Small Town Life
There’s something to be said about the feel of a small town. Successful novel writers know this and have used the small town theme endlessly for all kinds of good reasons. Thorton Wilder wrote a rather successful play about life in a small village in New Hampshire. Over in Maine, a place E. B. White came to call home, natives are particularly fond of declaring the whole state a small town. Stand on any street corner for two hours, they claim, and everyone you know in the state will go by. This astute view of small town life proved accurate for me just a few days ago.
This polar bear weather had kept me indoors for days, but with a momentary reprieve from the relentless cold, the time looked right to venture forth. I worked myself into the appropriate winter gear and began by easing my car to the grocery store for a round of necessities. I hadn’t intended to test any theories about small towns, but a chance encounter in the store made this inevitable. It all began in the vegetable section.
“Excuse me, young man.” Young man? I’m not yet the complete curmudgeon I intend to be in old age, but at the same time, I am nowhere near being the youngster of yesteryear. I turned to take in the bald-faced liar.
There she stood, all 5 feet of her, dressed in a long fur coat with matching fur boots and a fur hat. She looked every bit the stand-in for Livia Soprano, the grandma in the HBO Soprano series on TV. And what glasses! Purple all around with darkened lenses.
“Yes?” Little did she know that I’ve lost so much of my youthful warming spark these days that I never travel without wearing my WoolX.
“You’re blocking the turnips.” What I heard, however, was a fantastic New Jersey accent. I do love a good accent.
“Sorry?” I mumbled to the furry figure with purple glasses.
“Turnips!” came the sharp, thin voice of elderly impatience. “Step aside!” I did. It seemed very likely she had a blackjack under that fur.
After the grocery task I headed over to the bank. No sooner was I in what turned out to be the longest line (why is it always the longest line I’m in at banks?), Mrs. Soprano muscled her way through the front door. “Interesting coincidence,” I said to myself. “Probably never see her again in my life.
I knew I said the wrong thing as soon as I said the wrong thing. Life teaches many wonderful lessons, one of which is that one should never say never. How many times have I found myself doing something I said I’d never do? Or something happen I said would never happen? A short time later my tasks for the day had narrowed to one, a letter to be put in the post. With the pre-stamped envelope in hand, I swung into the post office lobby. The solemn line that greeted me looked like a line to the ladies room at a Schubert Theatre intermission. All I wanted was to confirm the postage on my letter as correct. “Cut to the chase,” I advised myself, bypassing the morose crowd and marching straight to the counter. What could be wrong with that?
“Hey, mister! There’s a line here!”
No! That accent! That creaking squawk! I wheeled around – and there she was. Somewhere between the turnips and the stamps the purple eyeglasses had determined I was not the young man of an earlier hour. I’d been reduced to a mister. Furthermore, she wasn’t alone. A crowd stared back at me. I thought quickly and carefully.
“Right,” I said with a sheepish grin, and silently withdrew. My stamp wasn’t licked. I was.
In her book Henrietta’s War, Joyce Denny said that, “Living in a small town is like living in a large family of rather uncongenial relations. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s perfectly awful, but it’s always good for you.” She certainly had that right. Knowing that I am in a small town means keeping up good relations with people, if I know what’s good for me. That includes the Sopranos.