“Salt of the Earth.” Those were the words used to describe Lela Russell Monday morning at her funeral in Curtis. Lela’s service was a crowded affair with a large group of people gathering to honor a life spent in service. It was the second funeral I attended in four days. I said goodbye to my Uncle Tom on Friday in Shreveport, LA. He was 59 and much too young to leave our family.
Funerals are a time of reflection and remembrance; at least they are for me. Both occasions made me reflect on who I am and what I am doing with my life. The main questions I ask myself during these periods of self-reflection have to do with how I measure life’s success. Questions like: Should I throw away my education and professional background to live in a small town through the prime earning years of my life? This question dogs me.
But it’s the intangibles that make the difference in our lives when it comes to living in a small town.
On the last day of summer school our son, eight year-old Trey, was walking home from the grade school. You can see the school from our house. Tori, my wife, happened to be outside and she saw Trey heading home. She watched as he walked towards our house, all of his summer school papers clutched in his hands. Suddenly a gust of wind came up and blew the papers in every direction.
Tori watched as he scrambled here and there trying to pick them all up. But he was dropping more papers than he was gathering in the process. She was just getting ready to go and help with the paper chase when she saw a red pick-up truck stop and a man get out. The man proceeded to help Trey gather all his papers, and before she knew what was going on Trey climbed into the truck with the man.
Tori was shocked, frightened, freaked out. Trey knows better than to get in a car with a stranger. What was this man going to do? She hopped in our van and headed towards the school. She pulled up next to the truck and there was Medicine Valley High School Principal, Alan Gearey preparing to give Trey a ride home. This was no stranger; this was a caring member of our community helping a little boy.
That same weekend our kids went to the movies. Imagine letting an eight and ten year-old go to the movies by themselves in the city. Anyway, we wrote a check for cost of the tickets, plus a couple of extra dollars to buy some snacks to eat while they watch the movie, and off they went.
Savannah, our oldest, is in charge of the money. On this evening she had no pockets to keep the change in after they bought their snacks. So she placed the bills in the cup holder on her seat so she wouldn’t forget to bring it home at the end of the movie. Well, as any of you with children know, kids forget everything, and our beautiful daughter is no exception. She left the bills in the cup holder when the movie was over.
As Paul Warneke was leaving the theater that night he noticed the money sitting in the seat’s cup holder. He gathered it up and returned it to Melissa Campbell who was working the theater that night. he told her where he had found the money and Melissa remembered Savannah sitting there. A phone call was made to our house and we got the money back. I remember shaking my head in wonder after the phone call. Where else but a small town?
Could examples such as these be found in the city? Maybe, but not likely.
Lela Russell lived her life as an example of such behavior. It was learned in small towns like Dickens, where she grew-up, and in the communities in our county. These small towns instill values that are seldom seen in the world today. So when I worry about the money I am not making I need to remind myself of these things. After all don’t we all want to raise a child who may one day be referred to as the “Salt of the Earth?”
This post was originally published as a part of weekly column I wrote in the Frontier County Enterprise, I believe it first appeared in 2006. Lela Russell, mentioned in this column, worked for the Enterprise for more than 20 years. Trey, our eight year old son mentioned is now 20 years old and a college sophomore, Savannah, our daughter is in her senior year at Arizona State University. We still live up the street from the elementary school, and the movie theater is still run by volunteers (although now with a digital projection and sound system, but that is for another column). Many years have passed since I wrote this column, but the reasons I talk about above are still the same reasons I live in a small town all these years later.