Oh this town, my town. Ok village really. Some of it’s great, some of it sucks. I’ve lived here most of my life born here moved away for four years of college and 5 years of grad school. People know me and I know them. But I met my now finance in second year of university, he lived here so I was back often.
So what about my town? It’s best described as a string of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ villages first settled by a few families dating back to the 1700’s. We are 50 km from the largest city on the east cost of Canada but it wasn’t until the 50’s people started commuting to the city for work. Since we are nestled along Nova Scotia’s picturesque coastline property values have gone up 10 fold since the early 80’s. This leads to some push-pull between the older families and new recruits. The area has about 12 000 residents and since home values have been going up reliably until 10 years ago. My parents moved in in 1979 and I arrived about 4 years later and the odd person will still note my mom is from Ontario.
So what is it like to live in a small town? I’m not about to blow the doors open on mine Peyton Place style, if anything only details of my storey will be revealed. But rather look at the overarching themes that run through my town and the subtext of small town movies.
Pro: You just gotta be nice!
For so many reasons that will become clear as you read on.. You have to be sweet, kind and charming to everyone. You can’t dash into the grocery, or liquor, store after a fight with you significant other and let your mood show taking it out on the clerk for a minute. That clerk is going to be the mom of your sister’s childhood best friend, the tenor from the church choir you sang in as a kid or worse. The bank manager you have to see next week will be behind you or….
Con: People are bored and gossip fills the void
OMG everything you’ve heard is true but also it’s so much worse. Everyone be all up in your business even if you don’t have any. People keep track of who’s car is parked in who’s yard, who’s on the outs with who and thank god Facebook filled the void when the police scanner went digital. You think I’m exaggerating? NO you’re not getting how intense this is. My mom once got asked if she was selling the house when the local real estate agent was parked in her yard for 20 minuets, PS the only identifying feature is a veteran plate on the car. When we were robbed the neighbour called when we got home to let is know the thief was parked in the neighbours driveway and two people called to ask what was stolen, after hearing our address on the scanner, before the police got there! I got around this in my early 20’s by leaving my truck parked in the church lot when I was up to no good. It was especially effective since everyone knew it wasn’t even my church!
Plus gossip is like a fish tale and a game of telephone all mixed together. Every time the storey is told more salacious details are added. For example my mom was getting some work done on the house and had a standing appointment Saturday mornings with the contractor. By the time it got back to me from a church lady at the local restaurant she had a new boyfriend who stayed over Friday nights, it was getting serious and he was soon moving in.
So how do you live like this, a few ways. This drove me nuts in my growing up years but I’m mostly okay with it now. One is the German proverb, “Once your reputation is ruined you can live quite freely.” That dude lived in a small town! The other is to make it clear that you aren’t going to be participating, at least publicly, and people won’t tell you. Also, you need to recognize that since the talking heads get it wrong so often no one really knows when something is true. Also when given the opportunity tell the contractor storey as often as possible.
Pro: Tiny efforts make a huge difference
Especially if you get the right people involved. Our little community has it’s own library, skate park, recreation centre, Top-rated not-for profit daycare, groomed trail, visitor’s centre, community marina, community centre and gym, amphitheater and community barn which serves as a farm market and garden. All in addition to the regular 4 churches, lion’s club, scouts and guides, meals on wheels and business association which we are probably not really big enough to support. Truthfully a lot of the time causes are taken up by the current generation of old families, and they really are pillars of the community. Why this trend has continues I’m not really sure, it could be obligation or a stronger sense of place but like pillars a lot of what’s great about here is built on their shoulders.
Con: Long memories
Everybody’s life erupts in a shit show from time to time. People cheat, struggle with addiction, get in trouble with the law, loose a business, hook up with someone they shouldn’t or do something else hella stupid. Literally everyone! The thing is here it is never, EVER forgotten. If you happen to forget someone else will eventually remind you. It’s not to say all your deepest darkest secrets are known but they can be.
So how do you live like this. Well sometimes with more shame than your city dwelling friends. But the thing is you know this stuff about some people too, so it can be Even Stevens. People tend not to shove stuff back in your face because you probably have some humble pie to serve up too.
Pro: It takes a village and you’ve got one built in
I got up to not good from time to time, nothing serious, just the regular kid stuff. Walking on the trail dressed inappropriately, smoking cigarettes at the beach, the odd party and I may have driven like a teenage idiot from time to time. At the time I thought I was getting away with it. The reality is though that all those busy eyes and busy bodies were calling my mom. My elementary class was large with 22 students my little sister’s had 12. Everybody’s parents were looking out for you too. If all 18 girls were headed on a girl guide field trip or the whole class was going on a field trip it only took 4 cars. If one kid was acting like a jerk getting half the class to talk to the parent was only 5 moms. If an emergency happened your kids could go to a friend’s house but they were more like family.
It wasn’t totally an ideal child rearing fairytale the whole time. But when stuff got serious or a party got out of control everyone pitched in to make the punishment total and universally applied. Have you ever seen the entirety of a grade 6 class grounded at the same time? The other thing is that to high degree of adult peer pressure meant that parents tended to tow the same line. If a couple of parents didn’t allow girl boy parties until the end of grade 6, then no one had mixed parties until the end of grade 6. If one or two parents deemed supervision lacking at one house the trend tended to spread amongst the parents.
Con: A few will judge you harshly sometimes for the actions of others
For most of us gossip is a fleeting pastime and knowing the dirty details of people’s lives makes you more sympathetic and forgiving generally. For a select few turning one’s nose down on folk is an olympic sport. Don’t you remember what her father was like, he was the one that brought the drugs to the parties back in the day or their grandfather was a miserable guy who stole land from his neighbour can follow you with people like this forever. It really drives home the notion that your judged by the company you keep, you can’t escape your genetics or actions speak louder than words. But the thing with these people in town is at least at one point there is a reason they are above everyone else. This one’s dad is a drunk, that one’s mom dresses like a slut, that one’s brother is a bully and ironically she’s stuck up. Then you do get a bit older and do something a bit shady, for a kid anyway and then its, “See just like her mom.” All the while they and their kids are perceived, at least by them, as perfect.
But the thing is no one’s life is perfect, and neither is their’s. I wonder if this attitude develops because they already know that? Their husband turns out to run into trouble with the law, their daughter develops mental health issues or their marriage breaks up publicly. Even some small issue seems like a fall from grace for all the snark they’ve spewed for so long. It’s been my experience that they either hide or leave entirely which is so unnecessary when some sole searching and an honest apology will do.
So how do you live like this? Well this is a tough one but believing in karma goes a long way. In the meantime you say things like, “I hope their kids never do anything wrong,” or worse. Then you feel bad for saying that when it happens.
Pro: If you don’t want to be miserable you let little things go, sometimes really big things
Unless you want to be angry, constipated and wrinkly you just gotta let stuff go, sometimes big stuff. If your neighbours say something nasty, your cleaning lady steals something or someone tells you off for a perceived slight in public, you just gotta let it go. Sometimes it’s big things like running into the woman your man cheated with, letting the kid who burned your lawn down with a cigarette back over or saying hello and waving to the guy that keyed your car in the bar parking lot. You’re going to end up in the same circle again at some point. You can hold onto that grudge but it’s way harder and you’re going to have so many opportunities to reconcile you eventually will. At some point you might even end up on the same side of another issue. So why is this a good thing? Well forgiveness even the forced kind is a good habit to practice, religious or not.
Con: No hairspray after 5 on weekends, etc…
There isn’t that much going on in a small town on some level, but it’s also better than it used to be. About 8 years ago, before I moved back we got a drugstore. My condo in the city was within 3 km of a 24 hour grocery store and shoppers drug mart. Needless to say planning was unnecessary. Also Freedman’s would bring you pizza until 4 am. One Sunday customers invited us over for dinner at 6. At 5:05 I walked into the drug store with wet hair, and locked. Sad face 😦 No muscle relaxers after a certain time if honey’s back acts up and no gas with in 1/2 an hour of closing sometimes other times they turn off the pump partway through dispensing exactly at 8, so fill up before yoga. From our place it’s 25 km away for businesses with more city like hours. But we just got a restaurant that delivers and we’re all really excited! Well until 9 pm we’re all really excited.
So how do you live like this? You plan more but there is one hell of an adjustment period. You drive your car hard on E, you buy back ups so you don’t run out of stuff, you call home before you leave the city to see if anything is needed and you learn to make your own sushi.
Pro: There’s something special here you just can’t put you finger on.
It’s hard to say what it is exactly. Is it the Atlantic Ocean all around you, the close knit nature of the community? Is it the 300+ years of history or the fact that you see 5 or 6 people you know when you go for a 5 k run, every single time? Is it the fact that you can be really mad at someone but know you’ll eventually move past it or that we all have to borrow eggs from each other at some point? It’s hard to say what it is really but the whole seems to be larger than sum of it’s parts. Even though we’ve all had our dirty laundry aired in front of each other at the worst possible times we’ve all been through it together for a long, long time and some of our parents went through it together too. Things are pretty old fashioned in that quaint and heart warming way movies depict. No matter what happens when something truly terrible happens it’s amazing who comes out of the woodwork the wife holding a casserole and the husband in work boots. We have benefits for people sometimes for things that aren’t even diseases like sleep apnea. What ever it is about this place the pros certainly outweigh the cons.
If you’re from a small town what’s you favourite and least favourite thing about it? What movie or TV show do you think gets it right? I would say for me it would be Gilmore Girls.