I was calling a friend. I was very excited. I had just heard some great news — another friend of ours had just snagged her first COVID vaccine — and I couldn’t wait to share it. I dialed from my kitchen phone, the way I always had when our kids were young, and our news was about things like snow days and playdates.
“Carrie? Is that you? I just heard the most exciting news…”
“No, it’s Nell, but you can tell me anyway.” Oops! I had dialed the wrong number.
“Oh! Um, hello, Nell. Actually, it’s all about you. I’m just so happy about your first shot I wanted to tell people! How are you feeling?” We chatted for half an hour.
There’s a list somewhere of clues: “How to know that you’re living in a small town.” One clue is that when you dial a wrong number, you turn out to know that person, too.
By that standard Port Washington is a very small town — and a nice one.
There are other clues.
Take, for instance, my very first trip to the local hardware store. I got as far as the cashier before discovering that my wallet was missing from my purse. Clearly I was going to have to rush home and cancel all my credit cards, but first — they’d already rung me up!
Two things then told me that I wasn’t in Manhattan any more:
First, instead of asking for my purchases back, the cashier said, “Go ahead, just pay us the next time you’re in.” The second was that my wallet wasn’t stolen at all, but sitting on the kitchen counter at home.
Another small-town clue: When you’re out for a walk, people keep pulling over and asking if you need a lift. I know that happens because I’ve been that person. Pulling over, I mean. It just never occurs to me that anyone would prefer walking if they had a choice.
“You know you live in a small town when you’re surrounded by people you know whether you know it or not. “
A few years ago, a small error of judgment at an intersection landed me in an ambulance, taking a ride to the hospital where trained professionals could agree with me that I did not have a concussion.
Lying flat in the ambulance, staring up at the young attendant who was taking my pulse, I found myself trying to figure out why she looked so familiar. Finally I got it: “You were in my son’s science class!” I said, loudly enough to throw off her count and make her start over.
“You know you live in a small town when your news travels faster than you do.”
When I first got pregnant, I was superstitious about jinxing myself, so my husband and I told no one except the pharmacist where I went to buy my prenatal vitamins. But no sooner had I walked back in the door than the contractor working on our kitchen said, “Congratulations!”
Yup. A small town.
A couple of years ago — pre-pandemic — I was reheating the second half of a steak dinner that we’d had in a restaurant the night before. But I guess I wasn’t paying close enough attention because before I knew it smoke was billowing up from the pan and had set off our smoke detectors.
Rats! I rushed to call the alarm company and begged them not to alert the Fire Department because it was only me and my smoky skillet. “I don’t want to waste their time,” I said.
No dice. A few moments later, some firemen were at our door. I assured them that it was a false alarm, just me being stupid with the skillet, but they still had to come inside, clomping all through my kitchen in boots and full regalia, armed with a medieval-looking instrument of torture (probably just to poke holes in the walls if there were hot spots, but it was very pointy). All just to assure themselves that, indeed, I was every bit as bad a cook as I claimed to be.
“All clear,” they said, about 10 minutes later and piled into their vehicles and drove away.
That’s when my cell phone buzzed with a text message from one of my sons, hundreds of miles away: “It was overcooked anyway, Mom.”
In small towns, news of your failures travels far.
But good news travels, too. Because it was the combined work of three different circles of friends in this town that finally helped me get my own vaccine appointment.
A small town like mine can be a great place to live.