By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine
If you grew up in a small town or have lived in a small town for any length of time you will understand the following story.
Some years ago a writer from the East Coast moved to a small town in northwestern Arkansas to get away to the quietness and do some writing. One night she found herself in one of the local watering holes and met an attorney. They talked about the small town they found themselves in and one thing led to another. She went home with him that night.
The next morning as they sat in his kitchen having coffee the mailman went by delivering the mail. The attorney went out to get his mail from the box returning with not only his mail but hers as well. She was shocked her mail was delivered to his home after a one night stay. She asked the attorney why the mailman would do that. The attorney explained the mailman had no doubt observed her car parked outside and left her mail with his.
We tend to laugh at the simplicity of small town living but there is also what I call a brilliance you get from living in a small town. As noted above the brilliance comes from constant observation of the habits and everyday comings and goings of the same small number of people. This observation goes on from day to day with few interruptions. This closeness, the friendships and even family relationships allows one to develop an unlimited knowledge of the lives around them. In this environment the least little thing will stand out as something unusual, strange or just weird. Individuals and their characteristics become well defined and clear in our minds.
On the other end of the spectrum is the life of those living in a metropolitan area where the vast numbers of those around us as well as the constant unsettling change of those we come in contact with make it hard to study and get that unlimited knowledge of a few. Small town living has its advantage and we can see it in some of our greatest stories.
The best example I can provide is that of two small town writers that brought us two great stories. One is Fried Green Tomatoes by Fannie Flagg, a great story about a small town that was no more than a whistle stop for the train. The book had a small number of characters with great detail about each. Everything bout Fried Green Tomatoes was small town. In this story some individuals become brilliant as they observed those around them.
The other book was Forest Gump by Winston Groom. This was a great story about a small town boy who eventually discovered the world. This book reflected the mall town insight of the main character and how the world looked through his eyes as he ventured out. Forrest Gump was another example of small town relationships and the lifelong relationships that came from them. Forrest took his small town observations on the road and met life’s challenges.
Fannie Flagg and Winston Groom did a great job showing life in a small town. They used what they learned from growing up in a small town and shared it with the world. You can as well. If you didn’t grow up in a small town you make where you live a small town. Focus on a few interesting characters, study them, their habits and observe any interesting features. Find out more about them and go from there. Better yet if you ever have the chance, travel to the small town that Fannie Flagg and Winston Groom grew up in, Magnolia Springs, AL. Sit on the corner at Jessie’s, have a beverage and just observe. The brilliance of a small town just may come to you.