Small town. Small, small town.
I realized it today as I sat with Dad at lunch at the home and we talked about who was now the oldest resident and the ones that had recently gone before them.
Billie’s the oldest now, living in her home with her oldest daughter, her youngest was a year ahead of me in school in her class of 4.
The litany of those that have passed seems like a list of childhood friendships. We all knew each other, there are only a hand full of houses in town that I have never been in. Many of those houses are now occupied by others but in the 60’s and 70’s there were very few people that did not know me. There were around 300 people living there, it’s difficult to hide.
Those in the grades above and below me were like family, cousins. We did everything together, there are so few of us and we are so far away from anything. Rowe had a lot to offer – ball fields, tennis courts, the lake, the beach. If we wanted to play volleyball in the dead of winter a phone call was made and a key to the school could be had. We just had to make sure the lights were off and lock up when we were done.
We observed the different parenting styles of our friends mothers and fathers, considered their relationships and marriages. Divorces, affairs, deaths of children and friends, not common but news just the same.
There were only three other kids in my class in grammar school. I had only three teachers until I went into the regional high school in 7th grade. One for kindergarten, one for 1st and 2nd grades and one from 3rd through 6th. They are all gone now, one just recently – she may have been vying for the title of oldest resident. The last time I talked to her she asked me if I had my license yet – I was in my forties. Time stands still in a town of this size I guess.
The problem with a small town is everyone knows everyone else’s business. They are family, remember? Things that happened 20 years ago are still fresh in the minds of many residents. They love their gossip, especially the older ones who have nothing more in their day than speculating about who is driving by their house – one of three cars that day.
As you grow up in a town like this these stories, other people’s stories, color your life. They become part and parcel of your world. Even though you move away, staying away for years, when you return it feels as though things are still the same. Errors in judgment, often are recalled decades later with the story told as if it happened yesterday.
There is some comfort that can be taken in this as well. You can always go home. The homes now may be occupied by people unknown to you but I swear some of the stories have been passed down multiple generations. When the opportunity arrives to visit childhood friends, especially in the company of their parents, it is taken with no questions asked. You listen to them reminisce about days long gone but recognize all of the players. My father still talks about a particular kid that broke into someone’s house once long ago. He speaks of this incident like it is a common occurrence and the break ins continue to happen weekly in his mind. The kid is now in his late forties and living in some unknown town far away, probably to escape the continued judgment of one incident one night when he was 15.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a younger person about where he lived in town. He and I know the house by who lived in it before him. The amusing part is we each knew his house by different decades.
The topography of the town has remained the same. Due to zoning and wetlands there are very few new houses that have been build in the 50 plus years I’ve been in Rowe. The faces have changed, they are kinder and gentler than the old Yankees that used to occupy this place. I do have a sneaking suspicion that any one of them could tell me about the transgressions of someone I know or something I did 40 years ago that set the town abuzz. That’s the price you pay for making your life here.
Once you’ve become part of the community you are surrounded by people you can count on for help in any emergency. You are willing to do anything for those surrounding neighbors if the need arises. This is still a small piece of the world where you can stop by a friend’s house unannounced and expect an open armed welcome – maybe even a piece of pie. In a very small town people are familiar, they’re family.