Sharing something like my positive Covid test is exactly the kind of thing I would have kept to myself in the past because I worry too much about what people think.
I think it comes partially from growing up in a small town. It’s a common refrain, “What will people think?!” Seriously, what you do, how you do it and who you do it with is all common knowledge when you live in a small town. At least, some version of those things is common knowledge. It was one of the things that made me want to leave the minute I graduated from high school.
This isn’t always a bad thing, though. I’ve come to realize that the small town gossip mill is frequently the way people know to look out for one another. Sure, sometimes it’s talk for talk’s sake and the opportunity to judge a little, but I think just as often it is basic communication that helps to nurture the kind of community you don’t get in an urban environment.
My parents were both using crutches at the same time. Dad had a hip replacement and hadn’t yet been released to walk un-aided and mom had a broken foot or ankle. Its not like my folks put an ad in the paper detailing their situation. To the best of my knowledge, they didn’t ask for help. Still, friends and neighbors came by to help with chores, provide meals and generally check on their well-being. It was word of mouth that informed the community that these two needed extra looking after. Even if they did ask someone to help, my guess is there was more help because of what I considered to be, “gossip” about their condition.
Years later, my mom was regularly helping her (more) elderly friend with rides to appointments. One winter day mom dropped her friend at the hair salon in the next town over. While the friend was getting her hair done, mom went for a walk. Suddenly Mom hit a patch of ice, slipped and broke her leg. A passerby noticed mom laying on the the side of the road and called an ambulance.
Hubby and I were on our way to see mom for her birthday but we were still about three hours away. My dad called to tell me mom was at the local hospital and that he was on his way there. This is my favorite story about small town life and it does have a connection to people knowing other people’s business.
I immediately called my best friend from high school (still my bestie after 47 years). My friend works for an accounting firm in that same next town over. Upon hearing that my mom was in the ambulance she had just heard go by, she dropped everything and met my dad at the hospital. Jumping right into, “daughter” mode, she helped my dad find the insurance card in mom’s purse, helped mom communicate with the hospital staff, called and kept me informed. Once they were all settled, my friend went back to work. From her desk, she arranged for my mom’s friend to get home from her hair appointment and for everyone’s cars to get back to our town. I’ve actually forgotten some of those details, but suffice it to say that as a lifelong resident of our small town, she knew the people, knew their circumstances, knew their relationships and was able to take care of several families with a couple of phone calls because she knew the details of other people’s lives. I’ll always be grateful for my friend’s help that day. She is Wonder Woman in my eyes!
I’ve thought a lot about how communication works in a small town since I moved back three years ago. In my volunteer roles, I’ve seen how difficult it can be to get the word out about events and fundraisers. As a citizen, it can sometimes be difficult to just know important details like winter road conditions or wildfire updates as in the case of our area’s massive wildfires last summer. Without the same media available in the urban areas, word of mouth becomes a critical communication tool.
I’m so glad I am both maturing past the point of worrying quite so much about what other people think AND appreciating small town life and all of its quirky goodness. I know it will help me be someone who nurtures the community I have always loved despite its quirks and to nurture my own well being too.