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Friday, August 24, 2007

Small Town Living

The thing about small towns is, well...they're small! By the time we bought our home plus five acres, we had already decided that it was going to be impossible to have the benefits of county space with city convenience (does that sound like a real estate ad, or what?). So we left our already smallish "city" and headed to the country. Now the closest town is a couple miles away and has a staggering population of 1,000.

I'm no stranger to small towns. I grew up in a town of about 350 people. All those small town jokes you've heard? They're TRUE! For example, if you dialed a "wrong number," you really would know who you inadvertently reached and you would jaw with them for a few minutes before hanging up. There may be some positive aspects of small town living, but for the most part, it's really not my thing. While there's something warm and friendly about truly being known, I generally prefer to be more anonymous. It's more private that way.

We met our "neighbors" quickly when we moved here. We even call them by name already. We lived in our last house for seven years, and the only people we knew by name on our entire street were any of the kids under age six that played with our daughter, and the lady who moved in across the street from us last winter, because it turned out I attended high school with her nearly two decades before. Truth is, the "city" we recently moved from was also pretty smallish, so it's interesting that in spite of being packed in like sardines in our subdivision, we still did not know our neighbors' names. I guess that's the difference between living in a community of 15,000 people and living in a community of 1,000 people.

Within a week of living here, I met my mail carrier. He called me by name before we had even formally met. It seemed a little strange at first, but then I reasoned that of course he already knows my name, he brings me my mail, after all. Still, I felt a little invaded. Over time, whether he means to or not, he will see what comes to me in the mail and what I send out in the mail, and he will learn a lot more about me than just my name. He introduced himself to me as, "Mike." I actually know my mail carrier by name, for cryin' out loud! I never knew the name of the person who carried my mail for the past seven years! But it gets better, when I took my kids into "town" a week or two later to play at the city park (that's a story for another day), I saw a truck with a mail delivery sign on it, and sure enough, it was Mike! I shook my head to try to rid it of that odd de-ja-vu feeling. I was already doing the "small town thing!" I was seeing people I recognized around town, and I was unwittingly taking note of what they were doing. If anyone asked me what Mike the Mail Carrier was doing at 10:30 am on July 21st, I would be able to tell them. I really didn't like this feeling.

A week or so later I took my first trip to the post office. As I pulled into a parking spot in front of the tiny building, someone did a double take before going on about his business. I could hear his thoughts, "You're not from around these parts, are ya?" Inside the post office, I knew immediately this was a one person show (well, not technically; this man wasn't Mike, and Mike was nowhere to be seen--though I did see Mike sorting the mail on my next visit to the post office). I knew the man at the counter was the postmaster and that I would receive direct service from him every time I went there. I predict that after two or three visits, he would begin calling me by name, and I him. I also predict that every day that mail is delivered, I will either say or think something along the lines of, "I wonder if Mike came with the mail yet?" I will wave at people on the streets whether I really know them or not...and sooner or later I will know them. I'll know random facts about people around town, such as which day they go to the local grocer to buy their milk, who mails their packages at 11:00 am on Wednesdays, and what kind of cars the townspeople drive. Even if I don't intend to know these facts, soon enough I will know them. I will try to stay anonymous to a point, but I know people will start to know random stuff about me. For example, today was my second trip to the post office. Even though I sometimes go to the post office in our old town because it's en route to other errands I have to do, I will still return every so often to the local one. And the postmaster (who I will be on a first name basis with by the end of my next visit), will know what type of package I mailed and who I mailed it to. He will know that I sent a rather heavy 11 x 12 envelope today to Aetna Behavioral Health. He won't know (yet) that I am mailing contracts to become a network mental health provider with numerous health insurance companies, but after he sees enough envelopes go out to various health insurance companies, he will begin to wonder what I'm up to. One day he will be sitting at the local bar (I'm pretty sure there is one), and somehow my name will come up and he'll speculate over a beer with his buddy what it is that I'm mailing out in these heavy envelopes.

This is how small town life is. This is how gossip starts. This is why I prefer larger cities where I can experience the irony of being more invisible in spite of coming into regular contact with thousands more people at any given time. This...is the drawback of small town living.

5 comments:

Dana said...

EXACTLY!

wacquiejacquie said...

Seriously. Funny. I can relate. Oddly enough. The small town where we were neighbors? Yeah. I think that's down to about 250 now. According to the Postmaster (also my mother), who now and then shares some of the small town happenings around town. We go back for a visit? After, oh say, an hour? Yeah, I right back into the grove. Sitting on the front porch...waiting for cars to go by the house, counting how many times so-and-so has walked around town. Ahhh yes. But you know what? In the end it's a good thing. Probably a pretty good place to raise some kiddos. Enjoy and think back to the days!!

jesse said...

Ok I didn't grow up in a small town but I lived in the same house from 10-18 and had the same mailman. I feel like a jerk because I can't remember his name but my bf and I would give him drinks and cookies and he always remembered my birthday and knew when I was going to h.s. and congratulated me when I graduated. He was such a nice man, and at first it threw me off until I realized-duh he brings my mail everyday.

Qtpies7 said...

We live in a smallish town, but thankfully not that small any more!
We lived in a rinky-dink town of maybe 100 one time, and went to a neighboring town to the hardware store and heard "Oh, hey, saw you mowed yer lawn yesterday." Umm, who the heck ARE you?" LOL
Crazy!

Tracy said...

It's so funny that you talked about this. I come from a very small town too. When I went back to visit last month, I walked into the local, and only for that matter, gas station and the same kids that were working there when I was in highschool were still there behind the counter. It's as if time stops in these small towns!