My wife and I live in a small town. We didn’t always live in a small town. I grew up near Baltimore and my wife grew up in the suburbs of New York City. We were accustomed to things the way they were in both places. Of course, as we look back on it, it seems as if we were accustomed to stress, congestion, anxiety and paranoia. Okay, maybe paranoia might be a little strong. I will claim, with reasonable certainty, I have never been mugged on my way to the mailbox here in our little town.
Where we live, there are no subways, unless you count that place that has the six-dollar twelve-inch submarine sandwiches. There is no traffic to speak of, even during the morning and evening rush hours. In fact, our little town does not even have a traffic report on the radio. I like being able to get in my car and drive the 40 miles to work in less than three hours. I like being able to reach the actual speed limit for more than a mile or two.
There isn’t much to do in our little town, but we seem to make do. We walk downtown a lot and we know a lot of the storekeepers and their pets. It seems odd to mention the pets, but our town is very dog friendly in the downtown areas and a few stores are known more for their dogs than their owners. One store, The Boathouse, is owned by a very charming woman named Kim. Her co-worker on most days is her dog, Toby. Toby is an equally charming guy of great humor and a sense of cheer and happiness that is not seen in a lot of dogs. Whenever a customer comes into the store, Toby leaps from his resting place under the counter and greets each customer one by one with a sniff or a nuzzle. After making his rounds, he sits politely while folks shop or he returns to his spot under the counter. If another dog comes to visit, Toby is never aggressive or mean, but rather welcoming, as if he is telling the other dogs that the store is pet friendly and everyone is welcome to browse, both purebreds and mutts equally. I don’t know if he is as welcoming to cats. Cats don’t get out much to shop and I imagine they prefer to do their shopping online. Another store has a Great Dane, but much like his owner, he is quite stiff and stodgy. He stands in his store much like a stern butler, silently critiquing the flow of customers.
My wife and I like to get out frequently and walk around the town, the mall and most of the larger box stores. There is not one store in town where we do not know at least one person. If we know one person, we also know that person’s children and they know ours. The mall has a rule where no kids under the age of 16 can be in the mall after six p.m. on weekends without an adult. Our 16-year-old daughter gets a free pass from the security guards because she knows them both by name and they know her mother and father would be far more punishing than any mall cop if she were to misbehave.
Before he retired, we also knew the owner of the local barbecue restaurant. A few years back, he got into the Guinness Book Of World Records for the largest barbecue sandwich. It was a big deal in our little town, but Tommy was always just plain old Tommy and whenever I would go in, he would make a point to come over to the table and chat for a while. A while would usually turn into an hour or so, so whenever I felt like having a sandwich and some hush puppies, I always made sure the rest of my afternoon was clear of any obligations. We ran into him once in Walmart and we were all fortunate that the store was open for 24 hours, if you know what I mean.
We like our little town, and like little towns across this state and the nation, the good things outweigh the bad. There isn’t much to do, but that’s a perfect opportunity to drop the tailgate of the truck at Dairy Queen and line the kids up with ice cream and enjoy a summer night. You know where all the kids are, you and the spouse get a night out, and nothing beats ice cream on a summer night. Make sure you get there early, though. You’ll get to be the first in line and get a good parking space in the shade. Plus, if you bump into Tommy, you might get to enjoy your ice cream before it melts.
Baltimore native Joe Weaver is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.