I was trolling through the library’s business section the other day and paused at a volume concerning Web design and marketing. Now what caught my interest wasn’t so much the volume in question as the one five books away: How to Butcher and Wrap Your Livestock.
Only in a small-town — a very very small-town — does one see graphic art portrayed in two such very different manners, so close together.
And it’s only in a small town that you would find the same person checking out both books.
The Norwegian Artist and I have always lived in small towns, our largest metropolitan experience being a bustling urban landscape of 50,000 people, and for the most part, we enjoy the experience. Our first year in this one-stoplight town, we took the four progeny Trick-or-Treating from door to door in their homemade creations — a fairy princess (EVERY year), a gypsy, the Queen of Hearts, and a penguin — and at the home of Liz the Librarian, whom we had seen, maybe, five times over our initial three months, Liz announced, “Oh, look! It’s the Norwegian Artist children!”
At the library itself, the librarians rarely swipe anyone’s card, preferring instead to enter names from memory. One librarian mentioned that people frequently stopped her in the grocery store, asking her if they had any books overdue.
“We may know everyone’s names,” she said with a smile. “But that’s a stretch.”
Shortly after moving to our isolated hamlet, I conceived the brilliant notion of camping out at the library to work on the income taxes. Libraries are quiet places, I reasoned, and I would be able to concentrate.
I forgot, however, that in a small, small town, the library, along with the grocery store, is a central meeting place. Hardly had I spread my papers out over the oversized oak table — eight feet from the front door and facing it — when the circus began.
“Oh, my, it looks like you’re working on your taxes,” the first interruption was Estelle, an older woman from the Baptist Church in to check out the crochet books (I suspect that she also slipped in some suspense thrillers underneath the sweater patterns, but for some reason she does not want the rest of the deaconesses to know this. I’m not sure why not. The librarians obviously know what they read).
After Estelle came a series of children in a variety of ages, all of whom wanted to know where my children were, what they were doing that day, and why they were not with me. I think I had reached line five or so on the 1040 form by this time. Several people in the 3-foot-6 range joined me at the table, wanting to color along with me.
The plumber rushed in (“Laundering your money? Ha Ha!”), the contractor (“Ah, so you’re building up equity?”), the postmistress (“Hope Uncle Sam gives his stamp of approval on your paperwork!”), several acquaintances (“Up to no good I bet!”), the dentist (“Brushing up on the old paperwork, eh?”). The sheer quantity and variety of comments related to tax preparation was dizzying.
The sheer lack of progress I was making on the tax forms was daunting as well.
A friend walked in, disengaged one of the children from a chair, and sat down to talk. “Oh my,” she commented after 10 minutes. “You’re working on your taxes.” At least she did not feel compelled to pun about it.
Mercifully, I eventually reached the end of the form before the end of my rope, collected all my papers and some of the childrens’ abandoned coloring projects, and headed home, where the chaotic energy of four chronically moving human beings under age 10 exuded an aura of calm retrospection.
Building upon this tax preparation experience, the next year I opted to stuff all my papers into a manila folder and deliver it to the accountant who during the day works as the county assessor but comes over after work to the lawyer’s office which also doubles as the title company. I’m not sure, but they may sell raspberries and blueberries on the side during Farmer’s Market time. The assessor/accountant is part of a barbershop quartet that also includes the veterinarian and the former mayor.
Does this place sound like something you’d see in a movie?