We are small town. Small town. We are 509 branded. This isn’t our first time at the rodeo. We’ve actually been to a rodeo. State fair. Church camp. Backyard barbecue slip n’ slide bonfire inner tubing star-gazing. Our lives are mapped by rivers and mountain ranges. Our futures are shaped by agriculture, where our parents worked, GEDs.
We drive in pick-up trucks. There used to be a drive-in theater, and people filled it on Friday nights to watch double features. We hang out in the Jack-in-the-Box parking lot and cruise Nob Hill. We’ve run through the orchards at night, laughing. We sneak into the public pool late at night to swim the empty waters. We skinny dip in lakes. We’ve gone ice blocking drunk. We get drunk in parking lots. We wander through Walmart in the middle of the night because there’s nothing else to do. There are two of them, bookmarking east and west, so now we have options.
We walk through the corn maze every fall, wait and see what design the field has been cut in this year. Families go during the days, but at night groups of girls scream at the monsters hired to jump out at them and teen couples purposely lose themselves down a dead end and kiss until discovered. In the summer, we float down the river, past winding roads and speeding cars that honk their horns in jealously. But we don’t care–we’ve got music and booze and a sense of permanence in the water, even as it snakes through the canyons and inevitably ends. You have to go back to shore at a safe spot; kids have drowned here before. What traditions are there during the winter when the roads haven’t been plowed and the apple trees are sheathed in ice? We want the peaches back. The asparagus and onions. Give us cherries that we can split in our mouths and suck on the pits, our fingers stained with evidence of the slaughter. In a small town you live for summer.
Country music makes us fall in love. We’ve fallen in love a half-dozen times on swing sets. On baseball fields. Parked cars. On the merry-go-round. We’ve spun in circles at night–faster, faster–and when it stopped, held hands and stared up at the stars. Let’s kiss every time another firework bursts above us. Let’s make the lights jealous.
We all know someone who has died tragically. Or too young. Or both. We know someone with a habit. Someone with an addiction. Someone who has been to jail. We know that one person who got out and the one who came back. Married too young; divorced even younger. We know the girl who got pregnant in high school and the boy who got kicked out.
Our high school reunion is every night at Bill’s Place. At Sports Center. Let’s skip Jackson’s and go to McGuire’s. Remember that time at McGuire’s? At Bert’s? Yeah, me neither. The bookstores closed down, but more banks keep opening.