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Joys of a Small Town
I live in this small town, not quite in the middle of nowhere, but secluded enough to barely have sidewalks out of the center of the town square. Small enough to have its own rules, close knitted enough to be able to trace back four generations of the same family. I don’t have to lock my car, lock my house; my neighbor has a shotgun. People here don’t really leave; finding security in the freshly cut green grass and small, cozy homes. They have stable, non-exhilarating jobs and quiet memories to last them, and their future generations, eternity. The teller at the bank has been working at that window for 25 years, working in the same position as her mom. Oh, look! That is where her mother’s coffee spilled, leaving a stain. And don’t you worry; the teller’s daughter will definitely be welcomed into the bank’s family when she graduates high school. Leaving this place means leaving comfort in the past, present, future, and who would want to do that?
In the center of the town is the local college, connected with the local hospital with an over bridge, built by a local construction company, and paid by local taxpayers. The college, attended by the mayor, proves to reinforce the statement that even someone as accomplished as him, can go big in life. One does not need to pay the big bucks; you can succeed while staying in the conformity of the town. You do not need to go out of this place for new worldly experiences, to rid of oblivion, to rid of ignorance. Why see poverty, why work over the expected, why achieve more when you can sit at the comfy dinner table where Mom serves you a steamy, gooey Sheppard’s Pie.
A town college should have late nights and loud weekends. Here, people turn off their lights at 8:30, being out later means trouble. For sure, the newspaper covers ‘Block Party’ weekend; front page, year after year. Drug dealings, DUIs, and the occasional robbery are also covered. Where, oh my goodness, that is the girl who used to live next to my best friend’s mother’s sister’s husband’s uncle’s son’s house, over four houses down from the fourth grade teacher. Most of these occurrences, however, are dismissed with the wave of the hand. It is so much easier to say, that is not my child, that I do not know him. Polishing one’s social class so much, as to see one’s reflection is prime. What is on the inside does not nearly mean as much as what is on the outside.
Overlapping school districts obviously have their rivalries: a traditional trophy handed to the winning team, team spirit galore, town businesses wishing teams luck “For the big game today! Make us proud, boys!” Even though the teams are across town, fathers and sons make it clear that the hustle between the schools is friendly, mere play. In they minds, they are sneering, thinking that they can read their opposing team like a book. Bystanders seem to temporarily forget that sports in this town mean everything: the bane of existence. Sports are funded through and through, even though not a single commoner has a base salary over $40,000. Winning rivalry games means great pride from a father to a son. Winning means pats on the back, winning means special attention, winning means restoring the glimmer in a father’s eyes: one that was lost because of the poor performance last time. Winning means that the extra time practicing after dark paid off, winning means the C- on the last English test was worth it, winning means all the failure from past experiences were forgiven, because winning for the insignificant town of 15,000 people is everything ever dreamed of.
Now on the topic of sports, lets not forget about football. What is a rural town with out it? Football and small towns go hand in hand; like apple pies and white-red checkered aprons. As football season approaches, schools ready themselves in advance. School districts making sure budgets allow thousands of dollars for new equipment, more coaching help, and better practice field accommodations. These allowances are made through sharing the high school math teacher with another district, because geometry obviously isn’t as important as new uniforms!
The Friday of the football game, the school is exulting energy and the town is bustling with excitement. The football player in World History is bouncing his leg up and down, with his eyes flitting to the clock in anticipation of the end of the school day. Beads of sweat form above his lip as he fails in his attempt to mask his irritation in the lesson. He doesn’t care about the lesson; he doesn’t care about the reading assignment on the history of the French Revolution. He is thinking about how perfect his part in the play is going to go, outrunning everyone on the field. He is thinking about his own fame, how he is going to go down in school history. How his picture is going to be hung up on the Athletic Hall of Fame, how his picture is going to be a perfect 23 x 30 in that shinny brass frame. How when the janitor dusts his picture, he will reminisce the epic qualities of that winning touchdown. How his son’s eyes will fill up in pride when his friends ask if that picture there is of his father. He is going to bring fictitious spotlights of importance to himself, not knowing that the school’s most popular and prettiest girl is looking at him because of this play. Not knowing that in years to come, over all the petty and irritating breakups that this girl is going to be his most prized trophy. She will give him The House, she will give him The Kids, and most importantly, this is the girl who is going to give him The American Dream.
In this tiny town, the square consists of quite a few major landmarks: the fountain, along with a few statues, the two banks, the courthouse, and the library. Each of these buildings is managed with care: dirt free, carefully restored. These pieces of the town do not belong to only the government, by the townspeople. The hard work seems to bring about a special glow and pride polishes the old buildings, as to make one smile. Along with these fine establishments are a few small businesses, sufficient enough to meet the needs of the townspeople.
Lets per say picture the fountain. One can drive down past the fountain on a warm March day, a day where the sun is just right. The temperature is a comfortable warm, accompanied by a cool breeze, seeming like a light breath on the back of the neck. Probably, if looked closely, you could see house cats in the street, stretching out into the sun. Robins began chirping on this beautiful day, squirrels look for strewn peanuts given by the elderly, and the devoted biker could be spotted, testing the weather for any tricks or false assurances. Near the fountain, a fifth grade class from one of the town’s schools would be replanting marigolds around the fountain, using the freshly bought garden tools and dirtying aprons worn over decent day clothes, for the newspaper photographer was rumored to be coming. They would intermix the oranges, with the yellows, with the hints reds, making the colors swirl around in bliss. Hey look, rumors proved true, the cameraman is here! Pulling combs out of their back pockets, boys neatly comb their hair. Girls stand up, straightening the backs of their shirts, smoothing out the wrinkles. Standing on their tiptoes next to best friends, goofy, toothy smiles lighten up dirt-covered faces. Days later when the picture is printed in the paper, soccer moms will coo over the cuteness of their children while enjoying a low-fat donut with a side of gossip at the dinner downtown. For sure this picture will be on the fridge, along with sport announcements and park picnics, later joining the scrapbook labeled “Middle School Moments Made to Magical Memories.”
Regardless of the compassion seen in public, these emotions are not maintained behind closed doors. Unknown to others is that doors quite often have windows. Even though windows are clear and bright, screens are sometimes put over them as metal barriers between the window and the outside evils: wind, snow, sun, and rain. Now, observed closely, screens consist of little metal fibers, meshed together in a crosshatched pattern, making little square spaces. The spaces allow sunlight to filter through from the outside world, allowing the sun’s warm yellow hues to warm the room. Most see this sun as a nuisance, a pain, and a distraction from the actual purpose. Thus, why shutters were created. Shutters are the perfect solution to weather problems, blocking everything like a knight’s shield. Yet, shutters prevent the wooden door from reaching the rich maroon mahogany color: a barrier from reaching its full potential. It seems to have served its purpose far too well in isolation. So, it has become that the shutters are worse that screens. It’s too late to change your mind. But maybe, when your children buy a house, they will not make the same mistake. Alas, they have.
What is expected from this town’s twenty-first-century’s society was also expected in the social norms of this town seventy-years ago. Some simply cannot get past the superficial qualities of a man or woman: facing the same superficial barriers as their great-grandparents. Though unable to express this distaste through the articulated tongue, the well-trained body is used. Talking to her friend on the street is normal. Her, in her matching floral jumpsuit, retiring from her weekly duties as a foot-washing Baptist, can be seen walking with her friend hand-in-hand. The great unaccepted is spotted, artful subtleness cannot be tactfully used, for they are seen. Shame and mortification settle in their hearts; but their consciences are not their issue. How to downplay this humiliating event to come from their degradation for society is the real issue. The two of them have worked so hard to gracefully climb up the ladder of society; daintily stomping of mere friends to reach where they are today. And now this event might ruin them. Carefully choosing their ammunition, the two refined ladies of society round the corner. As the opposing party tips their hat and greats the women with a warm hello, they both go rigid. Defensive feelings ripple through them, head to toe, just like a pebble penetrating the calm demeanor of a pond. Forcing their eyes to his chest, not able to face the unbearable pain of looking in his eyes, they mumble an indistinguishable greeting. They walk as fast as they can away from him, leaving him in the dust.
At the end of the day, I cannot wait to return home to the thought that one day, I will be as glorious as them. Living a life behind a picket fence as white as my childhood and my adulthood. Stepping on the inlaid brick path, handiwork of the grocer and the town dentist. Looking forward to the day I will buy the house in the same town. Buying the perfect house on the street next to theirs. But now, now, I can’t be too close; I need room to grow my family. Buying the house two houses down will suffice, though. Being able to adopt the ways of the town, restricting my children to the same regulations as I faced. Having them go to the same school, eating the same disgusting ‘home-cooked’ cafeteria food I ate, having the same uneducated teachers as I had. Having them walk through the same halls as I did, hating life in this congested closed mindset of this town. Wanting to leave forever, wanting a different life, wanting a change. But somehow, I was sucked back into this place, this bottomless pit of nothing. A month is all it took to change my outlook on this town. I found comfort in the green grass, in my uneventful job, in the coffee stains on my teller’s desk. Knowing my daughter is going to be in this seat a few years from now, knowing my son will be on the Athletic Hall of Fame. Maybe this town is not so bad. I, I chose the road most traveled by. And you know what? That hasn’t made any difference in the world.