Tragedy and Small Towns

A former classmate of mine passed away last night. The familiar feeling of a life taken too soon rests once more on the shoulders of my little hometown, and sometimes, the weight feels like it’s too much to bear.

As with every small town, everybody knows everybody in Hamilton, Illinois. They say that if you aren’t sure what you’re up to, your neighbor probably knows, and it’s true, gossip spreads quickly when it only has a couple miles to go before reaching the city limits. But what often goes unsaid about small towns is that there is a strong bond formed when you grow up together in a place so small it’s almost a secret.

Nobody but people from Hamilton knows how fun it was to play kickball on the City Park tennis courts when the weather started to get warm. Or how satisfying it was when your mom finally let you get a Little Hugs Fruit Barrel from Duck’s. We’re the only ones who know that our cemetery has the best walking paths in the whole town, and we’re sure to wave at every person that we walk past while there, because even if we can’t remember their name, we know they share in this little secret of a town right along with us.

And perhaps this is why tragedy hurts us so much. Because with every precious life lost, a sharer in the secret is lost with it. There are already so few people who know what we know that every single person lost feels like a critical blow to the continuation of the entire town. Because though the rest of the world keeps turning, little Hamilton will never be the same if it’s missing even just one citizen. That hole can never be filled by another.

But that hole can become another part of our secret. And thanks to the strength of the bonds between us, no member of our town will be forgotten. Nobody will have a memorial service that goes unattended, or a tombstone that isn’t cared for. No families will wonder if their son or daughter was ever loved by others. They will know by the casseroles and the flowers and the tears of those that bring them that this is a burden we’re going to bear together, and that is the true beauty of growing up in a small town.

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I love you, HHS Class of 2013.
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A Letter to my Son on His 2nd Birthday

My son turned two a few days ago, and I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about the world that he’s growing up in and the type of man I hope he becomes. Tonight I thought I’d sit and write down my thoughts, and I figured you all might enjoy reading them.

My dear sweet Cale,

2017 is the year that your dad and I looked forward to from the time we graduated high school in 2013. It’s a year of such excitement for our little family. But 2017 has brought with it a lot of fear. I’m so sad to say that our country is more divided now than I can ever remember it being, and I worry that the man who will be our president in just a few short days is only going to increase that feeling of division. I worry that as you grow, you will see great injustices being done in the name of greatness. I worry that your dad will be put in danger by the dangerous politics of our leaders. But most of all I worry that the climate you grow up in will not lead you to see the importance of kindness above all.

I know that your dad and I are going to try our absolute best to help you grow into a compassionate man. We want you to see the beauty in the world, and we want you to know that you can be a part of that beauty. We never want you to lose hope. I’m afraid that the loss of hope is what has lead our great country to the place that it now finds itself. You need to understand that even though you might not always feel in control of your life, you do always have control over your actions. You always have the ability to be brave, to be kind, and to be the best person that you can be.

You will always be capable of loving others. Even when it’s hard, and even when they don’t deserve it. We have been put on this earth to spread unconditional love, and I desperately hope that you will never forget that. I fail at loving others unconditionally more often than I’d like to admit, but I never stop trying, and I hope you won’t either. I hope that the love you feel from your dad and myself and all of our family members will be a constant reminder of your purpose.

I could not be more proud to call myself your mother. Happy birthday, my little love.

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Photo taken by Canyon McCarty

New Year, New You, New Budget

Budgeting sounds horrible; you have to sit down with your bank account and your bills and take a serious look at both of them. I get it, there is nothing fun about numbers, especially when those numbers have to do with how much money you have and what you’re allowed to spend it on. But budgeting isn’t about limitation—it’s about freedom. When you budget, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can afford something, because you’ll already know.

If you’ve never tried to budget before, this is the perfect time to start. You’ll need to know just three things: your monthly take-home pay, your monthly bills, and your monthly expenses. If you don’t know any of these three numbers, you should find out as quickly as possible! Being ignorant of your money is the quickest way to lose it.

Now that you have the information you need, sit down at your kitchen table with a notebook and pen. If you have a spouse or partner, they should be included in the budgeting process as well. The only way to keep a household running smoothly is for everyone in the house to understand the money situation. Now that you’re all set, follow these simple steps:

  1. At the top of your piece of paper, write your monthly take-home pay.
  2. Next, write your monthly bills and subtract that number from your take-home pay.
  3. Follow that with your monthly expenses. Groceries and gas are two important items to take note of here.
  4. Once you have your bills and expenses out of the way, you have more options with what to do with the rest of your income. Set aside savings, money for eating out, “fun money” or whatever you like. I would recommend saving before anything else, but this step is ultimately up to you.
  5. Continue subtracting from your top number until you reach zero. Every single dollar should be accounted for, even down to vending machine money. This is the most crucial aspect of budgeting because this is what will keep you from wasting money on frivolous expenses.

Budgeting takes time, but it is time well spent. Knowing where every dollar goes will take away the anxiety of making sure that your money will make it to the end of the month, and you might even find that you have more money than you realize. If you’re interested in learning more about budgeting and personal finance, check out the book Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. You have the power to take control of your finances, and adding budgeting to your monthly routine is the perfect first step.