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The International Writers Magazine: Crap Towns part Three

Small Town America
Rosalea Hosetler
Expect the Unexpected

You have sorted, discard and selected. You’ve held yard sales and donated unwanted items to friends and charity. You’ve been feted at farewell parties at work, church and perhaps also in your neighborhood. Moving day arrives, and you are happy to be leaving the filth, pollution and crime of a large city.

You look forward to years of peace, quiet and contentment in a small prairie town where everyone waves and seems to be your friend. This dream carries you through the throes of moving.

When you arrive at your new town on the prairies, make it easy on yourself (and your family and friends)--stay in a motel while you get your utilities turned on and the moving van gets unloaded. This transition is going to be a piece of cake because all of the folks you met on your initial trip are so friendly, and said that they will turn out to welcome you and help you move in.

The large moving van backs up the driveway. The traffic on the street slows to a crawl so occupants can stare at the van and try to figure out what is going on and who is moving to their town. Some of the people you met at the local cafe on your first visit, wave at you. A few call out window greetings, “Hi there! Nice weather today, isn’t it?” You are certain they are going to park and come over to help you unload as they said they would several weeks ago. But they keep on driving. It’s a bit of a stun, but you figure they must have something urgent to do, and will be back later.

“Later” never happens. The unexpected has happened. Those nice folks who are going to be your neighbors reengaged on their commitment to you. So what do you do now? Tell them off? Avoid them? Wait and see if others treat you the same way? Pack up and move back where you came from? The solution to the unexpected in small towns depends on what you expect. Every one is different. Different people will react in different ways when they are betrayed, especially regarding something as important as getting established in a new community.

To be on the safe side, find a notebook or your laptop and “journal” your feelings of betrayal, rather than telling them off. It is best to wait and see what the tone of the community is before you can safely pass judgment on anything that happens the first weeks. It won’t take long, and you will know if the behavior is habitual, or was an random incident. If the behavior is habitual, you will know that you are headed for a long road of disappointment with this person, so if you want a less stressful, peaceful life, you will probably not want to become chummy with them.
It takes about six months to truly “settle in” and get a handle on the tone of a community.

I remember when I moved to Harper from New York City in 1968 and opened Rosalea’s Hotel, the entire community turned out to help clean, paint and celebrate. There was food, laughter--even a rock band playing in the lobby. It was a welcome unlike anything you can imagine! I was ecstatic to have so many supportive friends and family who were glad to have me “back home” and to fulfill my dream of saving the historic hotel. But within days, it was all over. A black cloud descended, and has never lifted in 40 years. A regional newspaper printed a front page story that implied that I was a hippie who had brought drugs to “turn on” my hometown. Literally overnight, I was blacklisted, boycotted, shunned, shot at, and became the enemy. I was devastated and cut to the core of my soul. What had I done to make them do this to me? Only years later did I learn that the chief of police was dealing drugs and thought I had come to infringe on his territory. Even though he eventually moved to another state, spent time in prison and was murdered, he had damaged my life forever in my own hometown.

My personal incident in 1968 shows you how quickly things can turn wrong at the most unexpected times in a small town, and how perceptions can rarely be reversed where gossip and hearsay passes on from generation to generation--they don’t have anything else to do with their lives.

People who enjoy gambling can usually cope well in a small town because every word, every action is a gamble, as to how it is going to be taken.

It is an extremely risky life, but for those who get an adrenaline rush from risk and the unexpected, it can be the life for you. Most newcomers can probably integrate well into a community by being very tentative. Do this by holding back and don’t rush out to join groups or meet people--let them come to you. Attend ball games, chili suppers and other events where the community gathers, but sit on the sideline and observe for several months. You will learn the social patterns and you will be able to make a conscious choice as to how to proceed through the social land mines of the town.

Another warning of the unexpected will be handy men who can do a little plumbing, carpentry, mowing,--you know, the fixer upper, do it all kind of guy that you will need to rely on if you can’t do it yourself.

Here’s a classic example of the unexpected with the handyman crowd:
A couple years ago I hired a new handyman who had moved to the area and seemed so eager to work as he had a large family to support. He told me he was a good Christian man and his children often performed in church with singing and guitars. He said he really needed work, and would never cheat us as he believed in what we were doing.
The first couple of weeks, things went great. He accomplished a lot and did as he said. Then one day he cut his hours short because he had something important to do at church with his kids. He didn’t bill us for the unworked hours, but it bothered me that his seemingly excessive mileage fee made his rate high. Soon, he was short changing us hours on a regular basis, and soon his mileage fee was accelerating his fee rapidly, i.e. working three hours and get a $15 mileage fee to tack on to the $20 hourly rate. Soon he was getting $30 an hour for what was to have been a $20 an hour fee. On his last two days of work (I think he knew he would not be asked to return), he slammed the project together and to this day, I look at the tacky workmanship, and feel sick. I especially feel ill when I look at the ceiling and see where he did not run the sheetrock wall up the last four inches and pigeons frequently get inside the costume room and poop indiscriminately. I did not catch the errors till weeks later. Of course, he was long gone from the area--no doubt taking his children on some sort of a religious road tour because he is teaching them what God wants them to do.

Sadly, unless you are accepted by your new community, the good contractors won’t work for you because “you’re not part of the correct political loop“ and you will be ignored and shut out of their busy and in-demand world. I can promise you that it will be a roller coaster ride trying to find reliable, competent, drug-free handymen with a conscience and the commitment to do a good and honorable job for you. But expect the unexpected all times, and maybe you can cope with it.
Good luck!
© Rosalea Hostetler, April 2008
Harper, KS

Small Town Crap part One
Rosalea Hostetler
A Beginner’s Guide to the Idylic Life in Small Towns of the Prairies
So you dream of living in a small town because you are tired of the stresses of big city life? Dream on, dream on.
Small Town Crap Part Two
Rosalea Hostetler
Getting Established for Acceptance
You are willing to take the risk of being rejected, and don’t mind if you are shunned and isolated. Or you are confident you can play by the rules well enough to fit in and be accepted.

Previously published in the Prairie Connection, Harper, KS

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