I hear things like, “it’s a small town thing.”
“You can’t get away with nuthin’.”
“Everyone knows each other…everyone is in everyone else’s business…”
“You gotta drive an hour to even get to the nearest Walmart.”
“Door’s always unlocked, Loretta, you just go right on in there.”
“Damn, that’s my cousin I’ve been kissing?”
Sometimes I myself say those things. To me, Emporia is a tiny community relative to where I’m from. And relative to Graz, Austria, Manhattan is a tiny town. So I’m guilty of voicing the “small townisms”.
I’m here to tell you, though: it has been clearly outlined to me that I am no longer qualified to say I’m from a small town because I’m not from Garrison, MO.
My grandparents own a cattle farm down in Garrison, snuggled up against the Ozark hills. Each major holiday my “city” family packs up our Subaru and makes the six-hour trek to Granny’s house for some good home-cookin’ go-zillion calories.
Recently we’ve been celebrating our holidays at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, a buggy-ride away from Granny and Gramps. That would be the machine buggy, not the horse-and–buggy type, although unabashedly my Aunt is self-declared Amish.
The Ozark region is beautiful. Gorgeous. Rolling hills carpeted in forests and cow manure, and featuring little Swan Creek blushing its way through the tiny unincorporated community.
Although I’ve grown up going to Granny’s house at least twice-a-year-every-year, I don’t see many other community members out and about. As a farming community, there is a notable distance between neighbors. I hear a great deal about all the happenings around these parts, but to be physically face-to-face with one of them is a rarity. Furthermore, when I do encounter one, It’s also a bit confusing to keep them all apart, because most of them look eerily similar.
Although Garrison is not my small town, it still has acquainted me with it’s loving folds of small-community shenanigans.
It was the Friday following Thanksgiving. I awoke to the sunrise blooming over the hills and I was quite well-fueled from the feasts of the day prior, so slipping on my trail shoes and shimmying into my black tights, I took to the backroads.
The wind was fresh face-wash after a long day’s work and as I was running west, the sun was not jabbing me in the eyes at every step. It was lovely.
I was listening to a podcast about a Canadian master bladesmith and having a jolly time of it when I turned a corner and saw two figures and a dog walking towards me two-hundred meters in the distance.
I’ll say hello, maybe sneak a quick pat with the dog, my subconscious said, because my conscious wasn’t thinking anything of it.
The dog approached me first, a cheery Irish setter with grey speckles against his chocolatey fur. I gave him a loving rub and continued on my way. The figures revealed themselves to be older women, late 70’s, bundled in jackets and hats and out for an early morning stroll.
I took my headphones out from my ears as I approached, although I was fully intending on giving them the old wave-and-go method of meeting other people that we have perfected in “the city”.
As soon as I was close enough, the one on the left held out her mitten and asked:
“Now, who are you?” I stopped my running and it was all I could do to stop myself laughing out loud. What an abrupt introduction.
“I’m Joe and Sue’s granddaughter,” I said. Both of the women raised their eyebrows in recognition.
“Oh!” the woman on the right said. “How are your parents doing? The professor? The tourism manager?”
Who are these people? I asked.
“Yeah, uh, they’re great. You know, living the life.”
“Did you have a nice drive up from Kansas?”
Who are you?!
“Quite pleasant, thank you for asking.”
This was obviously not something I was used to: in Manhattan, it is almost a taboo to say something longer than “hello” or “grunt-morning”. But the women held me for an interview for a solid five minutes before releasing me to the backroads.
I made my amusement quite plain when I got back to the farm and told the rest of my family members. They laughed and had me describe the women, knowing exactly who they were when I mentioned the dog and type of mittens.
The next morning, roughly the same time of blooming sunrise, I went back out for a run along the same backroad. And lo and behold! It was the same two figures and the same brown Setter coming towards me when I rounded that same corner.
I removed my headphones and expectations, aware that the chance of stopping for another five minutes was great.
“Hello again!” they called to me.
“Hi there!” I said when I ran up to where they were standing.
“So you’re training to run 100 miles?” the woman on the left said. My mouth dropped.
“Uh, yes ma’am.”
“Well now, isn’t that something. Where’s that gonna be at?” said the woman on the right.
“Northwest Arkansas. Same kind of terrain as here,” I replied, pulling myself together.
“I’m Mike Massey’s mother,” the woman on the right explained. I didn’t admit that meant nothing to me.
“And you went to Bosnia? Alone? What were the Mooslims like?”
These two women spent the next five minutes, as I had appropriately forecasted, impressively telling me various aspects about my life. Besides Mike-Massey’s-Mother–which I’m sure isn’t her birth name–they never did tell me their names.
Relative to Graz, Austria, Manhattan is a small town. Relative to Manhattan, Emporia is a small town. Relative to anything, Garrison is your sister’s left buttcheek mole, tiny on an expansive plain.
It felt really wonderful to be known like that. To be treated like some sort of movie star, some sort of millennial phenomenon.
There is culture everywhere you go.
Peace and Blessings,