There’s a reason people write country songs about small town life (if you, shockingly, have more than one non-country radio station in your area and aren’t up on your twang, the title of this post is from one such song). They’re always these drawly, proud-to-be-an-American, simple-things-are-worth-having songs, and when you live in a city you think, “OK, this is catchy, but are we really going to idealize archetypes that, quaint as they are, may not even exist anymore?”
But when you live in a small town, it’s a little different. Granted, the modern day small town is less front porches and howdy-neighbors than Mr. Rogers would make it out to be. But even in a glorified truck stop like Gallup, replete with fast food and motels, there’s simple pleasure to be had, made all the more joyous when seen with 12-year-old eyes.
On Thursday night, this weekend’s basketball tournament started with our girls’ game. We had practice for the boys that afternoon, and 3 of my favorite boys asked if they could stay with me and the other coach to come see the girls’ game. Side note: even though we’re in the same building and going all the same places, the boys are hilariously specific about which one of us they are officially staying with; of course, since my awesome co-coach has been at the school since it began and known all the kids since they were munchkins, it always melts my heart a little when they declare they’re staying with me. I know I’m still an outsider in all ways that count (around here if you’ve been here less than 10 years you’re an outsider) but the kids are effortlessly accepting.
So anyway, the boys are staying with us. We did absolutely nothing to write home about: goofed around in practice, shot around for a bit, stopped at a truck stop for a snack on the way to the girls’ game. We got some McDonald’s because they needed dinner on the way to the high school girls’ game, where their parents were. They convinced me to come to the high school game, and I convinced my co-coach to come too, so we watched the varsity girls crush a team from Albuquerque.
And yet somehow, having a 9-, 11-, and 12-year-old around makes everything fresh and exciting. It was the most adorably fun night. The boys treated the truck stop and dinner like the most wonderful treats. They giggled and talked in funny voices to make each other laugh, danced and sang ridiculously to the radio, and were stunned when, gasp, Ms. EMinNM knows the words to this song too! Even riding in my car was exciting: it’s not as bumpy as my mom’s! There’s a teaching book in the backseat I can read in an accent! I learned more about Lawrence in that one evening than I have in the 2 months of basketball till now: he has cows at his house, he ropes calves in rodeos, he has 4 brothers and sisters (all of whom have oddly similar names), a sad song that came on the radio always reminds him of his grandma. Even at the high school game, amid their families and the middle school boys (who are, like, so cool), they would circulate, coming to sit with us for a few minutes every so often as if to make sure they got some time with everyone.
I’m not doing a very good job of explaining why this was a significant evening, and I think that’s the point. The quaintness of small towns, the way you can appreciate something so simple and unimportant as a trip to McDonald’s with your favorite kids, is actually just like the drawly country songs. Maybe it’s the belongingness of the whole thing—everywhere we went, we saw people we knew: parents at the truck stop, coaches and players at the tournament, cousins and sisters at the high school game. And even though it’s not really my town, because of the kids I get to belong a little too. And that’s really what the songs are about, why they resonate even with city-dwellers at least a little, because in the end it’s about belonging in the place that you are.
The kids use the word “all” to mean “really,” as in, “He was all happy.” When we drove the last boy home, Lawrence says, almost to himself, “Man, this night is all fun.” Yup. I thought so, too.