Common Wisdom: Having More Fun

Ever since we moved to rural Boone County a year ago, our city friends have asked us the same question.

“How do you like it out there?” they inquire, knowing full well we will say we love it. Sometimes they seem baffled by the enthusiasm of our reply, pressing us for details such as the time required to drive into town or whether we have neighbors. Inevitably, they come round to the question, “Well, what do you do out there?” What they mean is: Do you have a social life?

The answer is, we do indeed have a social life, not only as much as we have time to retain of city doings, but also, increasingly, a new country social life that is—dare we say it out loud—more fun than the city one.

In any healthy community there are neighborhoods, and that holds true for country as well as city. Our hamlet of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, is a real neighborhood, more so in many ways than the suburban area we just left. Ironically, I feel less isolated with neighbors half a mile away than I sometimes did with neighbors next door but who were seldom visible. Now when I pull out of our gravel lane onto the road, our neighbor never fails to hail us with a beaming smile and a wave from his tractor or his barn door. Everyone driving along our road, even the water hauler, waves from his truck as he passes his fellow motorists. In a genuine community, urban, suburban, or rural, people do not ignore each other. They instead live together in acknowledgment of their neighbors, rather than as isolated atoms in a huge lonely pool. Atomization may be the way of the modern city, but it is not the mode of a true community.

The social order of Rabbit Hash has been in place for years. It centers around the East Bend Baptist Church; the Rabbit Hash General Store (our polling place); Kelly Elementary School; and, to a lesser extent, Bob’s Family Restaurant at the Beaverlick intersection; the Little Place across from the courthouse in Burlington; and Dinsmore House, a lovely old historic home now being restored. Its social events hinge on potluck suppers surrounding Old Timers’ Day, heritage days, harvest festivals, and Christmas gatherings. One family at Christmas decorates their antique log house with an old-fashioned red cedar tree cut from their woods. The mantel above their cozy fire is laden with pine and cedar boughs interspersed with bittersweet, pine cones, and wild berries. Candles in old glass lanterns twinkle on the tables. Dogs, guns, antique furniture, quilts, and Indian artifacts fill this house. The festive board offers venison, pheasant, quail, a grand still-life arrangement of vegetables and fruit, and limitless pies, cakes, and cookies.

The guests—all neighbors—are of every background and occupation. Two are full-time tobacco and cattle farmers. Two are architects. One is a lawyer. Several are artists. One is a college dean. One is a sheet-metal worker. Another is an engineer and inventor. One is a photographer and graphics designer. Another sells insurance. Yet another owns a specialty meat shop in the city. And yet another is an emergency room nurse, country music singer, and Rabbit Hash historian. Each guest owns at least a small plot of ground, either in the hills or on the river, and each one cherishes and is committed to preserving the natural and historic heritage and beauty of this western corridor of the county that skirts the Ohio River.

Several of these guests are lifelong residents of the neighborhood, as were their parents and grandparents. All but us have lived here for at least a decade and all of us have invested our hearts and fortunes in what Wendell Berry would call this place on earth.

There are some characters in the area, to be sure. But almost no one is an unsavory sort and none menaces the community. On the contrary, those who would expect crime will see instead a peaceable kingdom where people still do not often lock their doors. Those who would expect a society of rural hicks will be surprised by a certain country elegance and hospitality in which hostess gifts and thank-you notes are the norm. There is a degree of dressing up, too, which is pleasant and dignified. A suit would be out of place at a country gathering, but a man in a new plaid flannel shirt and handsome oiled boots shows respect for his host.

The desire for a place in a well-ordered community is fundamental to human nature. If that order is marked by inhabitants who unite in common interest and civility, then Rabbit Hash has such a bond. A city may or may not support a social order. Our tiny town surely does.

  • Anne Husted Burleigh

    Mrs. Anne Husted Burleigh is a free-lance writer, mother, and grandmother who lives on a farm overlooking the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. She has written two books: John Adams, a Biography, and Journey up the River: a Midwesterner’s Spiritual Pilgrimage. She has contributed to many publications, including Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and now writes for Magnificat.

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