Saturday, October 04, 2008

Small Town Business

Growing up in and around a city, I learned what I knew about small town life from television and books. It always seem so bucolic to me, serene and white-picket-fenced, kids rode bikes everywhere and had tree houses. Me, I was mugged three times before I was eight. My entire third grade class was robbed by a teenage gang on our fieldtrip to Grant’s Tomb. I had my bicycle taken, my lunch money, you name it! So to me, those images of quiet rural life always sounded like paradise. That’s one of the reasons I ended up in Vermont. I didn’t want to raise a child as I had been raised, with fear and a prey’s sixth sense. What I had never considered, however, was the more invasive part of small town living.

At one of my first jobs in Stowe—a business that was chockfull of ski bums and bunnies, most under the age of 30 (either chronologically or emotionally)—I was shocked one morning to overhear someone ribbing my boss. “Hey Karen (not her real name). I saw Mitch’s car in your driveway this morning…so, you guys seeing each other or what?” It was inconceivable to me; not only did people bother to recognize your car (a skill I still haven’t mastered) but just by driving by they knew who you were sleeping with! Yuk! The worst was how the news spread like a flame on a late-autumn corn field. I mean, in New York City, if you have a bad date, odds are good you will never have to see that person again, and if Karen chose to sleep with every bartender on the east side probably no one would know. And more to the point, no one would care.

Two years later I had just left the doctor’s office having found out I was pregnant, when I stopped by the local bookstore to pick up a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. As I waited to pay, I cracked the book, too excited to wait until I got to the car. Within seconds I heard a voice to my left. “Oh Ann, how nice to see you! What are you readi…Oh no! Are you pregnant?” she shrieked. Now this was an acquaintance, mind you, my husband didn’t even know yet! A good friend of mine who was dating a commitment allergic man had a similar experience, almost in the exact same spot as she read, “He’s Just Not That Into You” and a friend walked by. “It’s for my cousin,” she yelped, knowing the clichéd excuse only made her look guiltier. And then there was my sister. When she started dating again after her divorce, she wanted to purchase some condoms but was afraid to do so at our neighborhood pharmacy for obvious reasons. So I took her on a field trip to Burlington. But always the mischievous little sister—even then at 30—I ran ahead, held up a box of Trojans and yelled across the store, “The condoms are over here, Sis!”

But it’s not all bad, this small town experience. When I had my baby the women at our bank sent me a card signed by all of them. I was always shocked they even remembered my name. The few times I’ve had car trouble, people stop. They really stop. AND they’re not planning on mugging you. Odds are good you might know them. And we watch out for each other, keeping an eye on the neighbor’s house when they are on vacation or bringing back their truant Labrador when he wanders down the street. And it’s safe. Really. I know, I know, there are drug problems and crime everywhere, but trust me, I spent the most formative grammar school years on the upper west side, and whatever Vermont can dish up is nothing compared to what I saw. Besides, how likely is it that my son’s sixth grade class will get mugged outside the Fairbanks Museum?

So I’ve learned to love asking after my pharmacist’s house-building project and visiting with other parents at my son’s football games. And if something good or bad happens, that neighbors will find out and either support or congratulate me. After years of apartment living, where you didn’t know the neighbors’ name, but you knew what time he went to the bathroom each night, I was ready for some more amiable interaction. At least in a small town it is more personal and you take the good with the bad. I had always wondered what it would be like to be part of a community, any living we did outside of the city never lasted long, so now I’m relishing these connections that I lacked in my youth. And by the way, if you saw me buy that bodice-ripping romance paperback at the bookstore the other day, I was buying it for a friend. Really….


Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Esa!

You gotta get published.
Oh, that's right, you already are.

Teresa Cordero Cordell said...

Excellent reading. Thank you.
Teresa C. Cordell

Ann Hagman Cardinal said...

Thank you both! I have so much fun sharing my stuff with La Bloga readers.

But I have to admit, the bodice ripper I secretly bought was really a graphic novel better suited for my eleven year old son, but I grew up on horror comics, much to my Tia Ana's remorse.

Anonymous said...

There certainly are times when you crave anonymity in a small town! But I think you're right, the idea of community and people lookig out for one another is something sorely lacking in our culture and can only be found in small doses in the rural parts of the country. Even there, it's being lost to a point. Thanks for helping me to remember how thankful I am for the place in which I live and the people with whom I share that place.

Johnny Diaz said...

Thanks for the morning read. It sounds like you live in a nice friendly town, even if they know what you (or your son) are reading.
That hasn't happened to me here in Boston except in Harvard Square where there's a woman who reads all my news articles (and books)and sweetly comments on them when she spots me climing the stairwell to the cafe on my way for a brownie.

Mountain Mermaid said...

Well said, Ann. I too am a city girl and while I was a bit more sheltered (12 yrs of Catholic School) than you, nothing compares to the laid back folks in VT-- at least most of the time. I forgot what time the town clerks office closed on the day I was to pick up our marriage license. So, I went next door to the post office and they called her at her home. The next day, everyone at LBJ's the local "village" store, knew our story and how we almost didn't get hitched on Saturday. One time my mail that should have gone to my work in Mplr came to my home address---SERIOUSLY folks, either big brother is watching me or someone is super attentive to us little folks, transplants at that! Dianne in Worcester

Ann Hagman Cardinal said...

Dianne, I love that! But I too withstood Catholic School, in fact it was my class from Corpus Christi that got mugged! But I think that kind of schooling prepares you in a way nothing else does. As my friend Liz used to say, "Either you survive the nuns, or they survive you."

william said...

I asked my friend — heck, she’s like family — Becky McCray, if she was interested in writing a guest post on Successful-Blog. My motives were clear and simple. I think she’s brilliant at everything small business. She wondered what topic might interest.
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