Monday, June 1, 2009


laura ingalls wilder

I grew up in a small town in Indiana. My father’s family had lived in that same town for many years. I even had some of the same teachers that taught my dad. Many of my friends were children of my father’s schoolmates. You can’t get away with too much in a small town when you have aunts and uncles on every corner. It was a great place to grow up.

It wasn’t until I got married and moved to Florida that I realized just how sheltered my life had been. I’ve lived in South Florida for almost 29 years now and there are still times when I feel like “Ellie Mae Clampett goes to the city.”

Friends make fun of me for saying things like, “You can’t get blood from a turnip.” Apparently big city folk say, “You can’t get blood from a stone.” I still say, “down the road a piece” and “might as well, can’t dance and it’s too wet to plow.”

We didn’t go out much when I was growing up. Entertainment was found by visiting with friends and just hanging out. Our little town didn’t have a movie theatre, a bowling ally, or even a real restaurant. We NEVER went out to dinner. The only time we ate out was when we were traveling. I should probably say that not everyone in my hometown was as naive and sheltered as I was in the ways of the world. My first clue that I needed to expand my horizons came after Spring break 1978.

My best friend, Beauty and her sister, the Brain and I drove to Florida sans parental units. (For more info on our spring break antics and why I’m still grounded for life click: here.) We met some boys on the strip in Ft. Lauderdale one night. One of the boys asked if we were coming to the beach the next day. We said, “Of course, that’s what we’re here for.” We complained about how hard it was to find parking on the beach. He said that he worked at the Bahia Mar and though he wasn’t working the following day, we could mention his name and park at the hotel. “Just tell the guy at the gate that Paul, the valet parker, said you could park there.” It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the boy’s name wasn’t Paul duValet Parker but instead his vocation. I had no idea what valet parking was or that it even existed. For Pete’s sake, who needs someone else to park their car? Don’t be judgin’, people. Tractors drive down Main Street in my home town. Now stop laughing, I’m trying to tell a story here.

The town paper came out once a week and reported on local current events such as, “Mr. & Mrs. Jones were the guests of Mr. & Mrs. Smith for dinner on Sunday afternoon. Roast beef with mashed potatoes was served. Coffee and cake were enjoyed after dinner. A good time was had by all.” There was also a section called Backward Glances. This is where you could read about how 10 years ago Mr. & Mrs. Jones hosted Mr. & Mrs. Smith for dinner. My grandmother was a big contributor to this column and I always took great pleasure to read my name in the paper even if it was just to say that I went to Grandma’s for dinner and ate ham.

I remember a headline that read, “Half the police force quits!” It was three people.

We never locked our doors. Daddy was always worried that someone might need to borrow something and wouldn’t be able to get in. It was quite common after returning from a day trip or a week’s vacation to find friends watching tv and enjoying snacks in our living room awaiting our arrival.

When I was twelve, one of our two banks in town was robbed. It was a Friday around 6pm in January. My mother had stopped on her way home from work at the newstand to pay the water bill (That’s where you paid the water bill as we didn’t have a town hall at that time) and while there, she bought a magazine. She left the newstand and started walking to the bank to deposit her paycheck. She was leafing thru the magazine and not really paying much attention to her surroundings. As she approached the bank, she noticed a man standing just outside the bank wearing a ski mask. She didn’t recognize the man but it’s a small town and she figured that she did know whoever it was underneath the mask. She was just about to say, “It’s not that cold.”, (Did you think I got this Smart Mouth on my own?) when she noticed the gun in his hand. She quickly did an about face and attempted to walk to the grocery across the parking lot. The bank robber put his gun in my mother’s back and forced her into the bank. No one was harmed inside the bank. However one of the town’s police officers was shot as they escaped.

The FBI was at our house several times that summer. It was all very exciting to me. Mom was the only customer from the bank that testified at the trial. It never occurred to me until many years later how traumatic this was for my mother. She was scared stiff to be alone at night and I never knew it. The doors were always locked after that if Mom was home alone.

I married My Harley Stud at the tender age of 19. I have to laugh now when I see how crazy people get with wedding plans. Our wedding was planned in six weeks. My dress was bought off the rack and altered. I did my own make-up and my mom french braided my hair into tucked up pigtails underneath my veil. Oh.yes.she.did.

We were married by the Reverend Xen Harvey (who also officiated at James Dean’s funeral) . Xen was very special to me. I still smile when I remember how he always referred to his beloved wife as Betty Harvey. I don’t think I ever heard him say just Betty. And he looked a lot like Captain Kangaroo. How can you not smile at a memory like that?

Xen Harvey rode a motorcycle too. It wasn’t long after Daddy showed me how to ride his Kawasaki 400 that I pulled up to Xen’s house and asked his grown son if Xen was home and would like to go riding with me. He wasn’t at home but later told me that he couldn’t have gone anyway. He said, “Can you imagine the tongues of the little old ladies at church waggin’ about me riding with some pretty young thing!”

Xen got a great kick out of telling that story at every gathering of which I was a part. I heard it at my rehearsal dinner, The Saint and the Biker Nazi’s rehearsal dinner and many times over the years. I was honored to be there for Xen’s funeral and his son mentioned to me how much pleasure Xen got from telling that story. Me? I really didn’t see the big deal and never understood why he couldn’t have gone.

My 30 year class reunion is coming up soon. I’ll be travelling back to my hometown this summer. Simpler times in a quieter place keep running thru my mind. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

What takes you back?


Bear Chick said...

I got my wedding dress off the rack, too. The main dish at our reception was a turkey my soon-to-be-husband won at a Christmas party.

As a Girl Scout, I used to canvas the entire neighborhood for cookies and once every year, we also sold a bunch of stuff in a box we'd take door to door. It makes me sad at Halloween to know that most kids don't get to go door to door like we did, trick or treating. Where I grew up, all the parents knew all the kids and everybody watched out for everybody else. Ah, the good ole days!

cheatymoon said...

I love that story, SMB. :-) Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a small Iowa town and YES, always had to behave because Dad found out everything we did... everyone knew everyone.

I'm drawn into past memories often since I did a class website that I keep updated throughout the year. It's a great way for we, the class of '72 to stay in touch.

The Blue Ridge Gal

Joe Todd said...

My wife Linda is from N.W. Indiana and moved to Ohio when we got married. She thinks we talk a little strange in Ohio.

CocoDivaDog said...

Wow, you are going back for your HS reunion? When was the last time you were up there?
I can't wait to read your post about this reunion!
Thanks for the large font.

Anonymous said...

I loved reading this as it brought back so many memories for me as well. I also grew up in a small town. I miss that small town feeling - when I'd walk into the bank and the teller would say "Hi Nothing Fancy. How are you? How's your Mom & Dad?" Now, I'm lucky if the teller where I bank now speaks English and/or can even pronounce my name.

Recently I connected with a childhood friend on Facebook and we shared memories of when we used to ride our bikes down the back road to Jim's, where we'd get a Pop and a candy bar and maybe shoot some baskets in the makeshift hoop in the service area if they weren't working on a car. Jim's was the gas/service station and no, Jim's was not the name of the station. But Jim owned it and was a friend of my Dad's - so we always called it Jim's.

Mother's today would sooner have a root canal than let their daughter ride her bike to a garage and shoot baskets while the mechanics worked away. lol

Anonymous said...

Good grief...I got so wrapped up in "me" that I forgot to tell you ---- Have a wonderful time at your reunion! We want pictures and ALL of the details - who looks good and more importantly - who doesn't!

Unknown said...

Smart Mouth this is one of your greatest posts ever!!!


Jan said...

Well, I've got it in reverse - I grew up in a large urban area and recently moved to a small town.

While there are far fewer sirens and NO gunshots here, small towns are very insular and I'm afraid I will always be the "outsider." It's been very uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

This is such a sweet story and I wish we lived like that today. Where in IN?

Debbie said...

I loved that story! I grew up in the same kind of town and today live in a smaller town. There are tractors driving down my road this morning! Blood out of a turnip...well yah! Our big expression here is "You can't get there from heya" and about a million others people make fun of us for. I love small town folk. Our little paper has a section called WE LOVE TO EAT. It is the local monthly listings of bean (suppahs) and going ons like the fishing derbies and girl scout gatherings and book sales and fund raisers. There is a guy that used to write in the paper and his column was called Dumpster Bill. He's an old Vietnam Vet that wrote about his antics with his chickens and his wife and the local state representatives. His articles sounded crazy but he is actually quite smart. He got a bit of a resentment towards the editor of the paper and quit writing...I miss his articles. Thanks for taking me down memory lane...I love those good old days. Your poor mom...that must have been terrible for her!

darsden said...

Oh my I feel ya on this one..We say the same sayings around here. Yehaw another countrygirl. Yehaw

Your poor mother I guess that would affect you after having a gun in your back.

My 30 year reunion is next month too. I have been meeting some of the ole classmates for McBreakfast club every Tuesday at 7:30 am we are having a blast. So, I am thinking I will go to this one :-)

Wunderwoman said...

Jan, come to my hometown, I would love to welcome you and have someone to chat with.

SMB I live in a small town also and we still only have 1 bank. Tractors still drive down mainstreet. My, how things stay the same in those small towns.

JC said...

I'm from a smaller town and now live in what I think is a big city.

People seem to be in too much of a hurry and they aren't as nice .. in a bigger city.

My Dad grew up in a small town in Kansas. He said a lot of things that when we went to visit his home town ... well, it made sense .. everyone spoke that way and had accents.

~~~ I'm having a Pay It Forward on my blog. Stop by if you're interested ~~~

Reader Wil said...

What a great story og your life! Thanks for sharing! I love it.

Sharon Rose said...

I just love this story and to think I moved from Southern Alabama to the "big city" in Indiana to get away from small town USA. . . . you are so right about the sheltered life. . . . Thanks for the post.

Pseudo said...

I love the way you tell a story SMB. That one touched my heart.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

Small Town Minnesota here. Amazing where life takes us. Your post brings back memories, but I prefer to think of yours today. Thanks for the ride.

Smart Mouth Broad said...

Bear Chick-Halloween was a lot more fun in a small town when you didn't worry so much about your kids being poisoned.

Movie- :-)
Di-Iowa? Isn't that just like Heaven?

Joe-You do talk funny! *wink*

auntie-My last trip was Sept 08. MHS goes back every year in Sept but I hadn't been for a few years. I still have family and friends there so we go back fairly often.

Fancy-I think between our mothers and our small town upbringing, we have a lot in common.

Jane-Golly, Jane! Thanks!

Jan-My mom grew up in a more metro area too. She was often treated like an outsider but it didn't bother her. She was so comfortable in her own skin.

Lisa-Fairmount, IN. Only the best little town in the world.

Debbie-Big hugs from one small town girl to another.

Dar-Look at us: Same age, both country girls! Yeehaw, indeed!

Yes, as a self-absorbed teen, it never occurred to me that it would affect my mother so badly. I just thought it was cool. Duh!

WW-I've been back and things have changed but not as much as one might think.

JC-I'll be over to check you out. I love paying it forward.

Wil-Thanks! Hugs!

PS-Wondering what "big city" in Indiana you moved to?

Pseudo- :-)

MLJH-I'm glad you came along for the ride. Hugs!

Joan said...

I loved our small town paper. Like in your town everyone contributed.

Mr. & Mrs. It's Always Something "motored' to Winnipeg to see their Uncle Peter. Peter lives 10 miles S. and 1 Mile North of the grain elevator on Main Street. He was recently admitted to the hospital to have his left small toe amputated due to complications from diabetes. Mr. & Mrs. It's Always Something reported he is in good spirits, and said he wouldn't miss his toe as his left shoe was always a bit snug anyway.

Blasé said...

Life is always changing, never stays the same.

Keep it simple, I say. Unfortunately, America wasn't content with that.

Thank Goodness for Andy Griffith reruns.

Tessa said...

What a lovely post, SMB! It's no wonder you are the sweet woman you are. Muah!

Everyday Goddess said...

What a great post! I'd love to read more. Thanks!

Smart Mouth Broad said...

Joan-Exactly! LOL

Blahzay-Now I'm whistling that dang theme song and can't stop. Only problem is I can't whistle (except for the kind with two fingers in my mouth)

Tessa-You are too sweet, my friend.

Comedy Goddess-Thanks for the visit. I hope you'll come again soon.

Beth said...

Well, you can't get blood from a turnip. Why is that hard for the city folk to understand.

My husband and family are from New Jersey. It freaks them out to hear my mother tell about the time they got indoor plumbing and then tore the outhouse down.

You have great stories!

Tricia said...

This post takes me back. I grew up in a very similar environment...four generations born in my small town. One of the reasons I moved away was because nothing ever changed, and one of the reasons I love to go back is because everything is exactly the same.

midlife slices said...

What a great trip down memory lane but I've got a question. Did we live in the same town? I lived in exactly that same kind of town and had the same kind of wedding only I think mine was more like 6 days in the planning and my dress was homemade and very simple. Vera Wang just THINKS she started that trend!!!

Anonymous said...

What a great story! I grew up right outside DC in a northern Virginia suburb so it wasn't a small town experience - but it was still a more innocent time - we didn't lock doors. My wedding was paid by us - my parents were tightwads - my dress was made by my stepmonster and it's about the only thing she ever did right in our entire relationship - my maid of honor's boyfriend tried to corner me upstairs before the wedding so I could "experience a real man" - Ick. Then he spiked the punch and damn near killed Grandma (boy was she fun to watch). Ah, memories...

Optimistic Pessimist said...

How did I miss this post???

Great story...can't believe your mom was held at gunpoint - very scary. Even more so in a small town where everyone knows one another and feels safe.

Optimistic Pessimist said...

How did I miss this post???

Great story...can't believe your mom was held at gunpoint - very scary. Even more so in a small town where everyone knows one another and feels safe.

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

Oh God, SMB! Everything takes me back any more. I am beginning to have what is known as "total recall!" I follow threads and forget totally where I am going. Yep, total recall..

Girl Tornado said...

I've come full circle... at 16, my dad finally moved us all to the country, on 3.5 acres, and bought my first horse. We had several dogs, cats, a goat and bunnies. It was his country dream.

However, for most of my life, I've lived in the city- Akron, Ohio, to be exact. Not a Huge City, like New York, but big enough.

Now I'm back in the country again, and honestly? I prefer it. The quiet, the small-town-ness. My dad would love it here, our 26 acres out in the middle of nowhere. I find my eyes tearing up when I think of him, and it hurts me that I can't share this part of my life with him. I remember our big family picnics in picnics would be so awesome here, but alas, no family is here in KS to picnic with.

Times they were a-simpler when I was a kid. I'm aimin' to achieve some of that simplicity out here in the stix! :-)

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your post. I too grew up in that same small town in Indiana. Xen and Betty Harvey were a big influence in my youth. They were the most fantastic people. Xen preached at my wife's funeral in '85.