Showing posts with label small town. Show all posts
Showing posts with label small town. Show all posts

30 January 2020

Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered...


First of all, a big shout out to Janet Rudolph and her posting of one of the funniest - and truest - reads I've seen in a while:  "Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village" by Maureen Johnson.  (Read the whole HERE)  Read it now, and then come back and  I'll continue on with some more handy tips.

When it comes to English Villages, I bow to her amazing expertise and only add one extra warning:  Don't be a spy.

Half of episodes of the 1960s TV show The Avengers were Mrs. Peel and John Steed tracking down dead / missing spies or each other in quaint English villages.  (The Town of No Return, Small Game for Big Hunters, The Living Dead, etc.)

My personal favorite was Epic (Season 5, Episode 11), where a bunch of has-been retired silent film stars kidnap Emma to make "The Death of Emma Peel" which was, from the scenes we see being filmed, a mish-mash of everything from Mourning Becomes Electra to The Perils of Pauline.  Absolutely hilarious.




When it comes to American small towns, the immediately obvious murder victims are:

The man/woman everyone hates.  And there is always at least one.

The town gossip.  These come in two types:  mean and relatively harmless.  In real life, the mean ones almost never get killed (mainly because they're very scary) while the harmless ones sometimes do when they get hold of the right information at the wrong time and pass it on to the wrong person.

The unknown ex-_________ of someone important who comes to town and pretends they're just passing through.  Next thing you know, they're dead.  If you're someone's ex, don't visit their small town unannounced.

The person on the phone who is just about to give valuable information about who / what / where / why.  (This was more fun back in the days when they got coshed on the head at a public phone booth, but cycling at the gym while on the smartphone works, too.)

There are no impoverished aristocrats.  However, there is always at least one Pioneer Family who by now has run to seed and drugs.  (See Neil Inveig, found shot to death in the opening of my own Public Immunity, who was Laskin's drug dealer among the upper crust.  There's still considerable argument in Laskin about who actually killed him, and it crops up every once in a while.)  Anyway, this feckless person is usually the catalyst, and occasionally the victim, of murder.

The pregnant girlfriend of the man everyone hates, the feckless Pioneer descendant, the sleazy politician / sheriff / officer.  This ties right into the basic American trope of:  if a woman wants to stay alive, she must not have sex with anyone outside of marriage, but even within marriage, don't marry the hero!  See my February column, Why There Always Has to Be a Virgin.

Don't be any of these.

As far as dangerous places in American small towns, there are some significant differences from English villages:

If you're in the High Plains and / or the West, "quaint" is not the term to use for many small towns.  Windswept, yes.  Desolate, even.  But not quaint.

The Last Picture Show (1971)
Shot of "Anarene, TX" main street  from The Last Picture Show, IMDB


Also, no American bar is as sacred in the same way as the English pub.  Murders happen.

On the other hand, not many people get murdered in American churches (gunned down by a mass shooter is another story), perhaps because that steeple is an obvious target for God's wrath in the form of a bolt of lightning, and most everyone truly believes in God's wrath.  After all, they've lived through floods, fires, tornadoes, (hurricanes on the coasts) massive thunderstorms, earthquakes, hail at harvest time, droughts, etc.  Most farmers and ranchers expect wrath to be unleashed at various intervals, so it's best not to anticipate it by downright blasphemy.

People are not nearly as fetishistic about trains in America as in Britain.  Oh, they have their fans, and most people enjoy a nostalgic ride on one, but the truth is when it comes to trains, Sheldon Cooper is far more British than American.

I think some of the reason is that Americans prefer individual transportation.  Fast cars.  Pick up trucks.  Small planes are popular.  Also ATVs, jetskis, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and anything else that can make a significant amount of noise and cover a lot of ground fast.

There are no marble busts in American small towns.  There are (more or less) bronze statues.

The varieties of death available to the average American increases dramatically as you head into the hinterlands.  Farms often have passels of hogs (which will eat anything), and other large animals that could be used to stomp someone to death, not to mention lots of heavy equipment.  Even in town, there are sheds stuffed to the gills with the odd stuff that could be used for nefarious purposes, from post-hole diggers to sledgehammers.  One of the reasons that English villages are quaint is that they apparently never need of any of these things.  Gardening shears seem to be as much as they ever use, at least on TV.

But the main difference, of course, between America and England is lots and lots and lots of guns.

'Nuff said.

26 October 2017

The North Forty


by Eve Fisher

With any luck, my husband and I just got back from a much-needed vacation, so here's an update from my friend Linda Thompson. She wrote this letter to a mutual friend of ours who lives in New York City, who likes to keep informed about life in Laskin, South Dakota... 

...Every summer as you know, a friend of mine goes on a dig with a group of archaeologists.  I've suggested that he could find really interesting things by staying in town and excavating my garden, but he just laughs.  He has no idea what can get buried in a small town.  Remember when Mary Olson killed her husband?  That asparagus bed's still pretty lush...  (I know, I know, it was never proven he was ever buried there, but you can re-read all about that here in "The Asparagus Bed".)

But the truth of the matter is, my friend only interested in dinosaurs.

Image result for wall drug dinosaur

Of course, America's been dinosaur-happy for a long time.  I was, too, once, but I got over it when I learned that birds were direct descendants of dinosaurs, which sounds sillier in a book than it does watching a flock of pelicans.  Pelicans are 30 million years old.  Pelicans are sharks with wings.  In flight they look like large albino pterodactyls, and I'll bet they'd whip the pants off of any leather-winged pterosaur stupid enough to not be extinct.  On the water, they patrol the lake with the same carefree approach of prison search-lights on a moonless night with bloodhounds baying in the background.  If I were a fish, they'd give me a heart attack.  As it is, they just give me the willies.



Of course, once you start observing things like that, you can't stop.  At least, I can't.  I started watching the crows and flickers stalking my yard, head cocked, one eye staring cold and unblinking down at the ground until they spot their prey.  Maybe I saw "The Birds" too young, along with "Psycho" and "Marlin Perkins' Wild America", but I believe birds spook more people than me:  why else would carry-out fried chicken be available in every convenience store in America?  It's our way of reassuring ourselves of our place on the food chain.



The reason I'm able to make all these observations is that my yard is the neighborhood wildlife sanctuary.  Besides the birds, a tribe of rabbits comes and frolics on my lawn every night.  This isn't because I leave out little nubbins of carrots and pretend that I'm Beatrix Potter.  It's because I have the only chemical-free lawn on my block, full of dandelions, clover, and creeping charlie.  (You can imagine how popular I am with my neighbors.)  The rabbits love it.  They eat and gambol and do all the things that rabbits do.  They must stay up all night doing it, too, because morning always finds a couple of them sprawled out on the grass like limp cats.  Sometimes a cat is sprawled out like a limp rabbit, not five feet away.  Who's imitating whom, I don't know.  All I know is that they're all too tuckered to move.

Now I don't mind the rabbits eating all the clover they can hold.  I'm certainly not going to eat it.  Nor do I mind them fraternizing with cats, although I think it proves the truth of the phrase "hare-brained".  What I mind is this Roman-orgy atmosphere they give the place.  The way some of them look, I expect to see little togas and vine-wreaths lying under the marigolds and zucchini.

Solanum melongena 24 08 2012 (1).JPGAnd there's the problem.  You see, my garden is in my front yard because it's the only place that gets enough sun to grow anything but moss.  In any major urban center - say 12,000 and up - I would have been run out of town on a rail for plowing up perfectly good sod to grow vegetables.

But here in Laskin, it's a tourist attraction. Every walker in town stops at my chicken-wire fence and comments freely about the condition of my soil.  My neighbors bring their out-of-town visitors over for the afternoon, which tells you something about the entertainment options of Laskin.  I stepped outside one day and found a dozen people, none of whom I knew from Adam's off-ox, standing around wondering why I put the beans there, why my peppers weren't blooming, and what in the world was THAT?  (Eggplant.)

No my North Forty is good clean family fun.  It's also a lot of hard work.  Note to Martha Stewart:  the real key to a perfect garden is to put it in the front yard, where every weed becomes public knowledge.  God knows that after years of this, my character has been thoroughly shredded, and what I should do is just quit, but that would start even more rumors... 

I need an excuse, a reason, like an excavation.  I believe there's something under the potato patch.  We just haven't looked properly.  I need professional archaeologists.  After all there are dinosaurs on the property already, and it's not my fault if they've evolved to the point where they have feathers...

27 April 2017

Moving, Moving, moving...


by Eve Fisher

Next week, my husband and I are moving from small town South Dakota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota - which to many people is still small town South Dakota.  (Sioux Falls is South Dakota's largest city, with a population of under 200,000.)  We're moving for many reasons:  the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) work we do at the pen; doctors (we're getting older and frailer); amenities (restaurants, shopping, etc.); cultural events (of all kinds!), etc.  And we already have a network of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances in Sioux Falls.  And we found a real gem of a house, a vintage Craftsman, that I call the "Goldilocks house", because it's not too big, not too small, but just right for the two of us.  Amazing!  (Will post pictures later.)

So excited, exhilarated, exhausted.  Also sad and bittersweet.  We've lived in the old town for almost 27 years, so of course we're going to miss a whole lot of stuff.
  • Everywhere we go, we know somebody, if not everybody.  There is always someone to talk to. 
  • Everywhere we go, they know who we are.  They know our order at the Chinese Restaurant. They know us at the two diners.  And at the library, the grocery store, the post office, and just about everywhere else we go.   
  • We don't have to think about where we're going and how we're going to get there:  there are only so many places to go, and only so many ways to get there, so by now we move on autopilot.  
  • We have a state park two miles from town, which I walk in almost every day.  I've seen deer, eagles, foxes, coyotes, pheasants, and wild turkeys, not to mention geese, ducks, pelicans, seagulls, coots, and cormorants.  
  • Friends.  You all know who you are.  
And there are all the differences of small town living.  Some of my favorite stories are:

When we first moved up here, we rented for the first year, and then went house hunting. There weren't that many houses for sale, so I think we saw all of them.  (In the same way, we visited every church in town.)  When we finally did buy - a huge two-story box a block and a half from campus - after the closing, I went down to City Hall to change the utilities over.  The lady at City Hall said, "Oh, we already took care of that.  It's all in your name now."  They're not going to do that in Sioux Falls.  (We lived in that house for 22 years...)

Northern Exposure-Intertitle.jpgThe local radio station used to broadcast out onto Main Street, so that as you walked around downtown, you could hear the news, weather, music, and the ever-important "locals".  One day I was walking to work and heard that I was going to be interviewed later that day...  This kind of thing was one of the reasons that, back then, I used to tell everyone back East that I lived in the South Dakota equivalent of Cicely, Alaska (of Northern Exposure for those of you who weren't fans.)  They all thought that was pretty cool.

Pharmaceutical shock:  The first time I walked into the local drug store and saw that they had needles for sale to anyone who wanted them I about freaked out.  Then I realized they were for diabetics, and it hadn't occurred to anyone that addicts might want them. Another time, I had to have my wisdom teeth surgically removed, and the pain prescription wasn't going to be ready for another hour.  But Allan had to teach all day, so I called a friend and asked if she could pick me up and take me to the drug store, because the pain was pretty bad?  Fifteen minutes later her husband knocked on the door with my prescription, and told me to write him a check later. It was so sweet of him, but what stunned me was that the pharmacist had given pain meds to someone else to deliver to me...  (In case you can't tell, I was used to big city living - LA and Atlanta - where you show up in person with some serious ID.)

When I first moved up here I was 36 years old, with long black hair down to my waist.  After a couple of years of dealing with prairie winds - either I kept my hair tied back, pinned up, or got whipped almost to death by it - I cut it short.  One of my best friends came up for my 40th birthday, and as I gave her the walking tour, in almost every shop someone came up and said, "Oh, Eve, let me look at your new haircut!"  After about the third or fourth time, Lora stopped on the sidewalk and asked, "Are you telling me that people don't have anything better to do in this town than talk about your hair?"  Pretty much, yep.

The truth is, ANY change in a small town will generate days, if not weeks, sometimes months and even YEARS of talk.  My hair got a couple of days.  But people still talk about when the old hotel downtown burned down, and they still give directions according to buildings that are no longer there. (I have always been grateful that I moved up here BEFORE the Franklin School was torn down, because that way when someone says I need to turn right after the old Franklin School, I know where that is.)

Caring: small towns pull together, show up, bring food, and send cards.  I can't tell you the number of fundraisers that are held in a small town, most of which involve food:  pork loin feeds, pancake feeds, soup suppers, etc.  They're held for cancer patients, accident victims, hospital bills, medical bills, funeral bills, you name it.  And people show up, pay a generous free will donation, and eat heartily. And no death is ever ignored.  When my mother died, I got cards from practically everyone in town, even though no one had ever met her.  When we moved Allan's mother up here, she quickly became part of the community (she was the biggest social butterfly you could ever meet).  Sadly, she lived less than a year after the move (pancreatic cancer), but her church, prayer, and exercise groups called and visited, and at her South Dakota memorial service, over 200 people showed up.

The web.  You sit in a small town cafe, or church supper, or anywhere, and you hear stories.  Families are traced backwards and forwards.  Where they came from, where they lived, where they're buried, where the children / grandchildren / great-grandchildren moved to and what they're doing now.  Who married whom?  Where did they work?  Some stories are repeated with great relish:  You remember the folks that used to live in that big house on the corner:  they separated, and she got the house, but he came back every year to check up on the kids, and every year, nine months later, she had another baby.  Never divorced...  Others - of violence and abuse, or heartbreaking sorrow - are spoken of in hushed voices.  It's endlessly fascinating.  Especially since my family isn't in the mix.  Because the downside of a small town is that they never forget, and all the sins of the fathers are remembered unto the fourth and fifth generation.  This is one of the reasons why people move away from small towns. Small towns never forget.  Allow me to repeat that.  Small towns never forget.

I've enjoyed living in a small town; and I know there are times when I will really miss it.  But it's only an hour's drive away from Sioux Falls, and, as I said, Sioux Falls isn't that large a city.  I will continue to see my friends, and they now have another reason to come to Sioux Falls.  Thank God I live in the age of automobiles and interstates, instead of the days of buggies and dirt roads! And I will continue to write stories set in Laskin, South Dakota, with Grant Tripp and Linda Thompson and Matt Stark.  But who knows?  Some new characters, new settings may be coming into the mix.  I'll keep you posted!