International Writers Magazine:
Towns part Three
Expect the Unexpected
have sorted, discard and selected. Youve held yard sales and
donated unwanted items to friends and charity. Youve 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, isnt
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. Its 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 wont
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
Rosaleas 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 dont 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 dont 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 cant do it yourself.
Heres 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 didnt 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
wont work for you because youre 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.
© Rosalea Hostetler, April 2008
Town Crap part One
Beginners Guide to the Idylic Life in Small Towns of the Prairies
dream of living in a small town because you are tired of the stresses
of big city life? Dream on, dream on.
Town Crap Part Two
Getting Established for Acceptance
You are willing to take the risk of
being rejected, and dont 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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