It’s Not Much, But It’s Home

I live in a small town, and I was born in a small town …

Sometimes I feel a bit overqualified to live here, and I think lots of people think of me as being a bit eccentric. After all, I not only read books but write them.

I ain’t right.

I like it, though, because I think it’s important not to get above one’s raising. I also get lots of amusement from the way of life here. I like the low cost of living. I like playing the obituaries crosswords where I carefully figure out what the connection is with someone who died in, say, Great Falls, Montana.

“Hmm. I bet she was one of those Cunninghams from over near the lake,” I say.

“Yep,” my mother adds. “She was a cousin of old Terry Cunningham. He died, oh, about the same time you were born.”

“Was he Lee Ann Cunningham’s daddy?”

“I think that’s right. She married a Philpot, didn’t she?”

“Yeah, but I think they got divorced, and now she’s Thompson.”

“Bless her heart. She was such a nice girl.”

This town has kind of a landed gentry. Traditionally, a group of, oh, ten families, maybe, pretty much runs things. They’re benevolent rulers, but we do have a discernible class structure. I don’t come from this landed gentry. I guess you’d say I have working-class roots. My mother grew up on a textile-mill village. My grandfather on my father’s side ran a grocery store on the edge of another “mill hill.” I’m conversant with the ruling class but only a probationary member, at best.

It was halftime of a local basketball game earlier this week, and I ran into one of the city fathers in the lobby. We chatted about bowl games – he’s a big fan of one of our major state universities – and about how the local school had just played a crackerjack first half. About five minutes later, I bumped into the same city father’s wife in line at the concession stand. I’ve always found her a bit snooty, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care for me, but it was an awkward moment, and she felt like she had to say something, being benevolent and all.

“Zack (not his real name) and I were just talking about you,” she said. “We were wondering what had become of you.”

“Well, I’ve been living here most of my life, Mrs. Flanders (not their real names).”

“No, but we just wondered if …”

“Well, I haven’t died or anything.”

“Well, I know, that’s … good. Zack and I are … glad to know that.”

I didn’t have to approach her remarks that way, but I couldn’t resist. I was just too amused, and I knew she was trying to talk when she didn’t really have something to say, and that she’d just talked her way right into a corner, and I just wasn’t of a mind to let her out of it.

“I’ll do my damndest to stay alive,” I said, paying three dollars for a Diet Pepsi and popcorn and walking away.

Ain’t I a stinker?

As my mother noted, the post office now keeps “banker’s hours,” which aren’t actually followed by bankers anymore, and it’s only open on Saturdays from 9 to 10 a.m. I had a package to ship and got there about five minutes till 9, and there were people lined up in the lobby, waiting for the doors to the main desk to be opened. I didn’t know anyone in line but tried to break the ice a little by saying, “Well, I guess I wasn’t the only one to have this bright idea.”

A few chuckles.

At this point, an eccentric little woman took center stage. She was short, red-headed, oh, probably in her sixties, and wearing a purple T-shirt and dungarees. She wasn’t in line. She, in fact, stood with her back against the plate-glass windows, parking lot behind her, and delivered what can only be described as a soliloquy.

I found it quite bizarre. The soliloquy lasted until the doors were unlocked and people started streaming, a bit more urgently than usual, perhaps, into the area where people lug packages and ship them at a much higher frequency this time of year.

She rambled. At one point, she said that, when she dies, she wants someone to shoot her dog and throw it in the casket on top of her. It’s because her dog doesn’t love anyone but her and would probably go on a three-state mailman-attacking spree the moment the woman dies.

No one else said a word. Everyone else looked mortified.

This, however, was only a small part of her remarks. It was a roaring river of consciousness, and I was wondering if the little redheaded lady, who appeared to be fairly educated as well as nutty as your average holiday fruitcake, would ever stop. I was envisioning a conversation at the desk over whether or not it was possible to ship a small dog that had just been shot. To heaven.

“Oh, well,” she finally said, “I better get on home.”

She walked out the door, and I said, “I didn’t start that, did I?”

A few chuckles. I just get chuckles.


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