I haven’t really got used to living in a small town. I grew up in anonymous suburbs and then spent my 20s in London. Great Barrington is different. People walk down Main Street looking around to see who’s out, what they’re doing, where they’re going. When I first arrived, 13 years ago, I found this disconcerting. Today, I had another kind of small town experience. A new tenant on our floor stopped by, after we’d exchanged a couple of phone messages about our possibly subletting an office. We hadn’t met, but when he came in he looked at me and said, “I know we don’t agree about the school zone violations, but I’m opposed to mega-schools, too. That was you, wasn’t it?”
He struck a tender spot, and not for the first time of late. Only a few weeks ago I was buying some books at a new shop in Stockbridge and the bookseller said, “Your name’s familiar. Weren’t you the one who tried to save the small schools?” That had me in tears for a moment, because I still deeply feel the failure. It’s been five years, and I forget how much local drama that battle created (we still don’t get coverage in the Berkshire Eagle because of the stand I took, or so some friends say). But what I don’t know is how our new neighbor found out who I was. The disagreement, you see, about what he calls the school zone violation (and I would call the drug bust) took place at Pearl’s one evening, when I started talking to a couple of people sitting next to us. He was one of them, was pleasant and sensible enough, and I recognized him when I saw him today. But I didn’t know his name, and I wonder how he knew mine.
That’s what small town life—and community—is all about. David pays much more attention these days than I, reading the local papers and chatting to people on Main Street when he goes to the post office. A small town community is formed from overlapping ties and, when we’re at our best, a recognition that we need to live together and learn to respect one another’s views. The school fight wasn’t a clean one, unfortunately, and there’s a good bit of pain underlying the final sentence of the acknowledgements to the Encyclopedia of Community, where I say something about Great Barrington, the place where I learned about both the upsides and downsides of community life. That battle hasn’t been forgotten, though, and I guess I’d better get used to that.
We’ve had to reset the login requirements because I was deluged with “Comments” spam–147 messages overnight–but I’d still love to tempt a reader to say something about their experience with the downsides of community, when there’s a major controversy.