I'm not kidding when I say the town shuts down at five o'clock. Okay, a few shops stay open til six, or maybe eight on Fridays, but the general idea is that you get your butt home for dinner. Then you do stuff at home until it's time to go to bed. None of this shopping until ten at night. That's just crazy -- you're supposed to be tucking into bed at ten!
I can see that some people in this world would be appalled by the small town routine. But overall I do think it's healthier. Like it or not.
One afternoon just before suppertime the kids and I had to run into town for something. I can't remember what. We were at the big intersection where the main street crosses the big highway. I was about to turn right for home, and at the red light I looked left, way down the hill and over the bridge and back up the hill again. There was one car -- one car -- way off in the distance at the other set of lights. That's it.
"Wow," I breathed. "That never happened this time of day where we used to live."
The main drag in that town is like a four lane highway. Pretty much from 8am until 9pm it's oozing with traffic.
It gets busy in Smallburg too, much more than it was decades ago. There are two new subdivisions going in, and one of them I'm quite opposed to. I think it eats into a really good chunk of land, it's cut off from the rest of the town by the highway, and it's totally sprawly in that we-moved-here-from-the-city-because-the-prices-are-just-unbelievable kind of way. Honestly, what the hell is an "adult lifestyle community" and if it's all adults with no kids how come they need such damn big houses??? But that's not the point really; the town's just gotten too big for me. I still love it... I can shop there, because they've got my favourite thrift store in the world, the best bookstore in the world, a groovy used furniture shop, a hardware store, a really neat little cafe and a gas station that serves diesel for our little VW. It's a great town. I just feel like it's getting too big for me. Too fast.
Then I drive into town in the early evening. The main street from the highway is almost empty of parked cars. This time of year people are starting to leave their houses and work on their flowerbeds. In front of the shops, the street is wide open. Sigh of relief. Peace. Don't shop - go home. Relax, work, have a freakin' life.
Going back to the town I lived in for twelve years is like culture shock now. It hasn't sped up that much in nine months, but I've slowed down, in a really good way. Unfortunately, I've become even less tolerant of traffic and people and busy-ness. It grates on me, it rubs my easily frayed nerves. My chest tightens when I drive through town to run errands. I worked so hard to dull myself to the noise and constant buzzing energy.
I will miss the way my little section of street was like its own little world. In the summer, it would take me half an hour to walk past three houses because I had to stop to chat. It was nice. It sometimes kept me from getting stuff done, but I liked my neighbours and I liked to stop and chat with them. Leaving that block was getting harder and harder though. The stressed-out non-stop world outside was always lurking.
As I write this, I'm in my room in my parents' farmhouse. Not far from the house is a road with giant tractor-trailers roaring past. Why doesn't that bother me as much? I grew up like that? They go away? They zoom by one at a time, one lane in each direction? Is it the wide open field to the north that calms me, or the other field to the east? Horses across the lane behind the barn?
In a matter of days, we officially won't live in the Big Town anymore. I'll miss the friends, I'll always have a little room in my heart for the place I raised my babies, but I won't miss the town itself. It will grow without me.
I'll be listening to the crickets and tractors and trucks, horses munching, wind blowing. I'll have all my town stuff done in time for dinner.