MY LITTLE TOWN

Aaron Tippin finds a slice of heaven in Smithville, Tennessee

Aaron Tippin relaxes over a late-morning cup of coffee at his place of business, the Aaron Tippin Outdoors & Convenience Store near Smithville, Tenn. Sitting at a back table, he watches the townsfolk come and go, greeting them as they pick up their daily supplies of snacks, drinks and hunting gear.

For Aaron and the people of Smithville, a few miles from Aarons farm in Liberty, the store which Aaron purchased in 1995 is a major center of activity.

This is where my day usually starts when Im not on the road, says Aaron. A bunch of us will sit around and talk about the weather or sports or hunting. Mostly, he adds with a smile, we just tell lies.

Today, though, hell have to put a limit on the storytelling. Hes waiting for wife Thea and their sons, 5-year-old Teddy and Thomas, 2, to join him on some family errands.

Its a chance for Aaron to spend quality time with Thea and the boys and give a quick tour of what he calls his adopted hometown.

I have lived here about eight years, says Aaron, who grew up in South Carolina. Thea moved out here with me after we got married in 95, so weve gotten to know most of the people here. And he proves that right away.

Hey, Charlie! Whats going on? he calls, waving a friendly hello to Charlie Blanchfield. Aaron spots another local, an elderly gentleman named James Miller, and breaks into a grin. Now, here comes a real character, Aaron points out, almost as a warning.

True to form, Mr. Miller proceeds to recite a few off-color jokes, leaving Aaron breathless with laughter. You know what the funny thing is? whispers Aaron. His sons a preacher!

Theres a noticeable ease in the way folks approach Aaron. To them, he is simply a neighbor not the resident celebrity. And to paraphrase one of Aarons hits, he wouldnt have it any other way.

Im old hat by now, laughs Aaron. The great thing about this place is that being a country singer dont mean squat to these people. They dont go around like, Oh, look, theres Aaron Tippin! I would never want that.

Meanwhile, Thea arrives with the boys who are rarin to go. Teddy and Thomas race to the back of the store to find Dad. Theyre so excited, theyre bouncing around already, Aaron smiles. And they aint even had sugar yet.

Aaron gathers the family together and heads around the corner to the Trading Post, a rustic furniture shop owned by Charlie Blanchfield.

They have furnished just about our whole house, says Thea. Charlie is really amazing, makes all the furniture himself. He made this beautiful bench thats in front of the store near the window. Today, were checking on some things that we might want later on.

After visiting with Charlie, the Tippins pile into the family van and drive down Broad St. to the next stop the DeKalb Farmers Cooperative, which everyone knows as simply The Co-op. Aaron says, I come here a couple times a week. I get all my hardware, dog food, feed for the wildlife. They have everything you might need, especially if you like to hunt and fish, which most people around here do.

Aaron grabs a box of nails and a 50-lb. bag of feed as he chats with store salesperson Tammy Smith. All the activity comes to a sudden halt with a loud splash Teddy has just dropped a small carton of chocolate milk on the floor. Aaron is not exactly amused and takes Teddy aside for a fatherly chat. Now see, son, Aaron lectures, quietly but firmly, that happened because you werent paying attention. There was no call for that. Well, you know what to do now, dont you?

Teddy apologizes and offers to help Tammy mop up.

Things lighten up a bit in back of The Co-ops warehouse. As rock music blares over the loudspeaker, Aaron stands around a group of his hunting buddies, swapping stories and sharing a few laughs.

Out of the corner of his eye, he catches Teddy playfully dancing on a stack of feed bags. This is how daddy does! exclaims Teddy, twisting his body side-to-side. Daddys not that good! Aaron calls back.

What a kid, Aaron laughs. I tell you, that is the light of my life, watching those two boys grow up. Every minute is special. They mess up like all boys do as you saw a few minutes ago but theyre great kids.

At this point in the shopping day, though, theyre typically restless kids. So its time for a diversion, and off to the Dairy Queen they go. A little ice cream ought to hold them for a while, Aaron says. At least till lunch time.

About an hour later, as a steady rain starts to fall, they pull back in to the outdoor store for lunch. That was fun, says Aaron. Its just great to have some family time together.

That hasnt always been the case in recent months. On the heels of his flag-waving anthem, Where The Stars And Stripes And The Eagle Fly, Aaron has kept a high-velocity schedule of concerts, patriotic rallies and TV appearances. This past fall, he released his Stars & Stripes album, which features his latest single, If Her Lovin Dont Kill Me. And capping off his busy year was a USO-sponsored tour of Afghanistan in December where Aaron performed for American troops.

My schedule was unbelievable this year, agrees Aaron, shaking his head. So, I am doing nothing until after January, except stay home with the family and do a little hunting.

This tiny Tennessee town, about 70 miles east of Nashville, provides a great escape. Thats just far enough to get away from it all, Aaron smiles, though it is a long drive to the city. But move to a ritzy Nashville suburb? Forget about it.

Oh, I couldnt handle that, he laughs. Its not wide-open enough. I grew up on a farm, so as soon as I started having some success, I went looking for a farm. When Thea and I first started dating, I found this place out here that had about 300 acres. I grabbed it up immediately.

Aaron felt right at home Thea, on the other hand, had to adjust. Thea had gotten used to living in Nashville, so I had to introduce her to the country life, Aaron recalls. It was a little hard at first, but you couldnt drag her back now.

Thea agrees. I love the peace and quiet, and everyone is so friendly, she says. Everything we need is close by. But we dont just live here we try to be a part of the community as well.

Aaron and Thea definitely walk the walk. Weve been involved in some benefits for the preschool that Teddy attends, says Thea. Aaron is donating some things from the store to raise funds for a community center.

Aaron chimes in, Its important for us to be involved, because we plan on living here for a long time. This is where I want the boys to grow up.

Aaron pauses for a moment to reflect on his small-town life. I remember when I first came here, he begins with a warm smile. I thought I would never feel at home in Tennessee because I was a South Carolina boy all the way. Thats what I considered home.

But then, a few years ago, Aaron continues, his eyes gazing upward, I was in Jackson, Miss., doing a concert and someone asked me where I was headed to next. And I said, Im going home, meaning here in Smithville.

At that point, I thought, Wow! I actually said it. I called it home. And thats how its been ever since.

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