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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Dear Hearts, Gentle People…
Wednesday, September 17, 2008 • Posted September 17, 2008

Several vocalists in the mid-20th century warbled about “dear hearts and gentle people” who lived in their home towns. It was a block-buster favorite, arguably the best musical tribute ever to small towns.

The composer clearly had such towns in mind, because “Idaho” is mentioned in the lyrics. On the Idaho map, dots are mostly small and mostly far apart.

In spite of that song, small towns bear the brunt of jokes, since most Americans live in cities. Such jokes typically begin with “my hometown was so small that.”…

  • * * * *

I contend that these communities have highest percentages in the “dear-and-gentle” category.

Exhibit “A” is Abernathy, Texas, a hamlet of some 3,000 folks. It is a “blink and you miss it” town 20 minutes north of Lubbock.

Its people are as ready to circle wagons now as when their land was young….

  • * * * *

Wesley Hill, a senior at Abernathy High School, ranks his classmates, friends, neighbors and parents as the best.

They quickly rallied around him when he got a jarring medical diagnosis back in January: testicular cancer.

Since then, he’s undergone two surgeries and three rounds of chemotherapy. Plans for his senior year are upside down, but what folks are doing to encourage him is right-side up….

  • * * * *

Consider the community’s response.

When he lost his hair, a majority of teammates, including all 14 seniors and a couple of coaches, shaved their heads. Dozens of students are wearing wrist bands and t-shirts with “band of brothers, #63” lettering.

They had a car wash/sausage wrap sale spanning five hours. The proceeds, $5,000, went to their hero. Of 50 classmates, 48 honored him by running in the Lubbock Relay for Life event. During Wes’ first night in the hospital this summer, more than half of his class paid visits….

  • * * * *

Wesley’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. John Hill, have long valued their community.

They were high school sweethearts at AHS, where Mrs. Hill’s mom taught science for more than 30 years.

John, a veterinarian, has been a school board member for 17 years, the last decade as president. He’s missed one meeting—the one coinciding with the birth of one of his children….

  • * * * *

Wesley doesn’t know when he’ll be able to return to school. Right now, teachers are assigning work at home, and his Spanish teacher, Dora Turner, is teaching him there.

He misses being on the football team. The 6-2, 190-pound lineman was an all-district player last year. He also plays a mean trombone in the band, and last year was in the Science Club and National Honor Society.

Wes also raises quail and works on the family farm….

  • * * * *

Oh, his “double duty” is the norm at AHS, where there are 205 students.

Of this number, 101 play in the band, with 93 performing at games (the eight “absentees” are on the varsity football team). Eighty band members play at least one varsity sport.

Superintendent Herb Youngblood and his wife, a faculty member, know about “double duty” that sometimes triples….

  • * * * *

Take last spring, for example. They were in Andrews for a regional semi-final baseball game, where five players were due to compete in state band contests the next morning.

Trouble was, the band competition was 400+ miles away in San Marcos.

No problem. At game’s end, the players jumped in the Youngbloods’ suburban for an all-night drive, and they answered “present” for the 9 o’clock contest. When they arrived back home, they had traveled a thousand miles….

  • * * * *

For the opening football game this fall, five Abernathy school buses made the two-hour trip to Friona, carrying three-fourths of the AHS student body. None of the football players or band members had sack lunches, however.

That’s because the Cargill meat-packing firm serves charcoal burgers “on the house” at the first home game each year, and visitors get to eat, too.

Dozens of Cargill people charcoaled more than a thousand burgers and gave away soft drinks until everyone got their fill….

  • * * * *

That’s the way life is in small towns.

Wesley would have liked to be at the game. He would have enjoyed playing, keeping a keen ear out for the best trombone, and savoring burgers with the rest.

But he was at home, listening to the game, one that his team won handily….

  • * * * *

So, if you’re sailing along on I-27 between Lubbock and Amarillo, stop off for a few minutes in Abernathy.

You’ll find dear hearts and gentle people who are “family,” a “band of brothers—and sisters.”

Stop or not, remember to whisper a prayer for a young warrior and community hero who just turned 18. (His classmates brought a video to his birthday party, marked by laughter and tears.) Pray, too, that young people will realize the importance of self-examination and early diagnoses for diseases such as his….

  • * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. He welcomes inquiries and comments. Email: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Call: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.

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