Sanders: Small town living
In the early 1970s, while a student at the Sorbonne in Paris — a city of 10 million, at that time — I saw how a city could be akin to a small town.
We had two cafes that we frequented, where we were known as regulars. There was the millinery shop that welcomed foreign students and invited them in to practice the language. We were not hat buyers and the proprietors knew that, still they always had time for us. We knew the charcuterie; he gave us bones for the neighbor’s dog. On more than one occasion when we went to the neighborhood bank, the teller advised us to come back after lunch as the exchange rate would be more advantageous for us at that time. That was small town service, in a huge city.
I’m not a city girl — I live several miles away from the small town where I went to high school. Most of my classmates could not wait to get out of the “boring” town. Within 10 years most of them returned, spouses and children in tow, wanting to get back to a slower-paced life, a safer environment and a town where everyone knows their names.
Everyone also knows your business — or thinks they do — and makes it theirs. That can be a detriment or an embrace, depending on your perception. If you are sick and need physical help and moral comfort, the town will rally ’round, raise money through spaghetti dinners, silent or live auctions, passing the hat or raffling a quilt or a beef. Or they might bring food or sit and talk with encouraging words, meeting whatever need arises.
The ‘do-gooders’ most likely grew up helping, and perhaps have been on the receiving end of that help. If you are having an affair, gambling away your family’s grocery money or otherwise doing dirt, the community’s embrace may be more like a smothering squeeze causing you to be, at the least, tremendously uncomfortable.
The small town I know used to have one stop light. Giving directions was pretty easy. Now it has two and you have to be very careful to remember that, when routing a visitor through the town’s labyrinth. That second stoplight was nearly too much for me to bear. It meant progress, which is not always good.
Even without formal neighborhood watch groups, the neighbors know what is right and what’s circumspect. Leave your hand-delivered daily newspaper outside for a couple of extra hours beyond what you normally do, and you will receive a phone call or a gentle tapping on your door from your observant neighbor, who might just save your life. Some call it watching out for the other guy; others call it being nosy. How you choose to look at will likely give you an insight into whether or not you can live in a small town. ❖
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