One of the things I've always found interesting about living in a small town is how local events make you realize the spider-web of relationships a person builds over a lifetime.
Instead of having thousands of choices in gas stations, restaurants, businesses to get things from, and businesses to be employed by, you have only a handful. If you need that businesses service, or are employed at one place for several years, then you pass beyond the white noise stage most city dwellers enjoy and enter the collective psyche of the rural mind.
My family name is moderately well known here. My relatives have lived in this general area since the War Between the States. It's certainly not known because we have money. We don't. Trust me. But my grandfather and father have been making friendships, relationships, and contacts in this community for over 40 years. When people hear my last name, they ask: "You're Anthony's son, right?" They usually don't know me personally. That suits me just fine, as I'm not sure I want to be as well known as my dad is. From what I've seen lately, though, I think it's going to happen anyway.
We went into town last night because my oldest daughter had a dance recital at the Relay For Life
rally at the city park. It's one of those singularly small-town activities that bring everyone you know to the same place, at the same time. That's when you realize that buying milk at the same grocery store, shopping at the same Wal-Mart, and any number of other chance encounters of small-town life makes a lot of faces well-known to you--even if you've never spoken to them. You end up recognizing people, their children, and sometimes grandchildren on sight, without knowing anything about them.
Some people you end up knowing quite well. I worked at the state highway department for a couple years before I went into the Air Force. I made friends with a guy several years short of retirement. He and I stopped to talk last night. I hadn't seen him in a year or so--I think at last year's Fair (that's where you see almost everyone you've ever known--including their relatives that come back on vacation to visit.) We talked about his garden and his stay-busy retirement projects. It turns out he had done some work on the custom-made equipment in the factory where I worked last year. My Mom and Dad walked up not long after. Dad hijacked the conversation and started talking to Keith about some place they had both worked 30-odd years ago. They racked their brains trying to think of the names of people they hadn't seen in decades. That's when I realized how much of an impact one person can have in a small town.
A network of contacts, relationships, friendships, and enemies one can make in a lifetime of living in rural America is genuinely staggering. My father has many thousands of contacts. Naturally, I inherit that portion of his network that I happen to run across. But I'm always curious to note how, as I get older and my family gets more involved in all manner of things, my own sphere of influence grows.
As I pulled the minivan into the park last night, this kid I worked with in the factory stuck his head out of the car window and hollered a hello to me. It took a little while before I remembered his name, but I finally pulled it off. I knew what family he belonged to and who his uncle was, but I couldn't remember his
name. I suspect that happens a lot with me.
Most of my extended family lives in this general area. My Mom's cousins live over near another rural farm town about 25 miles away. One of her cousins is a bail bondsman. He's a fairly big guy. He and his wife--who I also worked with at the highway department--just walked by. His gray hair is pulled back into a ponytail like always. He has a bushy mustache that reminds you of a walrus, and he's pulling a little red wagon with--after much chatting amongst ourselves and asking my mother--his step-granddaughter in it.
Although I don't (deep-down, anyway) care what people think about me, I do have to keep in mind that such a far-reaching influence can have a tremendously positive or negative effect on future generations of my family. I'm reaping the rewards of a well-respected and somewhat beloved family name. I'd like to keep from spoiling that so my sons will be known as "Jon's son" when they go to the lumberyard or call the plumber; the alternative being: "Oh...you're Jon's son, huh?"