I havenâ€™t really got used to living in a small town. I grew up in anonymous suburbs and then spent my 20s in London. Great Barrington is different. People walk down Main Street looking around to see whoâ€™s out, what theyâ€™re doing, where theyâ€™re going. When I first arrived, 13 years ago, I found this disconcerting. Today, I had another kind of small town experience. A new tenant on our floor stopped by, after weâ€™d exchanged a couple of phone messages about our possibly subletting an office. We hadnâ€™t met, but when he came in he looked at me and said, â€œI know we donâ€™t agree about the school zone violations, but Iâ€™m opposed to mega-schools, too. That was you, wasnâ€™t it?â€
He struck a tender spot, and not for the first time of late. Only a few weeks ago I was buying some books at a new shop in Stockbridge and the bookseller said, â€œYour nameâ€™s familiar. Werenâ€™t you the one who tried to save the small schools?â€ That had me in tears for a moment, because I still deeply feel the failure. Itâ€™s been five years, and I forget how much local drama that battle created (we still donâ€™t get coverage in the Berkshire Eagle because of the stand I took, or so some friends say). But what I donâ€™t know is how our new neighbor found out who I was. The disagreement, you see, about what he calls the school zone violation (and I would call the drug bust) took place at Pearlâ€™s one evening, when I started talking to a couple of people sitting next to us. He was one of them, was pleasant and sensible enough, and I recognized him when I saw him today. But I didnâ€™t know his name, and I wonder how he knew mine.
Thatâ€™s what small town lifeâ€”and communityâ€”is all about. David pays much more attention these days than I, reading the local papers and chatting to people on Main Street when he goes to the post office. A small town community is formed from overlapping ties and, when weâ€™re at our best, a recognition that we need to live together and learn to respect one anotherâ€™s views. The school fight wasnâ€™t a clean one, unfortunately, and thereâ€™s a good bit of pain underlying the final sentence of the acknowledgements to the Encyclopedia of Community, where I say something about Great Barrington, the place where I learned about both the upsides and downsides of community life. That battle hasnâ€™t been forgotten, though, and I guess Iâ€™d better get used to that.
We’ve had to reset the login requirements because I was deluged with “Comments” spam–147 messages overnight–but I’d still love to tempt a reader to say something about their experience with the downsides of community, when there’s a major controversy.