A much-broadened view of things

Published 8:09 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2015


EDITOR’S NOTE: This “Short Rows” was first published on Oct. 27, 2010. In light of recent tensions in the Smithfield community involving “come here’s” and “been here’s,” we thought it worth repeating.


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Those of us who grew up here — more specifically those who grew up here a half century ago — lived in a pretty insular community. That, as much as anything, shaped our thinking.

Back in those days, most of the people we knew farmed, worked in a local retail store or had a job in the shipyard or packing plants.

Our religion was a reflection of that insulation. Mostly, we were Methodists or Baptists, with a couple Episcopalian and Christian congregations as well. The Methodists thought immersion was a bit extreme and the Baptists were certain that infant Baptism just wouldn’t take. Those were just technicalities for most of us. The differences were really inconsequential.

Our black neighbors were of much the same culture. There were mostly Baptist and African Methodist Episcopalian (AME). And they, too, were steeped in Tidewater culture.

There were a couple of Jewish and Catholic families in the community, but if there were more, we didn’t realize it. I used to joke with a Catholic friend that even when Anne and I returned home 38 years ago, the Catholics could hold services in a phone booth.

All this is by way of explaining how narrowly we viewed the world back then. What we knew was pretty much confined to our rural world south of the James River.

Of course, television changed that to a degree. My mother, who was as faithful Episcopalian-turned-Methodist as you could find, regularly watched and enjoyed Bishop Fulton Sheen’s “Life Is Worth Living” show.

Going away to college helped even more. There, we met people of far more diverse backgrounds — religious as well as secular — and learned that not everyone thought like a native Isle of Wight resident.

But as a community, the thing that has broadened our horizons more than anything else is the diversity of people who have chosen to come here and live among us.

That infusion of new blood into the community actually started when we were children. Gwaltney and Smithfield Packing, as well as the shipyard, brought talented people to Smithfield, and those people came from diverse backgrounds. We went to school with their children and, while they assimilated into our community, we began to learn from them as well as they from us. (Some could even think up more ways to get into trouble than could we.)

The real change, however, has come about in the past four decades, since the early 1970’s, when people began seeking out the county as their commuter or retirement home.

Our county today is richer for the change. Our churches, clubs and other volunteer programs are populated by relative newcomers — often, dominantly so.

They have brought new ideas, new enthusiasm and a “can do” spirit that has proven to be hugely beneficial to the community.

I’m an unapologetic Tidewater Virginian, and hope my grandchildren will be that as well. But thanks to knowing people from other backgrounds, other cultures, my view of the world is a lot broader today than in 1960. And if they acknowledge it, many of our lifelong residents would say the same.