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Small Town Life


Since my husband and I moved to this little town in Iowa, I’ve been reminded on occasion that we do live in a small town. It’s a bigger small town than some of the other small towns nearby, but it most definitely is a small town. Mark’s parents and his sister and her family also live in a small town, but it’s a small town right outside of a large city. Many of the people in their community work in the large city. The town that Mark and I live in is interesting because it is entirely self-sufficient.

We have all the things that very small towns typically have: hair salons, local restaurants, gas stations. We have things that small towns sometimes have: a hospital and a number of grocery stores and a Super Walmart (lucky us) library. But we also have a number of things that small towns generally do not have: a golf course, a public school and a Christian school, about 15 churches, and a college. People living in this town don’t need to leave or associate with the outside world unless they want to.

This is the kind of town in which culture can take a side path out of mainstream American culture and no one puts up a fuss and maybe no one notices unless they decided to go to a college or university away from home. For example, in this town children are regularly served hot chili soup with a side dish of cinnamon roll at school for lunch. Soup suppers at schools and churches often serve this combination as well, and the deli in the little mall has a whole day devoted to this combination once a week during the winter. I’ve actually taken to it myself—a slurp of some spicy, salty soup and then a bite of sweet cinnamon roll complement each other nicely.( Once you get past the initial skepticism and try the combination, it stops seeming so strange.) This is also the only place on earth that I’ve lived where a ‘slopping joe’ sandwich is called a ‘tavern.’

Anyway, in a small self-sufficient town like this, the network of relationships can begin to take on the look of a ball of yarn that has been bouncing around freely in the trunk of a car for weeks. Upon discovery, there’s no clear evidence of where the yarn starts or ends, and the idea of sorting it out makes you want to cry or laugh hysterically.

Earlier this week, I called the city utilities company with a question that Mark and I had about out utilities bill. I was put through to a live person in the right department immediately (a definite perk about living in a small town).

“Hello, I have a question about my utilities bill,” I said.

“Alright, what’s your question?”

“I just noticed that the bottom of my bill says ‘auto pay—do not send payment.’ My husband and I were out of the country in October and we had a one-time auto-pay set up then. Last month I sent a check to pay the utilities bill without noticing if it was supposed to be auto-pay. I’m wondering, number one, if we accidentally double-paid last month and, number two, whether the bill is supposed to be auto-pay.”

“Well, do you want auto-pay set up on your account?”

“Yes, if I can keep it as auto-pay, that would be great.”

“Well, you’re all set then. You didn’t double-pay last month and we can keep auto-pay on your account.”

“Excellent! Thank you. Um…. don’t you need my name or account number or something to answer these questions?”

“Oh, no, Hillary! I recognized your voice, and then when you said you’d been out of the country, I put two and two together.”

We both had a good chuckle over that, and then I hung up. I still don’t know who I was talking to.

This recent example of small-town life brings to mind another incident from a year or two ago.

At that time I was still working at our church. Our clothes dryer had died a few days before and we had decided that even though it was an ancient model from the second-hand appliance store in our town, it was still worth getting fixed, or at least looked at. I called our local appliance repair center and asked to have someone come look at our dryer. The girl I talked to said that someone would be along that day or the next to look at it.

A few days passed and no one came to look at the dryer. Finally, about three days later I received a call from the appliance repair store.

“Hello, this is D--- from the appliance repair store. Is this the F---- residence?”

“Oh, yes it is!” I answered.

“Sorry we didn’t send someone by a few days ago. We realized that we didn’t ask you for a phone number, and you’re not in the phone book.”

“Oh, no problem. Will someone be able to come look at our dryer soon?”

“Yeah, I’m planning to come look at it today.”

It was only after I hung up the phone that I began to wonder how the repair center got my phone number, if we weren’t listed in the phone book.

When I went to work that day at church, I told the two ladies working in the church office my puzzling story. When I got done, one of them started chuckling.

She said, “Oh, D----  at the repair center is my cousin! When I was in there yesterday I asked if he’d gotten a call from a Mark or Hillary because you said you were having trouble with your dryer. He said, ‘Well, as a matter of fact, I did, but I don’t have a phone number for them.’ So, I just flipped open my phone and gave him your number!”

See what I mean? Small town life. It’s sometimes strange and stifling, but sometimes it’s oddly helpful.

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