Growing up in a small town can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view. Since I’m a country girl at heart I consider it a blessing in many ways.
I grew up in one such small town, where you knew the guy who pumped your gas. The grocery store was run similar to Drucker’s at Hooterville, where groceries could be charged not with Visa or MasterCard, but with trust that you would pay a monthly tab. Groceries were even delivered to your door if you were sick or elderly. Competition in business wasn’t a factor as in most cases there was only The bank, or The Laundromat, or the Drugstore, or The barber. No, his name wasn’t Floyd. On the other hand there was a church on every block.
You left your doors unlocked. Crime was unheard of. Neighbors knew just as much about your business as you did, maybe more so, as it could become extremely exaggerated. A stranger in town would illicit stares and often brought business as usual to a stand still, changing The Andy Griffith Show to The Twilight Zone.
I once boarded a plane out of New York City and sat next to a private detective. I thought where I lived the profession of a private detective would be as unnecessary as that of a locksmith. Any suspect behavior, often embellished, would run the telephone line circuit like a spider spinning its web in a matter of hours. I also grew up when party lines were still the norm. For some this was a means of endless hours of entertainment. When my husband moved here from a larger city he was dismayed at the lack of signaling when turning. I told him vehicle turn signals were options since everyone knew where everyone was going.
In spite of the gossip and perhaps what some would deem as that of being a busy body, there was a certain dependableness to growing up in a small town. If in trouble, you could literally call anyone for assistance. The town looked after it’s own. The sick were visited. Pies, country fried chicken, and lavish casseroles were bestowed. Funerals brought out the whole town.
However, if anything is constant it is change itself. While the Aunt Beas were delivering casseroles down the street, an unworldly vapor out of Star Trek was seeping unsuspected through the unlocked back screen door. The outside world had entered, maybe through that box that was now sitting in everyone’s living room. Opie was no longer on his bicycle learning the value of a dollar by delivering newspapers or running safe streets with Arnold in harmless fun. His eyes along with the rest of the family were affixed to a new medium of delight that was both insulating families and exposing them to an outside world they didn’t know existed. The old breed was dying out. The new breed was growing up with TV dinners in a hypnotic state with invisible feeding tubes running from a rabbit eared box directly into the medulla oblongata. This is not to blame television for all of life’s woes; but a transition was happening.
The churches were still lining the blocks, but now along with them were houses containing meth labs, behind now locked doors. Friendliness was replaced with suspicion. Technological advances to make life easier came. You cleaned your own windshield and pumped your own gas and slid a piece of plastic through a slot to pay. The inconvenience of personal interaction was erased. Goober was no longer there to ask you how your family was doing, if your mother had gotten over her bout with gout, or to congratulate you on little Johnny’s homerun last week. It’s a wonderful life had somehow come to an end. Unemployment was at an all time high. The town population hadn’t grown. In fact, it had decreased. The people who did work for the most part commuted. Neighbors no longer knew each other. Bedford Falls had somehow turned into Potterville almost over night, without even the amenity of a Starbucks.
To coin Bob Dylan’s famous line, “the times are a changing,” holds a sad truth. Oh, where or where have all the Mayberry’s gone?
(This was something I wrote several years ago. And, you may wonder what this has to do with my being thankful theme. I have been getting images for quite a while now, of a transformation of the town. It’s about those inspirations that come through the silence, as well as synchronicity that points in the same direction. It may not lead to anything, but still I am thankful for those.)