In the Know

By Kim Seeley

In the Know

I live in a small town, a really small town. We have one stoplight, one drugstore, one pizza parlor, a 7-11, one grocery store and one restaurant. In the last few years, we have acquired a Subway and a Dollar General, which means we have moved up in the world. I moved to this town 35 years ago, right out of college, to take a teaching job at the local school. I married a local fellow the following year, raised my daughters here, and now my daughter, son-in-law and new grandson live less than a mile away.

There is one thing about small town life that I believe holds true, whether the small town is in South Carolina, Vermont or Kansas. I learned this quickly when I moved to this town from the suburbs where I grew up. There is really nothing more important to the populace of a small town than being “in the know.” When I moved to town, party lines were still in existence, and my mother-in-law shared one with one of the local gossips. There was little that went on in this small town that the folks on the party line did not only know but helped to broadcast.

Now, to be fair, much of the news these ladies enjoyed was uplifting, positive news. Louise’s daughter was getting married, Muriel’s son was going into the Army, or Olivia’s granddaughter had just graduated from the university. Spreading this type of news was just part of everyday life, whether on the party line or in the cashier line at the grocery store.

But it’s the other news that spread through the party lines like wildfire. “Did you hear? Augusta and Tom are getting a divorce.”

“No, I hadn’t heard that, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. He’s always had a wandering eye. What about that scandal with the new teacher and her behavior at the party last weekend? Have you heard about that?”

Your imaginations can probably take it from there. What would small town life be without the local gossip-mongers and rumor mills? I was not used to the scrutiny of small town life when I first moved here fresh from college. I remember being appalled that my students not only knew where I lived, but they watched my house to see whom I was dating. The eyes were everywhere.

When I married a local boy, I was informed that one lady in town always marked the wedding dates of the local girls on the calendar, then marked the date nine months later to see if they had been pregnant at their weddings. I was dumbfounded, but I shouldn’t have been shocked. Many of these ladies had nothing better to do than make every one else’s lives their business. Many were widows who were retired or had never worked outside of the home; they thrived on gossip like a baby thrives on milk. Gossip kept them in touch with the outside world, and any news was better than no news.

My generation was not much better than my mother-in-law’s when it came to being “in the know.” The main difference is that we were busier. Most of us were working full time jobs and raising children. No one I knew had time for long telephone conversations. We managed to chat while attending school functions, before and after church services or in the grocery line. I have not been entirely innocent of the “need to know” mentality, but I have made an effort to minimize its importance, and there has never been a calendar in my house to mark down the local girls’ wedding dates.

Thirty-five years later, I have seen many changes in this town. The small grocery stores have been replaced by one large one. The independent bank has been taken over by a major institution. But if one thing remains, it is the importance of being “in the know.” Nothing hurts a woman more than to feel as if she were left “out of the loop.” Some have become a little irate when a member of the church died, and no one informed them.

There is a sense of caring and community in a small town that people in big cities probably never experience, but it comes with a price. If people crave anonymity and privacy, they should not live in a small town. Once someone settles within the town limits, he or she becomes fair game.

On the plus side, if a tragedy befalls you in a small town, you will more than likely be inundated with flowers, phone calls, pound cake, fried chicken and country ham. There are many times when it is good to know small town people and to have them know and care about you. I can think of worse places to live and worse people to live among than this small town and these small town folks. I’ll trade a little privacy for a lot of concern, caring and compassion any day.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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