Once I had permission as a pre-teen to roam as far as I’d like on Saturdays, I went. Even though Walmart and downtown Aberdeen seemed far enough away to pack snacks, they were completely worth it once my friends and I peddled there on our mountain bikes.

When you’re 12 or so, the freedom to roam opens up a whole new world, but knowing you’ve got a curfew keeps you grounded enough to stay appreciative.

I remember taking enough money to chip in on ribs from Henry’s Barbecue, when he had a little stand in the early ‘90s in front of Gibson’s Furniture, and you couldn’t pass by Alpha-1 without filling up a commemorative MLB cup with an ICEE.

There were stickers at Lasky’s just waiting to be stuck on our skateboards and electric guitars hanging up at Buxton’s to add to Christmas wish lists.

A little bit of saved up birthday and allowance money went a long way to help fuel those Saturday adventures from my end as much as it helped with daily cash register totals from the local business owners’ ends.

Eventually, the years gave way to a driver’s license and finally permission to go roaming in Columbus, Amory, West Point and Tupelo. More years have given way to Saturday getaways in other states and week-long vacations to beach towns and the Appalachians.

Being stuck inside on a rainy day as a 12-year-old got boring pretty fast playing Nintendo and watching TV. Being grounded, in a sense, the past several weeks hasn’t been bad at all though.

Yes, I still love to roam but I’ve realized it’s actually relaxing not having to rush through chores to free up a day in order to go exploring however many miles away. There’s still plenty to explore in my own hometown too.

Sure, eating out is one of the capstones of my weeks, and making my way through the Aberdeen takeout trail has been just, if not more, delicious.

Even before shelter-in-place orders, Saturdays spent poking around inside the friends of the animal shelter thrift store and greenhouses at the feed mill have yielded some great finds. What I’ve learned the past few years while Christmas shopping is the locally bought gifts have more of a wow factor than just something from the mall.

It’s great exchanging niceties with an employee at a World Market or a Bass Pro Shop, but they probably aren’t going to make the time to chat like somebody at a locally owned store does.

To get to know a town is to mingle with the people, and small business owners are great ambassadors. While out of town, I can find out more details about Tuscumbia, Alabama’s annual It’s a Dickens Christmas, Y’all by browsing at Fiddledee D or what movie they’re filming right outside in downtown Clayton, Georgia by making small talk at Outdoor 76.

To get to know a town even better than you already do is to mingle at its local stores and restaurants. The barbershops and salons are weeks removed from the latest gossip, and there are plenty of other stories to get caught up on around some of these restaurants’ dining room tables.

You can still practice social distancing while getting a little retail therapy, and it’ll be just as good for you as it is for local business owners.

I’ve heard plenty of times about groups of friends having fun on scavenger hunts through Aberdeen’s local retailers, finding treasures they didn’t realize were hidden in their own hometown.

There’s plenty of exploring for clothes, cookware, tools, trinkets, thingamajigs and set-abouts left by diving through shelves, tables, bins and displays at the stores in your town too, and their owners could really use your help right now.

We’ve all been in this coronavirus thing together from the start and we’ll probably need each other for a while to come. Be there for your local restaurant and store owners.

Whether you’ve filled your stomach thanks to a string of local restaurants in your hometown or not, I hope the past few weeks have fed your soul on several levels. I hope this time has made you realize things you’ve overlooked while you rush through life to make time for something else.

These hometowns are where we comfortably lay our heads down at night. Please consider doing your part in helping your local restaurant and store owners rest comfortably at night too.

Ray Van Dusen is the managing editor of the Monroe Journal. He can be reached at ray.vandusen@journalinc.com.

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