Questionably, at least in reference to my carefully considered”life plans”, I have found myself living in yet again a another small town. I grew up in one and remember my mother saying “you could live here for 20 years and still be considered a newcomer.” My mother-in-law owned a clothing store in that small town and it was one of the hubs of the community. That and the hardware store down the street from her shop where the farmers played cards in the back room and drank whiskey. My mother-in-law would host a special evening early each December at her store and invite those same men, mostly farmers and philosophers of country living, to attend. Gossip was of ‘course chief amongst the attraction of those evenings, men I think are just as guilty of such if less overt than their female compatriots in crime. She’s set them up with hot cider and scotch and then show them what sweaters or dresses their wives were coveting lately. She’d know their sizes and colour preferences and she was careful to choose with each lady in mind, it was after all a small town and she knew them all. She’d charge the accounts and send the men home with nicely wrapped gifts their wives would love. It was that kind of place.
Most people knew one another and would smile and nod as they passed, keep an eye out for each others children, quietly help someone in need. There were community picnics and Santa Claus parades and the teachers at the school all lived close by. However, along with the generosity of spirit that existed and the care for each other, there was a darker side, the gossip and rumours.The musings over bridge games about the state of someone elses’ marriage, hushed whispers when someone was rumoured to be in financial straits or possibly ill, the “poor dear, that must be such a strain” they’d murmur ever so sweetly over coffee, lips pursed, eyebrows raised. There were houses we children were cautioned to never go near without any explanation of why, people who were “different” and best left alone and when a new Dr came to town who was as black as the night sky, ours was only one of a handful of families who signed on to be patients in his first year. I swore I’d never want to live in a small town like that again and yet, here I am.
This time round’ the world has changed considerably but old habits and idiosyncracies of all small towns continue to fester it seems. There are the typical players in this particular towns political hierarchy. The ones who take the glory and stand on shiny podiums so brilliant that those around them sometimes fail to see their humanity and their flaws. The jabs and digs that show up on social media feeds. The passive-aggressive way that some insinuate their judgement on others. Being an ” outsider” with glimpses of the “inside” workings, this is crystal clear still to me. There is of course a bully, who manipulates and obfuscates and confuses everything, but is allowed to push on because no one wants to be confrontational. There are the kind followers and the doers who work and press forward and forgive, over and over, the slights lobbied against them. I put a toe in to these muddy waters and almost drowned, literally, so I prefer to float just a bit outside and observe for now, it is too turbulent out there in this political schism. I do want to be a part of my community and find a place but it is harder than expected when you’re the newbie. The town is smaller than the one of my youth, there are fewer avenues to connect it seems. I have met some terrific and wonderful people as well and they have helped balance the ups and downs of life here so far. I am confident that those people will stay in my life and we will build our relationships with each other and this place together. Age has brought me a new perspective that means I care not what others think of me, only what I think of myself. I won’t suffer the bullies and I will encourage my friends likewise. That said, next time we move, I think I’ll try a city. Anonymity of city living might mean I can immerse myself in things without ever needing to understand the complexities of relationships affected by generations of residents before me.
“[He] had to submit to the fate of every newcomer in a small town, where many tongues talk but few heads think.”
― Victor Hugo,