay to be cut as we were getting into town. My heart exploded from the smell of freshly cut hay (one of my two favorite smells--I also love the smell of horse sweat).
During the week Cash and I took out on the gator by ourselves in what I would call the longest date we've had since having 2 children. We checked cows (well, we will say check loosely), rode around the farm, drove to the river, and stopped at the cemetery. It was at this stop that I realized so much of what I love today, despite now being 600 miles away, is because of this little community.
|Oak Ridge Cemetery, across from JCC|
|Jethro Community Center|
|Jethro Community Center|
Throughout college I would drive home on election days and vote right there in the Jethro Community Center. I grew to love politics, and it is no doubt that that love was revealed while checking a ballot in a place most of America doesn't even know exists. Well, there and in my parent's living room where my dad and I would talk politics in great detail only to have my mom annoyed and frustrated by the 4th hour of Fox News.
Although I hold to the nostalgia of the Jethro Community Center, it is only one of thousands of places just like it. All across America folks are voting in churches, libraries, city halls, and fair buildings. Heck, my great uncle even had a barn that his community voted in. It's places like these that make up America. Places that even though they are so far removed from voter ID laws they don't even know why they became law, they still make their second cousin show ID because, well, it's the law.
It is the Jethro community centers across America that thousands of us go vote and collectively prove that democracy is not dead. That even with a difference of political opinion, we can still share a great homemade pecan pie. It is where little girls and little boys go with their parents when they vote and then grow up to love politics. Maybe they even become politicians who enact laws, or maybe they become stay at home moms who read books to their children about our country's history. It is a place that we get to share with those who came before us in a process that so many others have never had the freedom to do. It is all these little places that politicians forget exist that really make our country go 'round.
This year on the 4th of July we will gather at baseball games and parades and fireworks shows and be thankful for our freedoms. We may long for a departed soldier who is halfway around the world or visit one who came home in a way we had not hoped. No doubt we will unite in that this is the best country in the world only to go back to our differences tomorrow. America, what a funny country. The place where we debate politics on big stages in front of large crowds, yet the scores of those debates are settled in small towns with infinitely smaller community buildings with nothing but a person and a secret ballot to know what was marked.
It has become cliche and overused, but my gosh am I proud to be an American. Thank you to all those who paved the path for our freedoms yesterday and all those who still fight for them today.