Saturday, August 14, 2010

Small Town Characters

I work and (sometimes) live in a small town. You've probably never heard of it unless you also call it "home." But, like all small towns, we have some small-towny things that often turn into stereotypes.

We have a million "mom&pop" shops. Technically, I work in one. Scary, I know. Antique stores, one-of-a-kind restaurants, novelty shops, places full of really random collectibles, an ice cream place, a pet store, nail and hair salons where all the old biddies in town gather to gossip and where the high school homecoming queen gets all done up for her big night - it's all here. The downtown area, especially.

But what I think makes small towns special are the characters that inhabit them. Think back to The Andy Griffith Show, where you had the sheriff, the deputy, the village idiot, the millions of mom&pop shops, the Boy Scouts, and Aunt Mae. When walking down the street, everybody knows everybody. It's actually a little scary. There are more elementary schools and churches than stop signs and lights combined, and there might be 1 bar within the city limits. It's still an article of contention between the neighboring towns and our own. Not even kidding.

But back to characters. I'm a writer, and as such I have a couple tenets in my writing I tend to focus on. Primarily, I tend to focus and emphasize characters, relationships, and character development. So, naturally, every person I see is a character. There are people I see every day, like my family and my boss, the people I only see at work, the people I only see at school, and the people I've only ever observed but never really talked to. I don't feel like delving into the categories specifically, but I will go over some highlights for you.

Since my family is a blog entry unto itself, I'm going straight for the people that tend to walk by my place of work whom I often watch through the windows as they pass. (Trust me, the grammar in the previous sentence is impeccable.)

One of my favorites is a man named Dean. He's in his late 60s, and stoops a bit even though he's really tall. He's got longish white hair and a long white beard, a deep voice and a standard uniform of Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and athletic shoes. According to my sources, he's something of a Jack of All Trades. He worked primarily as an artist for a long time, then got into writing for school-age kids, started a few businesses, and even owned the local castle! (More on that later.) Now he owns the Pirate House up the street (no really, it's a house designed to look like a ship from the outside, and is decorated with pirates at Halloween. It's amazing.) and spends most of his days with a group of about half a dozen other men his age and type sitting at the restaurant next door drinking white wine and reading newspapers. They make the rounds around the Village, stopping at every restaurant in the neighborhood over the course of the week. Keep in mind, these are rich old men. Nice, rich, old men. Something like that. But every time he walks by the shop, I find myself wondering what he's thinking, what goes through his mind when he passes my window, what he's really doing staring off into space with a wine glass in his hand. Things I wonder...

Then there's Ate (AH-tay), our window washer. He plays guitar and I think really wanted to be a rockstar but grew up to be a window washer instead. It's funny and sad how strange the hand Life deals us can be. Ate has an opinion about almost everything, from the weather to spirituality to my taste in movies. Politics never come up. I have suspicions but no definite answers about that where he's concerned. It doesn't really matter, anyway. But he always smiles and waves at me when I pass him on the street and notices when we've used Windex on the never-ending stream of fingerprints our windows suffer. Really, I don't think he minds being a window washer. I mean that in the way that I wouldn't mind being a window washer. As in, he knows everybody, everyone likes him a lot, and he has interesting relationships with everyone he meets. He's in the prime occupation for a people-watcher, dealing with windows all the time.

Of course there's the whole gang at Classic, the coffee shop I'm in love with. No really, I'm gonna marry it someday. They're mostly college students, trying to make a living. It's funny to watch through the seasons who the seasonal ones are and who actually lives and goes to school here. They're all great, though. And know my drink by heart. That's a major plus to them.

There are other odds and ends, of course. One of the gals at the restaurant next door, Colleen, drives a convertible, dark blue VW Beetle and sometimes gives me free Dr. Pepper (in exchange for cupcakes). The ladies at the pet shop are mother and daughter, and the grandson of the owner comes in and plays sometimes. Chip, the Village Cat, lives there and basically owns the entire street of "Downtown." And, for some reason, I mistakenly called her "Merlin" for years. I have no idea why. The FedEx guy and the mailman are both really cool, but our UPS guy is usually different. Once, someone even tried to deliver dog treats to us and almost didn't believe me when I told him we were a bookstore and the pet shop was two doors down. Crazy...

We have a little stationary store down the street, too, with a post office annex in the back, where a little old man will take your packages and stamp them in front of you, and then walk you out to hold the door open, even if you're only carrying your purse. Of course, the streets are crawling with unsupervised preteens, wreaking havoc on scooters and skateboards. But what else is new? I know most of them by name, and if I don't, I know their parents. That's the kind of small town I'm talking about. More often than not, though, I know a kid's name but have no idea who his/her parents are. I'm affectionately known as "the bookstore girl" while my boss is the beloved "bookstore lady." No lie. We're full on You've Got Mail here, and we're all characters.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

At least, not until Tom Hanks decides to come and sponsor us personally because we're just as cute as The Shop Around the Corner....

Love all, trust few, do wrong to no one. ~ William Shakespeare



  1. I just stumbled across your blog and it struck me as interesting. Your LIFE seems interesting, and I'm actually jealous :O I loved the way you described the people you come across. What really intrigued me was Dean's house. It seems really interesting, the way it looks like a ship from the outside.

  2. Why thank you! It's not really that fascinating, I just think my job as a writer is to take what I know and make it worth reading. I'm pleased to hear it worked. Thanks for subscribing - I've done the same.

    And his house is fabulous. Everyone's kind of afraid to look too closely at it, but he's really a nice guy and loves visitors. :)

    write on,

  3. What a greattttt blog little lady! I especially love the background picture and the layout... very suitable to your personality. :)

    Aren't small towns great? I'm in one right now as we speak! And I never thought of the place you're writing about as small as you described it but you are definitely so right!

    I laughed out loud about the Merlin part.... oh, and of course about your family being a whole separate blog!

    Happy 17th! Can't wait to read what comes next.


  4. Awww, thanks, sis! I was really excited when I finally got it all right to how I liked it. (It took about 3 hours of kill-time at work, though...)

    Maybe I'll blog about Davis next. We'll see. Glad you liked it.

    Coming up next: Judy Moody Filming, Days 1&2: Getting Glendora "In the moooooood."



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