What a difference twenty miles can make! I moved out of a town with a population of about 10,000 to one with five times more people. I feel like a city girl here! My high school friends knicknamed me, explorer and free spirit. If I met them now, they would be in hysterics at the idea of me living in Dinky Town USA. Growing up a military brat with a view that the world was my oyster, I’ve always been eager to string together a strand of new adventures. I didn’t really think such a tiny community had enough offerings to keep my interest. However, through the years, God had other plans. Every time I was ready to move, He placed people on my path, and in my life, that were more important to me than where I lived. It became even more obvious, with the arrival of my three little grand-divas, I wouldn’t be drifting too far. So, I chose to attach a running leash on the heart strings that tied me to Dinky Town just so I could venture a little further, and still be a frequent flyer in their lives as they grew older and developed their own wings.
Like George Jefferson’s theme song, Movin On Up, I’ve gone from Dinky Town USA to Small Town USA, Mansfield, Ohio. Not exactly a metropolis with five star restaurants, an array of cultural experiences, and a championship sports team. However, it does have a certain charm and beauty and I like it here. So far. For a smaller town, it has a surprisingly vital arts community. There’s a lovely Art Center snuggled into a bed of trees near an elegant, historic neighborhood, boasting gracious mansions with a scent of old money. Mansfield has its own historic local playhouse and a gorgeous performing arts theatre that provides a diverse venue of entertainment options. While the list of fine dining choices is limited, there are a few restaurants with local and ethnic flavor and the traditional chain-style cuisine; a step up from the burger joints that appeal to my grand-divas still blossoming taste buds. There are lovely gardens to walk through, trails to bike, forests to tromp in, and ski resorts to zoom down: all within a short drive. We’re privileged here to house a rather famous historic prison, temporary home to the Hollywood Glitterati for the filming of a few blockbuster movies, the most famous being, The Shawshank Redemption. The prison is rumored to be haunted as well as most of Mansfield. Apparently, there were those who loved the city so much, they never wanted to leave, so they hang out, and scare the heebie-jeebies out of the living for a few bucks. The urban legends spin enough tales to keep the possibility of specters alive and well. Malabar Farm, former home of Louis Bromfield, author and Renaissance man with a taste for Hollywood types, has an intriguing history and fun to visit any time of year. The downtown district of Mansfield is bursting with potential to continue its development as a quaint place for out-of-towners to visit. It oozes charm and entrepreneurship. A colorful Carrousel, an urban winery, old fashioned newstand, and a coffee shop calling to the heart of the artist, helps your imagination travel to what it was like, back then, in the day.
I have a recollection of the “its day”. Often in life, we come full circle. In between our moves around the world, we occasionally stopped in Mansfield to visit my grandmother, who was a cook for the Leland Hotel Restaurant, downtown. This night, Grandma had slipped into guest mode, and treated our family to dinner. Being the experimental little connoisseur of fine cuisine I was at age eight, I ordered rainbow trout. When it was delivered to the table, perfectly plated and presented by our waiter, my look of horror didn’t go unnoticed. There it was. A long, silver fish, split down the center, staring up at me with its shiny black eye, horrified at its own demise. Not wanting to be the spoiled, ungrateful child, I covered its eye reverently, with a bit of the lettuce garnish, before I drove my fork in for a bite. Grandma chuckled and had the waiter take it back to the kitchen to have it deboned and beheaded. The Leland Hotel is no longer, but that memory lingers.
I choose to look at my new town a bit like my new life, a great adventure, moving forward; treasuring the old, but leaving space to embrace the new. Best of all, I really have learned this lesson. Size does not matter. If you aren’t happy in Small Town USA, you’re not likely to find the beauty in Metropolis. For me, my explorer boots are sitting by my new front door.