When I told my friends in Phoenix last year that I had just purchased a farm in the Ozarks and would be putting in my retirement papers, a few (those who hailed from rural areas themselves) were happy for me, but others were a bit bewildered. Would there be medical facilities, cable television, things to do on weekends and in the evenings? Would I have to climb a pole to use the telephone? Some had visions of Hooterville and Mayberry, while those a little older even referenced Dog Patch.
What the hell was Rocky thinking?
I chose this location carefully. Not only did I have relatives close by, the small city of West Plains (population 12,000), has many amenities not common to smaller towns. The community has a nice hospital and multiple medical clinics - and several cardiologists. There are two very nice grocery stores - three if you count Walmart - which I never do. The community has a first class senior center, a very spacious and modern library, and a nice civic center that doubles as a concert venue. The variety of shops and stores is adequate for someone like me who never goes to Walmart. West Plains even has an active little theatre troupe.
Mountain Home, Arkansas, forty-five miles from West Plains, is the only other community of any size between Springfield and Cape Girardeau. There are also 12,000 souls in Mountain Home - as well as a Lowes and Home Depot which West Plains does not have.
Other than those two small cities, the communities in central southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand inhabitants - with most being so small that Walmart won't even go there.
I did choose carefully. West Plains has the feel of a small town, but with the availability of nearly everything that I would need to live a retired life of contentment.
The smallness of the community was brought home to me the weekend before last when I drove into town to buy my daily iced tea at the local Casey's General Store - one of four Casey's in West Plains. I looked up while paying the cashier and happened to notice a lady standing outside of the store having a cigarette. And it wasn't just any lady, it was my good friend, Imogene!
Imogene Knaust and I shared more than a few adventures when we both worked for the Missouri Children's Division a decade ago. But during the intervening years I had only seen her once - at her retirement dinner in Springfield a few months ago. Imogene lives in Pierce City, Missouri, yet here she was in my town, standing in front of my Casey's - more than a hundred-and-fifty miles from her home.
(It turned out that she and some family members were traveling from Pierce City to Jonesboro, Arkansas, and has pulled into the Casey's for a bathroom break.)
I stepped outside, we hugged, and I said, "See, West Plains is a small town after all."
And it is.
It's a small, small town!