Last Friday at the weekly Kiwanis meeting, Americus’ Chief of Police, Mark Scott, said some beautiful things about his new home. I didn’t hear them personally, but through my husband who is a Kiwanis groupie and fills me in every week. If social clubs had fan girls, my husband would be following Kiwanis around 24/7. It’s really a great idea: representatives from local businesses get together weekly to hear from each other and guest speakers about what’s going on in Americus and Sumter County. It’s cool stuff that you wouldn’t know if someone hadn’t actually taken the time to put a presentation together on it. So when the Chief of Police was the guest speaker, well, let’s just say he had everyone’s attention.

I’m quoting my husband quoting the Chief, so no claims to complete accuracy (but it ain’t fake news, either…): “The tornado that destroyed our hospital in March of 2007 was a defining moment for our city. But it doesn’t define us. We are not known as ‘the city that lost its hospital’. We came together and worked together and now have a beautiful new hospital. When two of my police officers were shot and killed in the line of duty last December, it was a defining moment for our community. But it doesn’t define us as the community which lost two police officers to violent crime. We are known as the community that came together around that loss.”

Like many small towns, we have moments that are defining, that bring out the true character of the community, for better and worse. The thing is, communities can’t prepare for defining moments. And to be honest, there are a lot of defining moments that occur under the radar, but which are significant nonetheless. But oh, those moments when compassionate actions from places you never anticipated come charging through your front door – they can blow your mind and define a community.

I’ve learned that a decision was made a while back to keep Americus relatively small, with little and controlled growth. But when you have so much to offer, why keep it small? If we claim to be that Shining City on a Hill, do we really want our tourist brochures to say, “Yes, we’re awesome, but just look at us from a distance, ok?” To be fair, I’ve lived in places that had absolutely NO plans for growth and consequently traffic patterns were a nightmare, cut-corner housing was thrown up, and what was once a pleasant little city now looks like someone barfed strip malls all over the place. Seriously. So I get the “controlled growth” part – it’s smart to stay ahead of the game.

But when you shine, you can’t help but reflect. You’ve shaded your eyes looking at the water on Lake Blackshear, not because the water was bright, but because the sunlight reflecting off the water caused you to squint (and slap a few gnats in the process). Americus is a shining city, and we reflect the qualities that make Americus, well, shiny. Visitors leave Americus with that warm-fuzzy-Southern-hospitality feeling largely because that’s what they were expecting. And apparently we give it to them in spades. (That’s another thing you have to know about us: we love Bridge.)

I called this blog “MyAmericus” because I’ve chosen Americus as my town. Many were lucky enough to be born and raised here, and sadly, many were unfortunate enough to be born and raised here. The playing field is certainly not level. But for those who are looking for a new place to call home, let me give a solid gold pitch for MyAmericus.

Just recently, a local realtor and customer of Center Stage Market, Jimmy Whaley (tip o’ the tumbler to Century 21) was trying desperately to sell a house to a woman who just couldn’t find what she wanted. After about the 4 millionth showing around the region (I’m prone to hyperbole…get used to it), he asked her what it was that was preventing her from choosing a new home. She confessed that she was very concerned about being able to get the kind of food she needed for her diet. Jimmy, being the brilliant home-town-whisperer he is, brought the kind lady to Center Stage Market. I don’t know if she bought groceries, but she bought a house in Americus.

Hearing that story was kind of a defining moment for me – the kinds of products and service that I and my co-workers at Center Stage Market provide for our community are worth moving here to get. Holy grass-fed cow, people! I mean, I can imagine, “oh, we fell in love with the small-town feel” or maybe, “we didn’t have a choice, we got transferred,” but moving to a community because it had the groceries you want?! I’ve never felt so proud to be a Downtown Grocer!

If you chose to move to Americus (a “come here”), what drew you? And why have you stayed? If you were born and raised in Americus (a “from here”) and know everyone’s business and everyone’s family and everyone’s first grade teachers and everyone’s indiscretions, what is it that defines Americus for you?

Here are a few of my “definers” (say that with a really heavy and presidential Texas drawl..)

  • Despite or perhaps because of “controlled growth” I believe Americus is on the cusp of kickin’ the small-town thing up a notch.
  • The unbelievably rich history of Americus and Sumter County continues to reveal itself to me almost daily in stories I overhear at Kellette’s Barber Shop (because the blow dryer is on and dudes will let nothing get in the way of a good story); from my friends Blue, Thad, and Sue (sounds like a band), and from bits and pieces here and there connected like a puzzle that continues to bring Americus into clearer focus.
  • Human need and human resources and generosity exist simultaneously, a daily challenge to my comfort zone.
  • Americus has a Broadway-sized love of the theater. Appreciation for the arts, I fear, is sadly being dethroned from Maslov’s hierarchy (and I will fight that tooth and nail), but still, the Rylander Theatre is my favorite thing to see Downtown. So many people with talent (usually, – sometimes it’s just a lost bet), courage, a sense of community, and ability to take themselves a little less seriously, gathering on a stage to play donkeys, racists, nuns, war criminals, Siamese princes and princesses <sniff>…it’s a thing of beauty. It really is! If you’ve never been a part of a production at the Rylander, put your roadie boots on and volunteer or audition. You’ll never regret it. Will Smith says the best things in life are on the other side of your fear, and I think he may be right.
  • It is here that, as an adult, I feel I finally grew up. I’ve been challenged by a collection of people I never would have encountered in another setting – people who have helped me see my own bias, and how the sheer luck of my skin color defines me in many ways (I don’t have to worry about my sons if they’re ever pulled over for a traffic violation); friends who have helped me understand a position diametrically opposed to my own (and we’re still friends); friends who are so open to growth and challenge that my heart swells with respect and admiration; and friends who have taught me that self-care is crucial to being valuable in your community.

Some of my “definers” are a little heady, some navel-gazing, and some are just ‘cuz. But they’re all part of what defines Americus for me. It’s been a good exercise; certainly didn’t burn any calories (hopefully no bridges, either), but it got me thinking. Yeah – Americus makes you think.

I promise my blog won’t always be quite as soapy as this one (off the box, now), but I wanted to get the ball rolling with at least part of the reason I chose MyAmericus.

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