Yesterday I grabbed a water bottle, popped disc 4 of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild into the CD player, and headed north through shimmering heat, shady pine forests, and knee-high fields of tobacco. That could be the introduction to an epic journey into the arctic: it wasn’t. Unless you define “epic” and “arctic” as a sleepy little southern town 20 miles away where half the population shares the same last name.
Once you pass the ugly sprawl of motels and fast food joints by the highway it’s a cute little place. White clapboard houses with big porches. Pristinely kept churches, one for each denomination,g lowering at each other across the street. And conversations you’ll only hear in a speck-on-the-map rural town.
A woman in the high-ceilinged farmhouse-turned-used-furniture-shop asked the shopkeeper about a pair of twin beds. He didn’t know much about them, but volunteered: “Sam will know. I’ll call Sam.” The lady brightened. “Oh, Sam? Tell him this is Dave’s wife.” He nodded: “Hey, Sam? Dave’s wife is here at the store. She was wondering about those two beds upstairs…oh, ask your wife? Alright….Hello, Mary? This is Ed at the store. Dave’s wife is here, she was wondering about those two beds upstairs, you know? Dave’s wife, yeah. Well, I guess her brother-in-law knows your uncle through Catherine’s friend….”
At the diner the wall beside the “No Profanity, Respect the Lord” placard held the same family name I’d seen on the lawyer’s office, the street signs, and multiple stores. As I waited for lunch one of motherly waitresses stopped at the next table. “How’s the food, Miss Vivian?” “Well, Miss Debbie, this chocolate pudding tastes funny. May I try the banana instead?” The waitress grabbed the pudding bowl off the table and tested a bite from the partially eaten mound. “Hmm…tastes the same to me. But sure, honey.”
Two tables down an adult man stood up and said goodbye to his elderly mother. The cook poked her head out of the kitchen to watch. “Yeah, you won’t be seeing her for a while! Your mothers going on vacation for a couple weeks!” After the son left, the elderly mother turned to another woman sitting across the aisle. Within moments they were deep in discussion about the estimated weight for the twins at so-and-so’s most recent ultrasound.
As I stood to pay my bill, the dish-boy tugged a mop toward the bathrooms to clean up and knocked at the door. Before he could wait for a response, one of the waitresses called: “It’s okay, you can go in to clean. Nobodys there. Already saw Miss Frances leave to go home.”
Small town friendliness is heart-warming, but it’s possible for them to know your personal business a little too well.