Chicken Soup, Lemons, and Small Towns

One reason I enjoy writing stories set in small western towns is the sense of community. In one book I joked if someone sneezed, half the town would be at the door with chicken soup before day’s end. From the small towns I’ve known, this isn’t too far from the truth.

Life is hard. In the city I’ve become so accustomed to the polite and well-meaning “hello, how are you today” greetings everywhere, I can respond on auto-pilot. No matter how hard life is knocking me around, I can plaster a smile on my face and reply I’m fine. But in small towns, that’s harder to pull off because people know each other. They’re more likely to see past an overly bright smile and notice something is off. More importantly, they’re likely to ask and care about the answer. Not that this doesn’t happen in the city. It does. I just find it harder to create those mini-communities of support in the city.

Another difference I’ve discovered, is to receive help in the city, I am more likely to have to ask for it friends in my mini-community. My grandparents lived on a farm outside Decorah, Iowa, a town of eight thousand. If someone was struggling financially, if a death occurred in the family, or someone was sick, most of the town knew. For example, my dear friend Lori Turner Halligan shared a story about her father’s death during prime planting time in Iowa twenty-three years ago on April 28. Farmers arrived with equipment and planted her family’s fields before planting their own. Other families brought food to feed those working the fields. Her mother didn’t have to ask. The Turners needed help, and the community turned out. This is the sense of community I tried to create in both my Estes Park Series and my Wishing Texas Series.

Western women are known for their strength. In the old west, they helped carve a life out of the wilderness. While many of my heroines start out as “Eastern city women,” they possess a western soul. One that refuses to let them give up or give in. When fate lobs lemons at my heroines like hand grenades, they put on a hard hat and make lemonade,but sometimes even the strongest of women get weary.

Take Cassie in To Love A Texas Cowboy. When her niece is orphaned, Cassie moves from New York to Texas because that’s what’s best for Ella. Without family to count on, she’s learned to rely on herself, but keeping her art career going, raising a child and keeping a roof over their heads would shake Wonder Woman’s confidence. Like so many of us, Cassie realizes she can’t do it all alone. For her, help comes from the most unexpected place–Ty, a cowboy who at first glance appears to be on the opposite side of every issue and a small Texas town.

Whether we live in the city, small town or a ranch, whether our support comes from those related to us by blood, or a family we create in less traditional ways, we need people we can count on when life gets rough. 

And a special thank you to my BFF Lori for help with this blog and life in general. Everyone should be blessed with a friend like you.

Take a moment to leave a comment and be entered to win the dish towel, wine glass and a copy of Colorado Rescue.

To read an excerpt of To Love A Texas Cowboy, click here

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Julie Benson has written five novels for Harlequin American, and her Wishing, Texas series is available from Tule Publishing. Now that her three sons have left the nest in Dallas, when she isn't writing, Julie spends her time working on home improvement projects, rescuing dogs, and visiting Texas wineries with her husband. Visit her at

42 thoughts on “Chicken Soup, Lemons, and Small Towns”

  1. Loved this blog. Honey I’m living in a small town in Kentucky. We have 5 stop lights.? when I moved here there were only 2. Lol. So I can definitely relate.

    • Tonya, my BFF Lori I mentioned in the blog just moved to Lexington, KY! I’m anxious to visit her as I’ve been through Kentucky, but never been to the state, if that makes sense. 🙂 I love small towns. Give me one any day. My favorite thing to do is take day trips or weekend getaways to one. The minute I get out of the city, I can feel my whole body relax. It takes me back to my childhood and visits to my grandparents farm and Decorah, Iowa. What’s the name of your town? Who knows, maybe Lori and I will check it out one day! Thanks for stopping by today!

  2. Loved this blog. Honey I’m living in a small town in Kentucky. We have 5 stop lights.? when I moved here there were only 2. Lol. So I can definitely relate.

  3. I loved your book To Love a Texas Cowboy!

    I moved to this town after we got married, and I only knew one couple. Now I know so many people and it feels like my hometown. By the end of the month, I will have lived here longer than where I grew up–tipped that scale.

    • Denise, thank you for your kind words about my book. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. That series has a special place in my heart because my son and his Corps of Cadet buddies inspired it.

      Your story is what I love about a small town. You can move there knowing one couple, or no one, and the next thing you know it feels as if you’ve been there your whole life! That’s the way it is for me when I visit Valley View, Texas. Population 752 and one stop light! It also has the only working phone booth in the state of Texas. ‘Course you can only call Valley View numbers, but who needs much else!

      What town do you live in? I’m always looking for small towns to visit. I love taking day trips or weekend getaways to a small town. When we took our youngest son to college in New Jersey, hubby and I had a great time stopping in towns along the way for lunch and to check out the shops.

      Thanks for stopping by today.

  4. Great blog, there is a huge difference in small town VS big city living. Small towns become family.
    You have an exceptional graceful day.

    • Tonya, I know there are pockets of “communities” within cities, but for me since my children are grown, it’s been hard finding that friendship and support. Whenever I go to a small town, I always feel accepted and find someone I connect with. Plus, it seems the pace is slower. There’s not the frenzied got-to-get-there-and-get-it-done attitude. I’m hoping one day if we get to retire, hubby and I can move to a small town. For now we’ve got to settle for visiting.

  5. There is nothing like small town living. I can’t imagine only ever living in big cities. I have lived in Amarillo, El Paso and Memphis and I lived in small towns all the way to very small unincorporated communities. I’ve yet to read one of your books but I’m a virtual newbie to the fabulous reading world. I started reading two years ago in November after decades of not reading a book. I’d absolutely love the opportunity to read one of your books, especially one about Texas!

    • Stephanie, I’m so glad you stopped by today. Wow, Memphis and an unincorporated town. Talk about extremes. For me, it was easier living in the city and feeling connected when my children were in grade school. It was easier to find friends and that sense of belonging I’m now missing. My BFF Lori and I have talked a lot about that lately. She’s moved to Lexington, Kentucky after living in the Chicago area for twenty years. Without having kids to immediately connect her with a group of people, she’s finding this move different. When someone new moves into a small town, everyone knows, and like I’ve joked in a couple of my books, that’s big news!

  6. I love living in a small town where EVERYONE does know your name ! We have maybe 400 people, no stop lights but enough food and bars you’ll never have to leave town. All the old timers go to the Coal Mines Cafe to have coffee and tell the same story they’ve told you for years but it’s like hearing for the first time !! I would never want to live in the big city , small towns are home to me !

    • Rose Ann, just from the name, I love the Coal Mines Cafe! I can picture the place in my mind. And your description of your town, “…no stop lights but enough food and bars you’ll never have to leave town” I love it! That belongs in a book! That description fits my favorite getaway spot, Valley View, Texas. It has a little over 700 people, a winery, a distillery, fantastic pizza place, BBQ joint and my favorite house/clothing boutique Rustic Ranch. What more could anyone need?

      Thanks for stopping my today.

  7. I moved from the north to the south and I have to say it is much friendlier here. I do so enjoy it.

    • Debra, where did you live in the north? I was born in the Chicago area and moved to Iowa when I was in sixth grade. Hubby and I moved to Dallas after college and we’ve been here ever since. I do miss Iowa in the fall, but I’m not sure I could handle the winters anymore. I think my blood’s grown to thin from living in Texas.

  8. I grew up in a small town where the neighbors were a mile away, but were at your door in seconds when help is needed. I grew up in a 2 room house with outdoor plumbing and mom remodeled it into a 5 bedroom home with indoor plumbing by herself while working nights. But she got a loan from a neighbor just down the road and paid him back every penny. Just like a couple of days ago her neighbor thought of her while out driving around town and she saw a little tractor beside the road and knew mom had a lot of grandchildren and brought it to her. Mom has 34 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren. Her neighbors bring her fruits and vegetables all the time. Believe it or not but one of them is a member of the band Phish. People stop and plow her driveway just because they know she cannot. They stop by with homemade bread and she will do the same. I grew up in a era of caring for the elderly and doing for others who are unable to do it for themselves. I’m always telling my husband to go snow plow the next door neighbor yard or mow the lawn. And you shouldn’t ask to be paid. It bothers me to know that the children nowadays have no respect for their parents and think everyone owes them. Thank you for sharing your wonderful books with us all. They sound awesome.

    • Charlene, I’m so glad you stopped by today! Reading your post took me right back to my grandparents’ farm in Iowa! Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Their neighbors weren’t two miles away, more like a half mile, but it was the same thing–those folks were there the minute they were needed.

      My grandparents didn’t have indoor plumbing either! There are pictures of me at five taking a bath in a galvanized wash tub in the middle of the kitchen by the wood burning stove! (That reminds me that I have GOT to find a copy of that photo!) They had an outhouse and there wasn’t heat upstairs where the bedrooms were. I smile thinking of how well I slept upstairs in the cold winters under a huge pile of blankets. I still love sleeping in a cold room!

      My grandparents’ neighbors were the same way. If someone baked something or picked fruit or vegies from the garden, it was always an excuse to visit someone to share. That would turn into sitting around the kitchen table shooting the breeze. I miss that desperately.

      I think you’re right. We’ve gotten away from taking care of each other. We don’t think about making sure someone’s drive gets shoveled or their yard gets mowed. Where I live, I think it’s partially a result of everyone having a “privacy” fence and the fact that our driveways are in the back. Where I grew up, our driveways were in the front, and we saw people coming and going. We were more likely to see each other and stop to chat. I miss that too.

      I’m still trying to get over the idea that your mom lives near a member of Phish! How cool is that!

  9. I really enjoyed your post today and loved To Love A Texas Cowboy. Where I live, it’s a cross between city and country. I have been here 17 years now. But like in the city, people don’t take the time to get to know people. Even neighbors really don’t talk to each other. I crave a small town where everyone is friendly and willing to help. Just yesterday my car broke down and a man pulled up beside me, he looked over at me as I was struggling to start it. But then he looked away and went in the store. I was about in tears because I have no one to call for help and my husband can’t leave work. I don’t like calling him at work because he gets in trouble for talking on his phone. If he could leave, it still would have taken him 45 minutes to get to me. Luckily he was able to talk me through how to get it started again and back home until he can fix it this weekend. I know if it was a small town, that man (or maybe a couple) would have been right there trying help.

    • Janine, I can’t believe that man didn’t stop to help! Wait a minute, yes I can. A few years ago, I saw a woman stalled on a busy street. I turned around and went back to help. Her car had died. I told her to get in and put the car in neutral. I’d push and we’d get her out of traffic. (Traffic was backing up and I thought about how I’d feel. I’d just want to get out of traffic.) There I was pushing this car with others zooming past us! I’d almost gotten her into a parking lot when I nice man in a pickup stopped to help.

      I’m so glad your husband was able to walk you through the problem. I know what that’s like because my husband has worked a long ways from where we live at times, too. Shame on everyone who left you stranded there on your own! I hope today is better.

  10. Thank you for sharing your post. I love small towns. I grew up in a great small town and when I married, I moved to a small town. Now I live in an even smaller town than the other two. Everyone helps even there is a need. Everyone speaks when passing on the street. It’s nice!

    • Melanie, I love it when people say something to everyone they pass! It reminds me of Texas A&M. When our oldest went there, we were amazed the first time we visited. Even though the school is huge, so many students say “Howdy” to adults when they pass. I think it’s both a greeting and a sign of respect. I love those Aggies!

      Thanks for stopping by to chat today.

  11. I love reading about small towns for all the reasons you listed. It’s like one big family. I absolutey loved reading about Cassie and Ty. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the stories.

    • Carol, I’m so glad you enjoyed Cassie and Ty’s story. I love writing stories where I take a character from the city and put them in a small town. It’s especially fun when the character is also a “Yankee” like Cassie was. To Catch A Texas Cowboy is AJ’s story and the heroine is Cassie’s BFF Grace. The scenes between Grace and Cassie were so much fun to write. Anyone who knows me and my BFF Lori will swear it’s the two of us talking! Thanks for stopping by today.

  12. I have lived in small towns all my life. There wasn’t a stop light or a mayor where I grew up.
    I have lived for 30 years in town of a little over 3,000 in population and 2 stoplights.
    Would never want to live elsewhere.

    • Estella, no stoplights or mayor? Did the town have a city council? Just asking to file the information away for further reference. I’m trying to imagine who ran the town.

      I’m hoping when we retire my husband and I can move to a small town. I’m glad you stopped by today.

  13. I grew up in a small community and we had two country stores and everyone new everyone else like a small family. Right now I still live in a small town and we have one stop light in the town and if it wasn’t for it you would pass right by the town and never no it was there.

    • I love the country stores. My paternal grandmother lived in the small town of Ohio, Illinois, not far from Chicago. (Now is that an odd name for a town or what?!) She owned the general store. I have fond memories of that place. She even had the old time meat counter. In fact, when she sold the store, she kept the scoop that she used to measure out ground beef. As a child we got to go behind the register where the candy was kept and fill a small bag. She had Jolly Ranchers and I would fill my bag with the cherry flavor. I still love those things today, but only the cherry. Thanks for taking me down memory lane.

  14. I adore small towns! I still live in the one I was born in and all my family still lives here. We see each other on the roads during the day and always wave. I feel like I have a warm smiling face to see anytime anywhere during the day.

    • Susan, your small town reminds me of Decorah! My grandparents’ lived there. Two of my uncles stayed there as well. At one time, one was a deputy sheriff and the other was the county clerk. I may have his position wrong, but he was in government, too. Now one of my aunts lives there as well, though my grandparents are no longer living. It says something about the place you grew up when all your family chose to stay. It must be a special place.

  15. I grew up in a small town, and it’s true that everyone knows everyone else and what they’re doing. For me, this can be good or bad. There are tons of people who are nice and helpful in small towns. I remember how everyone turned out for my father’s funeral. It was truly amazing. We had enough food given us to feed a small army and the largest church in town, the First Baptist, was overflowing. There is a dark side, too, though, where any peccadillos by anyone in your family is remembered forever and all the family is painted with the same brush. So for me, small towns have been a mixed blessing.
    Having said that, however, and having lived in large or big cities since I graduated college, I find myself longing for the slower pace, laid back, easier atmosphere of a small town when my husband and I retire (he’s also from a small town).
    Thank you, Julie Benson, for taking us down memory lane and helping us to remember what small town life is like.

    • Hebby, in book three of the series I bring up some of down side of small town life that you mentioned. My heroine moves back to Wishing and struggles with folks not able to see her as different than she was in high school. Her BFF says at times she longs for the anonymity of the big city.

      I, too, have lived in the city all my life, but the older I get, the more I want the slower pace. I want those connections that I remember my grandparents having with neighbors and the community. I see my uncles and their families still have that in Decorah, Iowa, today.

      I also forgot to tell you how much I enjoyed you being a guest blogger on Petticoats and Pistols, Hebby. August was my month to format/post all the guest blogs so I got to read yours before anyone else!

  16. I enjoyed this wonderful and nostalgic post. I have lived in large cities all my life and still do. When i was younger though we would knock on our neighbors doors, visit and feel comfortable. Now we are strangers.

    • Anne, thanks for your comment. I miss the days when we’d see our neighbors in the yard or coming home. Now where I live, we have privacy fences and the driveway is in the back. I never see anyone. I’m not sure all the changes have been for the better.

  17. When we visited small towns on our summer one week vacation to a lake I was young I was introduced to another world. My great aunt and uncle owned a clothing store and knew everyone in this one main road tiny place. What a delightful change from the city where I was born and lived my entire life.

    • Ellie, I know what you mean. My aunt owned a clothing store in a town of eight thousand. She knew everyone in town, and everyone knew her. She also had great taste. I shopped there all the time. I still enjoy shopping at small, locally owned boutiques in small towns. I get great bargains and I love supporting a shop where most of the money stays in the community. Thanks for stopping by today.

  18. Reading about small towns gives me hope. Since life has changed so much medium and small towns still retain their old school behavior. In my other life when I was a child, we took road trips to visit relatives who lived in small towns. I still remember the strong feelings of warmth, kindness and sincerity which was prevalent through our entire visit. I miss those days and the places since the people are no longer with us.

    • Pearl, I miss those days, too. I still try to capture that feeling by taking day trips or weekend getaways to small towns. I’ve discovered some wonderful places. Some of my favorites so far are Valley View, Athens and Cleburne, Texas. Both Athens and Valley View have wineries. That’s another one of my favorite hobbies, visiting Texas wineries. Thanks for stopping by today.

  19. I grew up in a rural area and now live in a different rural area but times have changed—maybe because it is the Northeast. Even out here in the country, folks mostly keep to themselves–maybe from being in the mad rush all the time and the bumper-to-bumper traffic–literally. (People ride your bumper no matter what speed you’re going or how much traffic there is.) I wish it were like you describe.

    Lily Tomlin once said, even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat! lol I’m so glad to be retired and off the hamster wheel but sadly I’m not seeing small town community where I am out in the sticks.

    • Eliza, I know there are rural areas like you describe, more than just where you live. Definitely if you have a lot of commuters. I think that’s one of the major factors leading to our hectic lives–commuting long distances to work.

      I’ve got to remember that Lily Tomlin saying, because it’s so true! Thanks for sharing it with me.

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