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Part of the appeal of small-town living is that most everyone knows your name.
The old “Cheers” episodes featuring a big city bar, where all the regulars know each other’s names, are very popular because of that up-close-and personal feeling. Those who don’t experience it every day miss it, even if they are never had it.
A book about small-town life in Alaska, “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name,” written by Heather Lende counts on the warm fuzzy feeling that is generated by the thought of such a comfortable community.
What the title didn’t convey was the reason that the writer knew everyone’s name — she wrote the obituaries for the local paper and made visits to most of the families shortly after their loved one’s passing.
If she didn’t know them in life, she surely learned enough about each individual by the time she was done.
In her introduction, Lende explains how she ended up in the tiny town of Haines, Alaska, noting that she soon developed surefire ways to be in the know about the local populace.
Meeker and Haines seemed to be somewhat the same size, as she noted that when she wanted to know who was moving, all she had to do was, “run a finger down the few pages that Haines listings take up in the southeast Alaska phone book and match the phone number listing with the phone number on the classified newspaper advertisement.” That is a trick that often worked here, as well. She added a few other characteristics that sounded more than familiar, such as “Haines is the kind of town where if you live here long enough, you recognize everybody and everybody recognizes you,” or “The two reporters joke that most readers are checking for mistakes since they already know the news.”
With that in mind, one need only add the word “of” to her original book title, to describe the other side effect or rural living — word of mouth.
One doesn’t have to physically meet someone. When I was asked recently if I thought the town had changed much, I realized that I didn’t have a definitive answer. Things like not leaving cars and houses unlocked yes, other characteristics such as supporting a neighbor or friend, no.
Recently I was disgusted that a friend’s front door sign, “This house is protected by Angels” was stolen. I planned to make a note of it in one of my columns.
However, when it was returned more than a week later, it appeared to me its return had more to do with small town living than anything else. I’m assuming that whoever “borrowed” it felt some guilt or remorse later, or that old small town standby — word of mouth spread to someone who knew who took the sign and got it back to its rightful owner.
I don’t know if it was taken as a prank or borrowed for its message, but the effect of this act of thievery surely didn’t dawn on the thief on that front porch. The sticky-fingered individual never thought that a simple door sign had some special significance to the homeowner, or contemplated what the affect of someone creeping up on one’s porch, opening the unlocked glass door, and removing the sign from its hanger on the wooden door would have on the person on the other side of the door.
I must say I agree with obituary writer Heather Lende’s take on small-town life, but would add one little word — of. I could write a book about writing for a newspaper as well, but would have to call it, “If You Lived Here, I’d Know Of Your Name.”