Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Podunk praise

Life in a small town is much different than living in a big city. I grew up in Miami, lived in Memphis and then San Francisco before moving to this small WV town, and it took me a while to get used to the different way people behave. I remember one time, I had gone to the grocery store in our pickup truck, and because the seat was pretty much filled with a baby seat and baby, I put the groceries in the back. As soon as I turned the corner, all the groceries fell over and began slidding all over. I pulled to side of the road, climbed into the bed of the truck, and to my vast surprise, someone stopped and asked if I needed help! Several people called out "You OK?" as they slowed going past me. In San Fran, you could be bleeding to death, lying in the middle of the road, and people would swerve to go around you, that's how unlikely it was that you would get any help. People here hold doors, wave you into traffic, help you load your groceries in your car and refuse a tip if you offer. Amazing.

But the more subtle result of living in a town is that people are no longer anonymous, and this can be a good thing, and a bad thing too. I would tell a funny story about something the babysitter said, everyone would chuckle, and then someone would ask, Who's your sitter? And I would answer, and inevitably someone would remark, I went to school with her, or, my brother is good friends with her brother, and I'd gulp and try to remember if I'd said anything hurtful. The connections seemed to be a network that encompassed everyone. You couldn't be rude when you were driving, cut someone off, flip the bird, because when you got to the grocery store, there they were, your checker. Who clearly remembered the incident. We've lived here 25+years, and although the population is 25,000, less the students, still everyone now looks vaguely familiar, but you can't recall in what context. Was it Girl Scouts? 4-H? High school band? When my kids were learning to drive, we forbid them from taking anyone else in their car. I think it is a huge distraction to an inexperienced driver, and I couldn't imagine how I could face the parents if some child were hurt in a car mine were driving. And I pointed out to them, that everyone here knows everyone, and if they gave a ride to anyone, I WOULD hear about it, make no mistake. And it worked very well, I might add.

But I guess the down side is that it is all to easy to know the private things too. Like when I went to the Psych hospital after a failed suicide attempt, the clerk that admitted me was a former co-worker. Her husband taught my kids at the junior high school. We both belonged to the local kennel club. N knows hundreds of people from work, and would run into them everytime we went to the mall, usually when we were having a little dispute about what to buy. In San Fran, I NEVER saw anyone outside of work unless it was a planned event, never at any mall, theater, hairdresser, park, anywhere at all. It was so different here, I felt intimidated about the books I got out of the library, the videos we rented, the bar we went to, everything. Everytime I came home with fast food, I felt like the neighbors were saying, Doesn't that woman ever cook? They even published (then) the names of patients admitted or released from the local hospital in the local newspaper. They still publish the daily police report, so you can see that, yes, your boss WAS arrested for DUI. So I can understand why people find small town life too stifling, too much like living in a fishbowl. Still in all, I'd rather be here than the greatest city in the world. When my friend from Miami visited me a few years ago, we went to the mall, and at one point sat on a bench. She said, Look where your purse is, then look where mine is. And sure enough, hers was on the bench between us, still looped over her shoulder and with one hand on it. Mine was on the floor near my feet. She said, That's the difference in living in big city. And I guess she is right.

1 comment :

Carolyn said...

Yep, I sure relate to this. I've never lived in a big city and always felt a little cheated because I never experienced it. The small town life is very ordinary to me, but to large city dwellers would probably seem vastly different. The fish-bowl thing can be tricky though. Like you said, everyone knows everyone or is related, so it's hard to express an opinion w/out stepping on a toe. And small town politics can be frustrating too. I'm just finding that out after having lived in the country most of my life, lol!