We stoked the woodstove as full as we could and damped it down low. We usually try not to leave the farm in the cold of winter when the critters’ water freezes and the cabin’s pipes are prone to burst, but my cousin had fallen asleep for the last time, and his wife and daughter had invited friends and family from near and far to help them celebrate his life. So after scattering thick layers of hay to all the animals, Greg and I packed a small bag and drove east across the mountains.

As we headed into the small town, I noticed that the houses lining the streets were all lovingly decorated with pine boughs and ribbons.

We decided to park a few blocks away from my cousin’s home, leaving the closer parking spots for folks who needed them more. We carefully walked arm in arm along the sleet-covered sidewalks to their front door. The air was bitterly cold, but when the front door opened, a room filled with family and neighbors greeted us.

As we made our way around the room, hugging our gathered family, I glanced out the back window, and there I saw a huge tent that covered the entire yard. A steady flow of neighbors was arriving at the tent, each carrying dishes and platters filled with the most amazing food. We made our way outside.

Inside the tent, it was amazingly warm. Canvas walls kept out the chill. Craft beer and wine warmed the gathered souls, flowing discreetly, yet freely. We joined the throng, sipping some of my cousin’s finest home brew, hugging and loving our family and our cousin’s friends and neighbors. His favorite dance music filled the air as laughter, tears and memories were shared.

In time, the day darkened and the tent emptied out, leaving only the out-of-town folks to hold my cousin’s dear wife and daughter, but this is where my heart really took flight as I realized the extent of the love that this small town had for my cousin and his family.

They had not only brought their beautiful food, they had also opened up their homes, just across the street or around the block, so that out-of-town family could fall into bed between sweet-scented sheets, wrapped securely in the knowledge of their love for our family.

We woke up early the next morning to drive back across the mountains to our creek valley, but before we left, I climbed the stairs of my cousin’s house to lean over the bed and hug his wife and daughter. With the warmth of their sleepy goodbyes, I knew that they would be just fine, wrapped securely by their small town, just as certainly as they snuggled into their warm comforters on a chilly winter morning.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.