LOVE LETTER TO A SMALL TOWN from Tamara Pettit

(New Cumberland Mayor Will White is shown unveiling the plaque designating River Avenue as “Webby Way during opening ceremonies for the Riverfest. Councilman Brian “Webby” Webster passed away last year on opening day of the Riverfest)

      I’m not sure when I realized I was in love with my hometown; its residents; and the small town values that permeated the actions of its residents.  I do know that by the time I was a young mother, I fully embraced the extended sense of family that I felt in this small community where everyone not only knew my name, but that of my Mom and my Dad and my son and my daughter.  I loved that my kids knew that others took responsibility for their actions:  that Edie Long would yell at Shannon as she walked past her house on the way to school to put her hat and scarf back on or she would catch a cold.  It felt good that Doug would encounter Bob Manypenny as his teacher everyday and that they had an understanding that Bob was Mr. Manypenny in school, but Bob on Christmas Eve.

     Some may have thought it a liability that living in a small town meant that residents knew our family’s “business” which meant all the family drama sometimes spilled into the chit chat of daily conversation.  That was OK for me.  What others may have thought was stifling and intrusive, I saw as a sign that we all cared about one another.

       While tragedy often creates a questioning of faith and purpose, the actions of this small town following the death of my nephew, Brian Webster, have reaffirmed my belief in the power of a small town and its residents to sustain a family during times of tragedy.   Brian loved New Cumberland and he loved its residents.  Despite the challenges that he faced, he was an active participant in the community. Today, his family was deeply touched by the town’s decision to designate River Avenue “Webby Way.”

      Brian had a deep sense of the community and his family’s history of service.  His service on City Council was driven by years of watching his Dad as New Cumberland’s Chief of Police.  He knew that small town service didn’t honor a time clock. 

     He loved the Lion’s Club.     From the time his mentor, Bob Manypenny, took him under his wing and signed him up as Lion’s club member, he was dedicated to the Club.   His grandfather had been a zone chairman and District Governor and I well remember when Brian called me near tears to tell me he was going to be Zone Chairman.   I gathered my Dad’s Lions pins and presented them to him that Christmas.

      His role at Sparkle extended beyond simply stocking the shelves for he knew every shopper no matter their age.  When little, my grandchildren would run through aisles and they discovered the one which held Uncle Brian.  They were not alone in their knowledge that they could always find a friend in the aisles of Sparkle and a gentle and kind person willing to talk about what was their concern of the day.

      Through the years his physical challenges grew, but his desire to be part of the community  did not diminish.  When he could no longer drive, he could be seen walking to work or to his council meetings and before COVID to Lions Club meetings.   He dropped in to visit at the Library, at the City building or the Magistrates Office.   He wasn’t an onlooker.  He was a full participant in the community.

      How strange, you say, that she is penning a love letter to a city.  It is not a living, breathing thing.  But, oh how it is!   I see it every day from the vantage point of this publication.  Never more did I see it though when tragedy took Brian from us.   This town was there for us.  You felt our loss.  Through your Facebook responses you conveyed your concern and your love.  I felt it so much as I drove through town for two days glancing over at the Riverfest that  he loved so dearly.  The closeness of a small town feels as if you, its people,  have wrapped us in your arms in the largest group hug possible.

    And so, yes this is a love letter to my hometown and its people.