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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

I grew up in a small town in the rural Midwest. REAL small. Approximately 350 people small. I was 14 years old when my family moved to a "larger" small town a bit more south, but still Midwest. I adjusted well to having 210 kids in my high school class in this "larger" small town, considering I previously had a class of 20 in the REAL small town. The "larger" small town was essentially a suburb of a small "city" of sorts. Even this small city of sorts eventually began to close in on me, so I moved away for college to a larger city with a metro area population of nearly three million. That worked pretty well for me. I loved the anonymity, the opportunities, the always something do-ness of the city. You would have thought I'd have been in culture shock to spend the first 14 years of my life in a little rural town of 350 people and then four years later find myself in a metropolis of nearly three million people. Maybe I was in shock; college was a blur, after all.

I moved West after that--to Idaho. The entire state made up a total population of slightly more than a third of the population of the city from which I had just moved. I adjusted once again. And then, despite my disdain for small towns, I somehow worked my way back to small town living in the Midwest. Dear Husband and I and our family currently live on a cheery five acres of rural American Dream paradise just outside a small community of about 1,000 people. A short commute takes us to the same small "city" of sorts that I previously mentioned from my high school days. Yes, much as I hate to admit it, it certainly sounds like I've gone some sort of full circle in my life.

My disdain for small town living stems from a deep dislike for small town gossip and a lack of privacy. Somehow, though I can't quite pinpoint exactly how, I felt impacted by both of these in the first 14 years of my life. I promised I'd never subject myself to small town living again. Now to be fair, our current small town life is still much much different that my growing up small town life experience. We currently have a 15 minute drive to a city of sorts (population of about 150,000). Growing up in REAL small town, the nearest city of sorts was at least 45 minutes away, and it wasn't even a "real" city. It was simply large enough to have a few restaurants, a small bit of shopping, a hospital, and some stinky air. I think it may have boasted a population of about 25,000.

We mostly just sleep in our current small town. Well, that's not quite true. We also run around on our small acreage with the kids and dogs, enjoy bonfires at the far corner of the property near the woods, hunt for frogs and tadpoles in the pond, grow a garden, go for country walks, that sort of thing. We just commute for everything else. Once in awhile, however, I indulge in the amenities of our small town. For example, our small town has its own post office, chain-name supermarket, and pizza joint. It also has a few other things that I never use. There are days that I enjoy driving a short mile to the post office where there are no lines to wait in (a nice perk during the holidays), and where I am greeted by the same smiling friendly postmaster guy every time I walk in. And then I can drive another mile to the chain-name market to get a few groceries, and again there is no line to wait in. I always get a front row parking spot, and someone always takes my groceries to the family-mobile and loads them up for me. Small towns, I've decided, do have a few perks.

This morning, however, I had a true small town experience that simultaneously creeped me out and gave me the warm fuzzies. I walked into the post office and was greeted by Smiling Friendly Postmaster Guy, and I no sooner walked in the door than he stepped away to answer his back door, where the UPS man was waiting. Before all this registered in my brain, the UPS man was shouting a street address out to me. I offered back a clueless look before I realized he was asking me if that was MY street address. I'm not used to being recognized like this when I walk into random businesses. I opened my mouth to say "No" and in that moment UPS Man said, "Oh wait! No! You're the house over on _________, the one where all the little girls in princess dresses were dancing around." I closed my mouth without uttering a peep, with the same clueless look on my face until I had a flash memory of Dear Daughter's birthday party last August. UPS came to the door and ten little girls dressed up in princess clothes went screaming through the room. "Yep!" I said. "That's me!" He rattled off my address (correctly) again to confirm, and then offered to leave my packages there with me if I wanted him to. Well, sure. I couldn't see any reason why not. He told me he'd pull around front and meet me, and Smiling Friendly Postmaster Guy told me to go ahead with that business while he weighed my packages. So I met UPS Man at the front door of the post-office (which was roughly ten paces from the back door of the post-office) and he already knew what vehicle I was driving. I had this odd warm feeling as the hair on the back of my neck stood up just a bit and I simultaneously thought it was nice to be known. I wasn't sure which feeling to surrender to, so I just went with it. I confirmed he had the right vehicle and pressed the auto-unlock button on my keyless remote. "Could you just put it in the back of the van?" I remained in the door of the post office, still feeling like this was all a little weird, as UPS Man carefully placed my packages in the back of my van and closed the door firmly. I clicked the lock and stepped back inside as I waved back at UPS Man and shouted "Thank you!" Inside, Smiling Friendly Postmaster Guy was waiting with my packages weighed and ready for me.

In all my past small town living, I have to admit that this was the first time that I went to the post office to mail packages and was greeted by UPS (who immediately recognized my face and my vehicle and could instantly rattle off my street address) offering to load my packages into my car while I was there attending to my other business. I still can't quite decide how I feel about this experience.

Seriously. Small. Town.


Riahli said...

Your small town sounds like the town I grew up in that my mom still lives in (population about 800). Not quite as tiny as the town you grew up in but still the every one knows your name sort of thing. I'm still torn between hating and liking the small town feeling. The population were I live now is about 26,000. I think I need something some where in between that. ;) I'd like the warm fuzzy feeling with out the hairs on the back of my neck standing up, thank you very much! Ha, ha!

Nyssa's Mommy said...

Hysterical. Judy used to wonder why I would call her for a zip code or postal question. Duh. The lines are too long at any post office around here. I love this post. It's so true. There's a part of me would love to move back to a smaller area, then there's the part of me that knows what that entails! (The state pretty much is closed down right now. Judy called to see if I had to go into work today. Yup. The roads were fine, an hour north of us was another story.)

The UPS guy used to stop at the PO and ask where someone lived all the time!

MGM said...

Nyssa's Mommy--Seriously! I have Paton flashbacks every time I go to the post office in my current little small town. Every time Smiling Postmaster Guy greets me (he's the ONLY person I ever see behind the counter there), I have these memories of Judy greeting me at the Paton Post Office. The Paton Post Office was actually much larger than this one, though (believe it or not). The first time the I met the mail carrier right after we moved here, he greeted me by name and introduced himself. It's the first time I can ever remember actually knowing the name of my mail carrier. It's really rather weird but warmly familiar at the same time. I tend to like to be more private and anonymous than small town living allows for. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Zip n Tizzy said...

I lived with my dad briefly growing up and went to a school with 28 kids k-8, our post office was in a trailer, but we were a half hour from San Francisco.
Go figure. I also HATED the small town gossip, because I couldn't figure out any good reason for everyone to know what I'd done before I'd even finished doing it.
As for the UPS driver, think of it as your doing him a favor in this cold time of year when he's got so many packages to deliver that he's probably not getting home till midnight. How many miles did you save him?

Maternal Mirth said...

Seriously. Spend a day in Los Angeles with me and I guarantee, not one person knows who I am nor do they care.

Enjoy the small town. :o)

Ed said...

I love the our small town life. In fact, we are actually a village. A town if way bigger than us.