Here’s the thing about small towns: everyone knows about your business. That’s weird if you’re not used to it. I was back in my home town, an isolated village community on Long Island. It was the perfect place to grow up - but I hadn’t lived there since I was seventeen. I was dragging a rolled carpet remnant to the curb when someone called my first name. It was an old boyfriend I hadn’t seen since leaving home.
He’d read that the housing inspector had been to my parents’ house the previous month. He knew the house was being sold. He knew my father was sick because his best friend from high school lived across the street from my old next door neighbor who bought a house just one development over, and his mother had seen my mother in the A&P six years back…
He’d married the sister of one of our high school friends. She was related to the family who’d made the offer on my mother’s house. Oh my god. Is everyone here related? The best thing about a small town is that everyone cares about you.
People read about the sale of my mother’s house and they arrived in little groups. Some brought flowers to cheer up a sad family. Some sat with my mother over tea and listened to her remember the great times.
Many came in the evenings just to keep us company. It was such a relief to see friendly faces after a painful day of packing up the lives of five people. “Are you the middle one?” They asked me. If they didn’t know my placement in the family, they certainly knew my present history.
“You’re the writer?” many knew. It seemed my parents had been doing some bragging about me. The woman who cleaned my mother’s house when we were children came over to say goodbye on her bicycle. She’s 85 now.
My second and fourth grade teacher came to say goodbye. My father, an obstetrician, had delivered all her children. My father’s barber came. My sister’s music teacher came and we gave her a left behind clarinet that she can give to a new budding musician.
My mother is a painter. Ever person who came to visit walked away with a gift of a painting. “Take one,” my mother insisted. “It will be something to remember me by.” She’s a small town girl, after all.