In The City of Northampton, Mass., Small-Town Life Aplenty

Aug 22, 2019

A couple weeks ago, I had a plumbing issue. My garbage disposal came to a grinding halt, and none of the usual tricks to get it going again were working. 

So I called my neighbor, Bill, who has been my plumber forever and ever.

I couldn't be home when he had time to work on it, so I left the door unlocked for him, saying, "You know where everything is."

And I thought to myself: That’s small-town life for you.

Then, when he sent me his invoice, a handwritten note was tucked in with it telling me how much he'd enjoyed my last column in The Daily Hampshire Gazette.

"It's always good," he said, "but this one really spoke to me."

Geez! How often does a plumber include something like that in his bill, I thought to myself? Again, small-town life. I popped a check in the mail to him.

Look, I’m generally not one to romanticize small towns. I grew up in a small town — way smaller than this one, in fact — but I left that place on purpose.

Since my late teens, I’ve lived in medium cities and major metropolises, on the East Coast and the West.

I know that the truth is feeling connected to your community has less to do with density population, and more to do with how long you live somewhere, and how often you reach out to those around you.

Consider my friend Carol, who lived in a 12-story highrise in Boston for years: a hyper-urban living situation. She remembers how her letter carrier left lollipops for her daughters along with the junk mail and bills, and if he ran into her in the hallways, he let her know her alimony check had arrived.

In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to have a close connection — just a sense of everyone being in it together.

It was in New York City, after all, that I noticed strangers saying, “Bless you,” to me as they passed me sneezing on the sidewalk.

The hallmarks of small-town life aren’t actually limited to small towns.

Still — the other day, I was on my porch watering my plants when my letter carrier walked up the front steps.

We said hello, chatted about the weather, and then he said, "Listen, this letter was directed back to you because you didn't put an address on it, but I'm pretty sure I know where it's going. You want me to deliver it?"

It was my check to Bill. I’d written his name, but hadn’t included his address.

I confirmed the address, thanked him, apologized for being brain-dead when I sent it out, and then thought: If this isn't the epitome of small-town life, I don't know what is.

Anyway, good morning to you. I like living here.

Naomi Shulman is a writer living in Northampton, Massachusetts.