When you grow up in a very small town, everybody knows your dog.
That was especially true in the 1950s when dogs and cats pretty much roamed the neighborhood at will, and sometimes beyond. So let me take you back in time to my little hometown of Pickford, Michigan, in the late 1950s, to the dog days of summer, when I was about 9 years old and my brother Bobby was 7.
We were bored. School still loomed a few weeks off, and we had pretty much exhausted our summer itinerary of games, make-believe, and other free-time exploits. I don’t know which of us thought of the idea, but we decided that it might be fun to dress up our dog.
We found to our delight that Sniffer — a black and white spaniel mix — was exactly the right size to fit into Bobby’s clothes. Sniffer was a sweet dog, and she endured our dress-up play long enough for us to get a pair of Bobby’s jeans over her back legs, snapped in place under her tummy, and rolled to length. We did all this in the front yard, under our big willow tree, but when we brought out a shirt, Sniffer made a valiant escape and ran down the street, too fast for us to catch her.
When Sniffer didn’t come home right away, we started to worry. What if she wiggled out of the jeans? Would we ever find them? What if she was mad at us and never came home at all? What would we tell Mom?
We decided to tell Mom as little as possible. Maybe Sniffer would come home, jeans and all, and we could undress her before Mom realized what we’d done. Unfortunately, we didn’t take into consideration the fact that we lived in a small town. A very small town. A place where everybody knows your name – and your dog’s name.
About a half hour after Sniffer escaped, our mother received a phone call from the local grocery store. The call went something like this:
“Did you know that your dog is downtown, and she’s wearing a pair of jeans?”
“Our dog is where? Doing what?”
Our punishment wasn’t much worse than a lecture about the price of jeans and the appropriate attire for dogs. However, as we headed to the grocery store to retrieve Sniffer and the jeans, we knew we were in the doghouse, so to speak, and until the start of school my mother found her children to be very cooperative, well-mannered, and kind, especially to Sniffer.
Despite our dog escapade, I’ve always been thankful that I was raised in a small town, where people know you and care about you. Small town life isn’t right for everyone, but it seems to me the happiest and healthiest people belong to some type of caring community: a town, a neighborhood, a workplace, a school, a group of friends, a church.
I believe that’s why, in so many places in the Bible, God encourages us to be a part of a community. One of my favorite “community” verses is Matthew 18:20 (King James Version) For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. This verse is not only a call to community, but a promise that, when we honor and invite Him, God will be a member of our community — community ties of the highest order. What a great source of comfort and blessing and joy!