my small town america

Glumly, I clip Rudy on the leash and we slog down the street through inches of dirty slush and ice that, sadly, show few signs of melting into spring. At twelve—an octogenarian in people years—Rudy creeps along like a slug. When we pass by Woody's house three doors down Rudy perks his ears up hoping for a treat. Woody is outside and tosses Rudy two or three crunchy pigs in a blanket. Sometimes Woody joins us, others he asks us inside where I pilfer his chocolate jar and work on befriending his cats. He's an octogenarian, too, a few years younger than my dad would've been, and I rib him just the same.

Next door, Mike, who's in his nineties, takes a break from snow-blowing his driveway to say hello. A former college athletic trainer, he's six foot four or so, just like my dad was. He often asks how our boy is doing and almost always shakes his head expressing his sympathy for the difficulties Calvin and I face. Mike is equally fun to tease as Woody, so we chat for a while before I tell him to quit slacking off, get back to work and that he's welcome to do my driveway when he's done with his.

At the corner I wave to Allyson, who I see in her kitchen with Ingrid and their baby Miles, and from there I can begin to smell the rich sweetness of Bob's pipe, which drifts on the breeze from down the block. As we approach, Bob welcomes us in a pair of cut-off hunting boots that pass for all-weather slippers. He gives Rudy a pat, after which, Rudy—if I don't catch him in time—returns the favor by peeing on Bob and Nan's fence post. Bob is a couple of years older than Rudy. Once, he turned a beautiful bowl for me out of a hunk of Bowdoin maple, which his wife Nan wrapped in paper printed with mauve flowers. Nan herself has given me scores of perennials from her garden that now thrive in mine: feverfew, forget-me-nots, iris, grape hyacinth, geraniums. You should see her garden in all of its glory. From springtime into late fall, Nan and Bob invite me into their oasis nearly every time I pass by, always an abundance in bloom for me to savor.

Nan and Bob's daughter-in-law, Georgette, who lives next door, waves at us as she slowly drives past in her truck. She often stops to ask after Calvin.

At the grocer I see Caitlin who I've known since she was pregnant. We talk about how her five-year-old boy, Ashby, is bigger than Calvin, who's nine. She gives me a hug and tells me that she loves me and to give sweet Calvin a kiss. I tell her that love her too.

Then I shoot the shit with my buddies Bart and Kent, leaning over the counter at Bart's best ever video store, getting the scoop on films galore and returning the one we just watched.

On the path through the grove of pines that stand soaking in a pool of melting ice, I stop and visit with Stan, who is out in all kinds of weather getting his exercise walking. Stan asks how Calvin is doing, tells me a nice story, of which I'll relate to you later, then gives his regards to Michael and tells me to hug Calvin for him. We embrace hands then clap each other on the shoulder saying, "so long."

Upon my return home, our neighbor, Brian, helps me shovel the heavy slush from our driveway in preparation for the next snow to come. I often see him helping out his neighbors with their chores.

Later, to escape a bit of frustration and despair brought on by my rabid son, I take a rare outing to an evening lecture at the college while Michael stays home with Calvin. I sit off to the side in my relative gloom, watching the crowd pour in. I see Carmen in the back, but she doesn't see me. I wave at Bill, then the entire English department files into the front rows. I see Mark and Jill and Fabian and Tricia and David and there's Elizabeth across the aisle. Aviva and Marilyn come and give me a hug, and Pete, on the fringe, gets one too. And then there's Barry, the college pres, who offers an ever delightful and heartfelt introduction to the speaker, the esteemed author, Colm Tóibín. For the next hour Colm talks about silence in writing, focusing on James Joyce's The Dead, one of my very favorite stories. After the talk, Tricia buys me one of the author's books since I didn't bring my wallet, and the author signs it for me. Then, under falling snow and a sky aglow with the town's lights, I walk home, the book safely concealed within my coat, my despair at bay, for now.

Once home, I step into golden warmth and greet Michael who sits reading in front of the fire. I pour myself a bourbon on the rocks and it burns as it goes down, warms my gut. I'm warm all over, now, mostly holding the thought of the immense kindness of folks in my small town America, where hearts and souls expand into mine like the universe, where smiles and love prop me up just when I feel I'm about to go down.

photo by Michael Kolster


  1. I, too, love, where we live. Such a special place that you and yours make infinitely more special, Christy, even for people who do not really know you. Let's get that glass of wine (or 3) and shoot the shit at the new Enoteca that will be open on Maine Street (by Tim and Marc of Trattoria Athena) sometime next month. xo

  2. You've placed me right in the middle of your neighborhood, and I feel warmed and loved too! Thanks for the word picture. It is reassuring, coming in the context of all the world's ills.

  3. What a wonderful description of small town America at its very best--what a great cast of characters. Danielle

  4. Your expression of gratitude is so beautiful here, all the more powerful for the skill you've used in weaving your struggles and despair right into it. I can't believe, sometimes, how similar our thoughts are -- even down to what our favorite short stories are --

  5. Christy: a great word portrait of your town, our town. It is a reminder that community is all about a sense of shared ownership.

  6. Christy - As I begin my day in SF financial district battling the IRS, you have transported me to fond remembrances of being in Brunswick. Although my current abode and studio in West Oakland is a far cry from the neighborhood you describe, it too can be viewed in a loving way, now that I have had your guidance.

  7. Christy, another gorgeous account of Brunswick, which indeed seems to be the perfect place for the three of you to have landed: warm (even in winter) and generous, as are you and Mike and also Calvin. thank you for sharing your life with us.