I've learned a fair amount in the past seven years of living off the square in downtown Bentonville. Oh, Bentonville isn't Manhattan, thankfully, but it is "the big city" for a girl reared so far out in the country that folks went toward town to hunt.
I've learned I like putting a wreath on the door and knowing another human will enjoy it. We'd hang a wreath on the door when I was a kid and not another soul would see it -- not even the postman, because the mailbox was at the far end of a long, dusty driveway. Mama asked me once why we did it, since no one would see it. I told her we'd see it, and we were enough. I still believe that, but I'll admit, I like hearing a child giggle at a whirligig on my porch or seeing a graduate gleefully take her senior pictures beside a mural I painted. It makes me feel part of something larger than myself.
That sense of community may be the biggest surprise about living in the city. The notion that city folk aren't friendly hasn't held true for the most part. Alan waves when he drives Sam's replica Ford from Walton's 5 & 10 to my parking area before Farmers Market. Bobby and Paula from Three Dog Bakery chat with me as they deposit their trash before heading home. The tellers at the bank and the clerks at the courthouse keep me abreast of the latest happenings. And I can set my watch by the arrivals of Dave, my UPS guy, and Jason, my mailman. There's a cadence to downtown living I've come to enjoy -- and have missed since covid-19 disrupted much of the rhythm.
I've learned that no one looks up when they're walking on the street. From my second-story back porch, I've overheard strangers say all sorts of things about my life -- that my loft is an AirBnB; that I practice law in the garage; that my house is a clothing store; and that they remember my place being built decades ago -- not a lick of which is true. Perhaps the more certain one sounds about a subject, the less another ought to believe it.
I've learned perception is key. I've had several compliments about the "fancy" curtains on my back porch, which are nothing more than $5 sheets tied with bungee cord. While weeding in the garden recently, I heard a couple talking.
"I like those curtains up there. Aren't they pretty?" the lady asked.
"Looks like Ford's Theatre," the man responded.
I looked up and started laughter. I'd never seen my porch as anything but a haven, but the man had a point. One woman's dream is another man's assassination.
I've learned that neon lights and late-night music are nice on summer evenings, but I sometimes miss the stars and whippoorwills.
So I guess Aesop was right: There's something beautiful for both the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. We're all just trying to keep our cheese from sliding off our crackers.
Lisa Kelley-Gibbs is a Southern storyteller, lawyer and country gal living a simple urban life in downtown Bentonville. Email her at [email protected]