Monday, November 24, 2008

Small Town News

I am reading/listening my way through a series of books by Jan Karon, set in the fictional small town of Mitford, I think in North Carolina. The center of the books is Father Tim Cavanaugh, an Episcopal priest, who deals with the day to day life in a small town of characters. The stories are gentle and sweet. There are religious overtones, but not the heavy-handed kind that get old after a few chapters. The books are uplifting and as you begin to know the characters, you begin seeing in them people you grew up with yourself in your own small town.

In other words, they remind me very much of growing up in Smiley, particularly since my point of view was from within a little church.

One of the characters is the local newspaper editor and from time to time one of the characters will read an article of local interest, complete with comments on the mispellings. Deja vu.

We lived 9 years in Smiley. At the time we were there, the local newspaper was The Smiley Tabloid. I think it died shortly after we left the area, or maybe it merged into The Nixon News, which is itself defunct now. Daddy, being the Baptist minister and a Scoutmaster and for a time a City Councilman, got his name in the paper frequently. I, too, appeared sporadically in its pages by virtue of piano recitals and as valedictorian of my class.

What is noteworthy here is that for 9 years I don't think they ever once spelled our names correctly. It got to be a joke in our family. If they managed to get the last name correct, which was seldom, then there would be a typo in the first name. If they managed to get Daddy's name completely correct, inevitably one of the other members of the family would be mentioned and they would mispell his or her name. They just could not get it right. (Today Smiley's local news is courtesy of The Cow Country Courier, to which little brother is subscribed. We made the local news column recently and they actually spelled every name correctly.)

There's nothing like small town life. For instance, Daddy getting elected Councilman. As it happened, the person running for the position either died or dropped out of the race. For a joke, Daddy wrote in his own name. No one else in the little town wrote in a name and he ended up electing himself and serving a term on the City Council. I learned something from that. Never, never write your name in as a joke unless you want to risk a possibly unwelcome surprise the next morning. Daddy was surprised, but I think he really enjoyed his tenure on the council.

There were so many characters in that town that someone should write a book. There was the old man who drove so atrociously that a prominent man in the community warned his wife that if she needed to stop in town and she saw Mr. Whatsit's car, keep on driving. One day she stopped at the grocery, even though Mr. Whatsit was parked on the other side of the street headed the other way. She thought she was safe. Mr. Whatsit got in his car, made a huge U-turn and slammed into her car on the opposite site of the street.

There was another old man who was driving home after dark one night and got stuck. Not in a ditch. Not in mud. He had driven up on a cow that had been hit and was lying dead in the road. He had not seen her and managed to get himself stranded up in the air, all four wheels off the ground.

I miss those days, when everybody knew everybody else and everybody watched out for everybody else. I could walk home from school and have at least a half-dozen offers for a ride home. If it happened to be after dark, I was perfectly safe if I chose to walk the entire way home. I might not know who lived in every house, but they for sure knew me and would have taken me in or come to my aid without a second thought. Smiley was more than a little town in those days - it was a family. We had our rotten folks, to be sure, but doesn't every family?

To experience life in a small town before cable tv or the internet was a privilege I'm glad I had the chance to enjoy. For awhile, at least ten books worth, I'm getting a reminder of what it was like.



dwilcoxen said...

Nice. But wasn't it the Smiley Tabloid, not the Advocate? I have a little stack of Cow Country Couriers for you.

LSW said...

You are, of course, completely correct. Little brain freeze there and I've corrected the post. Got my mental wires crossed with the Victoria Advocate.

RMG said...

We didn't even have a paper in Newgulf, just one gas station. It sure was different then. We were on our own all summer long with both parents at work and we could run free because everyone knew everyone. Now, even in the small town of Sweeny, our kids don't play outside unless we are watching them. Times have changed.