I grew up in a small rural community in North Arkansas in the 1950s and 60s. In 1966 my parents bought a set of World Book Encyclopedia. I remember looking in Volume A of the set and finding the population listings for cities and towns in Arkansas. Our own little community was listed as having about 20 residents. My parents, siblings, and I made up six of those.
My dad owned the local grocery store, and on Saturdays and during summer months, I helped him in the store. I filled orders; dusted and cleaned; ran the loud, clanging cash register; and occasionally pumped gas.
Often a man walked in and handed me a grocery list his wife had sent and asked me to fill it. I soon knew what brand of coffee and laundry detergent many of our local families used. Occasionally he said, “Add a dollar’s worth of gas to that.”
I collected the requested items, wrote down the purchases in a small credit booklet using carbon paper to make a copy for the store, sacked the items, dropped in the customer’s copy of the receipt, pumped the gas, and moved on to the next customer. Our clientele appreciated my dad’s “buy now, pay later” policy, and most of them honored the “pay later” part.
We understood the meaning of community. We celebrated the good times together and helped out during the bad. When one of our townsfolk died, local men dug the grave with their own shovels, even in deep winter when the ground was frozen. Everyone from miles around attended the funeral, women showering the family with pies, cakes, casseroles, hams, and pans of homemade yeast rolls.
After a death, my dad often shook his head sadly and said to me, “Well, Mr. So-and-So has paid his debts and gone on.” Then occasionally, with a wink, he added, “Well, at least he has gone on,” indicating that the man had died leaving debts unpaid at our store.
I learned early that some debts never get paid.
I sometimes wonder why God planted me where He did, within the confines of a loving, store-owning family on a tiny dot of a town in northern Arkansas in the middle of the Twentieth Century. But I was planted there, and I grew and matured and eventually moved into the adult population and out of northern Arkansas.
I owe much to the people who shared the world I inhabited as a child. They taught me the difference between right and wrong and showed me we all need each other. The values of honesty, hard work, cooperation, and general courtesy they modeled rubbed off on me and have stood me well. Most of these people are now gone, and for what they taught me, I owe them a debt I cannot repay.
Never underestimate your influence on your world.