Prairie Tayles: The Gathering Place

Jan 19, 2018

Some people like cities. They like the anonymity of blending into a crowd. They like choosing where to shop, dine, and have fun. Being unknown to a server is a relief rather than a blessing. For these folks, the intimacy of living in a small town where everyone knows your name and your business is too personal. On the other hand, there are people like me who love going into a local eatery where the wait staff knows my name and what I’m going to order. These establishments are the heartbeat of tiny towns.

In the same way that  local schools weave together the warp and weft of a community , the local gatherin’ place—coffee shop—hometown restaurant-- links people’s lives like a quilter stitching one block to another or tying the top to the lining. It creates beauty and stability. Comings and goings at the local java stop establish a rhythm that outsiders soon learn so they too can join the club.

Area residents gather before hitting the office, their fields, or pastures. It’s good to down a cup or two of coffee while checking in with neighbors. It’s site for a mid-morning Bible study to gather.  It’s a place the Lions, Rotary, and Kiwanis meet, share a meal, and settle business in the middle of the day. It’s an interlude in a long afternoon.

In a world overtaken by impersonal connections these informal assemblies warm the belly and the heart as individuals look one another in the eye and ask, “What’s going on?” Then they listen. It’s sometimes the first place a person hears that someone needs help and arranges to offer aid. Somehow, it’s more powerful than reading a post on a phone or computer screen.

It’s a good place to hear who’s getting married or who had a baby, even before the preacher announces it from the pulpit or the local paper runs the article. You might find out whose heart is breaking so you can offer a meal or a kind word. People long out of the classroom and off the sporting field keep up with area youngsters’ successes. Some might say it’s gossip. I like to think it’s connectedness.

Since I work, I forget how pleasant it is to join a kaffee klatch. This weekend I was reminded how this daily ritual makes a person feel like he or she belongs. I returned to Ellis to meet a couple of friends for breakfast and a quick catch up. In Hays, we would have been anonymous. In that little town where I lived for thirty-six years, I knew everyone in the café.

A former student came to our table to introduce his little brother and girlfriend, telling them we were his former teachers. A past school board member dropped by to say hey, a neighbor from our newly wed year updated me on her life. It had been decades since we shared the same block, but we cared about what was going on in one another’s lives. It was wonderful to connect with folks who enrich my life.

It was a blessing the way that little visit reminded me that I still belonged even though I have a new address and new place to lift a cup. These little establishments are a hidden pleasure of small town living. Put this stop on your bucket list.