You Gray Matter readers know how proud I've always been of the small-town friendliness that makes our rural way of life so special. So now I have to tell you of my surprise as I begin to realize that I no longer know everyone who lives here. This dawned on me one recent morning when. I didn't recognize a single person who came into the local post office while I was picking up my mail. Oh, I still spoke to everyone and they all responded cordially, so the "small town spirit" is still around, but this was a new experience. For so many years, I knew everyone in town.
I knew who lived in every house on every street, and the knowledge was mutual. Suddenly, that's no longer true. I'm not even sure I can identify everyone who lives in my own block.
I have a similar problem when I read the local school news. There are an increasing number of totally unfamiliar names. I ask myself, who are these kids? Who are their parents? Where do they live? I even went so far as to wonder if my years might be affecting my memory. I soon ignored that possibility and went on to arrive at the following conclusion.
In days gone by, our town was pretty much self-contained. There were grocers, hardware dealers, pharmacies, feed stores, jewelers and the like.
Everything residents really needed was available right here in town.
Doctors, dentists, lawyers and all other necessary services were represented, as well. Grain elevators, livestock dealers, implement and auto businesses served the entire surrounding area. People who established those entities made homes for their families and settled here to stay.
Everything remained the same until someone, too old to carry on, retired or passed away.
Now, things are quite different, but the change has taken place so gradually that we hardly recognized it, let alone accepted it as our new reality. Modern efficiencies have reduced the number of available jobs and it has become increasingly easy to travel out of town for some of the services. (Though the current economic crisis may be changing all of that.) Anyway, the result is that we have become something of a bedroom community for the employees of industries in larger nearby towns.
Without that sense of ownership, or of loyalty to an employer, current residents move in and out of town much more readily.
Other, even more complicated, factors are evident in the school-age population. The seeming disregard of today's society for the institution of marriage is sadly apparent. Children born "out of wedlock" as we old-timers once expressed it, bear their mother's maiden name. Kids from a first marriage are added to the mix. A second union, after an easy divorce, produces still another surname.
Frankly, I find all of this quite baffling, so please forgive me. Any day now, I may come right out and ask a post office patron just who he/she is and exactly where they live. As I've told you before, I don't embarrass easily. It's one of the few advantages of aging, and I like to maintain those advantages whenever possible. Meanwhile, I guess I am going to have to get used to all of these societal changes, including some in my own family, whether I like it or not!