In the small town I live, nothing out of the ordinary happens. The cover story of the town gazette could be about something like the clock tower in center square getting a repaint. Firefighters rescuing cat from tree, or dogs competing in frisbee-fetching would make lengthy feature stories.
Major annual events are 5k turkey trot on Thanksgiving, 20-minute fireworks for July the 4th, and town wide yard sale in spring. On first day of summer, the news would be about local toddlers splashing in the community wading pool.
Once, a resident claimed sighting a mountain lion from her kitchen window in the wee hours, despite the general knowledge that mountain lion no longer exists in the state. The report didn’t come with any picture however – as she scurried to fetch her phone, the lion-like had vanished into thin air.
Naturally it leaves a void of some sort in you, a mild case of unsettledness. Just like every morning you religiously scroll down the updates on social media, anticipating something truly interesting to pop up, even though it almost never does.
The most eventful section in the gazette might be the obituaries. Not that they are wordy. People in a town like this tend to live long lives, but a person’s 103-year lifespan often concludes in a terse, pragmatic manner:
“Margie Hope was born on May 3, 1921 and passed away on January 13, 2020. She graduated from Great Falls Academy. Worked as legal secretary for various law firms before retirement. Was married to Rich Hope. Memorial services will be at Foggy Bottom Funeral Home on January 16, from 4-6 pm.”
After the enduring list of survivors, usually there are some tidbits about the departed – “Penny Day had a lifelong love affair with deviled eggs.” “Mark Johnson enjoyed hiking and fly fishing.” “Ray Spacey was best known sitting in a rocker on his front porch navigating social media on an iPad.” Each little piece of nibbles is carefully put up in a guarded manner. You want it to be in good spirit but not overly high-spirited.
In every case, what is unsaid seems more engaging than what is declared. All the untold inner activities of a past life will forever remain unknown now. But things unspoken have such an insistent quality, permeating the silent blank in an obituary, never to cease emanating a sense of eventfulness.
You don’t exactly feel an urge to probe though. It’s like that local bank you see on Main Street – its little brick house looking prim and proper, surrounded by Forget-Me-Not flowers, with spacious parking lot in front but only a dusty pickup in sight. Passing by every time you feel a stir of curiosity – who would put their money in such a bank? what kind of business could be sustaining its physical existence? But you never feel intrigued enough to go inside and inquire.
So I live in my small town without much probing. When the weather is mild, I come out to jog through the sidewalks. Men are tending menial yardwork behind the fences, with large head-set clamped to ears, presumably listening to music. Their vacuous expression suggests the tune might be rewinding and turning dogged. On front porches, women are exchanging small gestures of cheerfulness with tea-party tones. Somehow I feel out of place, and stealthily I gather a little speed to flee the scene.
Once no one is around, a state of heightened aliveness replaces the clumsy feeling. I hear my steps take on a rhythmic clicking, as if I were in spiky high heels, carrying myself like someone on top of her game, purposeful and adventurous. In actual fact though, I wear flats, not exactly making a sound on the sidewalks.
In the trees alongside the street, the chirps of some birds are like ripened strawberries darting back and forth. All the silent stories in obituaries have become somewhat implicit – everybody is alone on the inside; deep-seated sense of inadequacy, anxiety and loneliness are collective inner affairs.
On the outside, life is a ride on merry-go-round, where repeated scenery keeps revolving past, and everybody is affixed to a saddle by some centrifugal force. The only thing you could do, might be hold on to the child play.