Sanders: Small town life

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 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 charcuterier; he gave us bones for the neighbor’s dog. On more than one occasion when we went to the neighborhood bank, the teller would advise 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.

Although I’m not a city girl — I live several miles away from a small town — I did go to high school in that small town. Most of my classmates could not wait to get away from what they said was a boring town. Within 10 years many 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 or bring food, 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.

A youngster may wonder how in the world his mom and dad found out about his sneaking a smoke in the grocery store parking lot, when both parents were at work. Word travels fast in a small town, sometimes faster than a young person can move. The simple truth is, the adults in small towns consider every young person almost one of their own. These adults say they would like to know if someone saw their kid misbehaving so they are just doing what they think is right.

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; some call it being nosy. How you choose to look at will likely give you an insight into whether or not you want to live in a small town. ❖