Several weeks ago, I stumbled across the ad for an event called Music on Main, taking place in one of my hometowns. I say “one” because several towns wear that label.
The event is just a couple of hours away and promises live music, booths full of vintage goods, and food trucks. I excitedly mark my calendar and await my trip back home.
From the Spring of 1994 through the Winter of 2000, I lived in the small town of Robbins, Tennessee. Yes, for a short season of my life I lived as Robin from Robbins. This tiny hamlet is part of the larger community of Oneida, which sits on the crest of the Cumberland Plateau.
I completed my high school education and spent most of my college summers, those that I didn’t spend working at camp, enjoying the beauty of this town.
It is this charming township tucked away in the far corner of East Tennessee, whose pleasant summer nights flaunted starry skies far from city lights, and where the vibrant autumn leaves startled even the locals, that taught me about what authentic community means. It all began on a sunny Saturday morning.
A Rainy Adventure
On that Saturday I awoke to clear skies showing nothing but brilliant sunshine and cotton-candy clouds. My family and I deemed it a perfect travel day and set out on an adventure.
Arriving near Main Street, we parked and noticed a large crowd strolling up and down the town square. Eager to investigate further, I bounced out of my car and asked my husband to grab the umbrella. “Just in case,” I tell him.
My husband shakes his head and replies, “I don’t think we’ll need it, babe.”
Deciding to lean into his optimism, I agree and we wander towards the sounds of laughter and music. Food trucks station themselves off to the side, offering the usual variety of festival fare: nachos, hot dogs, popcorn, and funnel cakes.
A local band finishes setting up and begins to play Oldies. People gather around the stage set up in the center of the street. They sway and start to sing.
Others stand in groups talking and eating with the familiarity that comes from family or a tight community doing life together.
I scanned all the booths and noticed that several new boutiques and vintage stores have opened since my last visit. Making a mental note to return to the food truck selling funnel cakes, I entered The Black Cat, a vintage store that specializes in unique antiques and collectibles.
The treasures I find inside are endless: a variety of vinyl records, collectible Barbie dolls and other toys; and even a Garfield and Odie yellow lunch box circa 1985–a copy of the very first lunchbox I ever picked out for myself! I rein in my urge to buy it all and leave with only a couple of records.
A Place of Refuge
As my family and I meandered up and down the street, we listened to regional history from a young man who participates in Civil War reenactments. We checked out a woodworking booth, gawked at a classic car, and I finally got my funnel cake.
Suddenly, we hear explosive thunderclap overhead as large raindrops started to fall. Everyone around has the same idea and we all run into the nearest storefront to avoid the ensuing downpour.
Once inside, I turn to see that we have stumbled into the most charming boutique, Sonnie’s Timeless Cycle. I am captivated. Everything brings a smile to my face from the window display with the brightly painted yellow vintage bicycle to the antique pink loveseat and rocking chairs. Thankful for the rain pounding the sidewalk outside, I scour for treasures while chatting with others seeking similar refuge.
The kind ladies inside warmly greet all their new guests. We continued talking of our mutual love of antiques when I spotted a long rectangular wooden block customized for the town of Robbins on a nearby shelf . White with black printing, the block displays the town’s name and its longitude and latitude coordinates.
I know that this will be the “pretty” that I will purchase.
I look out the store windows to see that everyone has ducked under awnings, except the band. With the stage safely covered from the storm, the musicians are content to continue entertaining the lingering crowd.
As the storm rages, I continue to shop and talk with locals. I met the local elementary school librarian who told me that these events have become a monthly activity. She gives me a small smile when I tell her how much I enjoy visiting.
She says, “I understand. This town has a way of pulling people back.”
And that seems to be the case. The more people I meet, the more that I hear stories of leaving only to return years or even decades later.
“This town has a way of pulling people back.”
Small Town Resilience
Oneida and its surrounding neighborhoods took a hit when various industries departed a few years back. Businesses closed and people left to seek jobs in larger neighboring cities.
During this time, the community banded together and began to rebuild, ushering in new business and development. New growth sprouts everywhere.
Those who stayed fought and those who returned eagerly joined the battle to keep the community alive and thriving.
It is a demonstration of motivating perseverance and small-town resilience at its finest. The type of perseverance that causes a community to unite and march forward, seeking a breakthrough.
The rain cleared on that Saturday and I conducted a final walk-through of the delightful boutique. Again, I desired to escort home every item within my reach.
However, I left with my “Robbins” block. It is a simple, yet strong reminder of the power generated through a committed community with inspirational resilience.