So it’s mostly true that in a small town there are no secrets.
I’m in Richmond to present a carefully constructed speech on the cultural elements of violence in deaths in rural Virginia. I’m about to negotiate–without negating or upholding–stereotypes that have stood the test of time. And one of the worst is: yes, we do protect our own.
We like to be self-policing, but the problem is just how uneven that enforcement becomes. Miners who emerge from the shaft smelling of cigarette smoke and sporting two black eyes, “just fell down.” Women who appear with funny little five-point bruises on their arms, hit a wall. “Clumsy me.”
In a small town, if you’re the bad guy, you are also part of an insular group that believes it has to guard itself against the rest of the world. So if you happen to be the guy who stalks women when they go for sunset walks, who frequents the playground during school hours, who sells the used cars that are actually auction wrecks filled with engine honey–well, if you’re “one of” somebody’s particular clan, an old family, a special group, then the consequences might be less.
I love living in a small town, not least because of the cheerful, common-sense outlook on life that prevails; the ways we can laugh at ourselves; the things we still value that other places have let slide. And it is funny that we know each other so well, we read clotheslines to spot new pregnancies. Or extramarital affairs.
Perhaps it is not funny that we sometimes refuse to read each others’ faces? Or read each other the riot act?
That’s the part of small town life that sucks, the special dispensation of privacy for some at the expense of others. Because in a small town, there are no secrets. Unless the town wants there to be.