I remember more than three decades ago running, playing and being a typical kid throughout this small town and its suburbs that are really no more than a large neighborhood.
We grew up in the Kelleytown area, but our activities ranged from four-wheeling in Ashland/Kelleytown, playing in the streets of Forest Hills around the clock, running boats up and down Black Creek, making after-school walks to the Boyd Powe, playing sports (rec and school) and our parents trusting us to always do the right thing without worry of danger while not even having location tracking, or cellphones at all for that matter.
There were times when I pushed the envelope, but I understood respect, and that creates trust. This small town also kept up with its people, so getting away with something was luck, but that always reassured me that this small town loved all of its citizens.
As I grew older in this small town, there wasn’t anywhere people were scared to go or worried about locking doors to your house or car.
I left after graduation for Army basic training and AIT, then returned and started college. Most of my weekends consisted of fishing, hunting, spending time with friends, enjoying countless Friday nights at Baron’s Outback and, of course, Saturday nights at Mac’s Lounge.
Now fast-forwarding to roughly 20 years later, I find myself still living in this not-so-same small town while in my 17th year of marriage with a girl I fell in love with (Barbie Auten Lyles) from this same small town. The same small town that both of our fathers carved their legacies into along with many other great people.
This is the same small town that we are now raising the two loves of our lives in, a 15-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old daughter. The difference is, I don’t have the same level of comfort or safety for my children that my wonderful mother and father had for me. I stay concerned and try to always listen and pay attention, because this no longer is the same small town.
I know that God isn’t a lot of the world’s focus anymore, but I never thought this small town would be like the world. It was always better than that. I know that this small town has always had groups and cliques, but not gangs (gangs of all types and kinds) that inflict humiliation, pain, bullying and even death on opposing gangs over absolutely nothing while hurting innocent bystanders and scarring them for life. Even the way men and boys talk to women and girls has changed in this once Southern charmed town, but this isn’t that same small town anymore.
Has our sacred small town forgotten about its roots? Have we forgotten about our roots and the simple ways of life our once wonderful small town provided?
Has social media provided a fantasy lifestyle and addiction to our younger generations? Are they not taught respect, trust, self-worth and integrity anymore? Have I or have we failed our small town, or have money, greed, corruption, gangs and liberalism allowed our small town to fail us as we fail it? Maybe a combination of all would be an appropriate answer.
I challenge myself and every person in this small town to bring back the open doors at Mac’s; the secure feeling we used to have on J. Micheal’s front porch; not to worry about going to Walmart; have not a worry or panic when you realized you forgot to lock your doors; to ensure our kids and us parents keep God our priority; to re-establish integrity, trust, respect and love for all people regardless of flaws, wealth and ethnicity; and not let jealousy and envy rule our hearts; but also teach and respect boundaries and expectations.
The small town I grew up in would not allow or accept these behaviors from its citizens. It wouldn’t allow drug peddlers at gas stations, gang violence and unruly kids, but it would have offered help and solutions.
What has changed? This not-so-same small town can still be saved and be what it used to be, but it takes a village of all kinds (rich, poor, white, black, foreign, men and women). Please help me and allow me to help you find our once-sacred small town, a place so many of us call home, a place that is so small but yet known by many across the globe, a place called Hartsville!