Friday, February 06, 2009

Small towns

When my father moved the family from beautiful eccentric Natchez to the teeny dull Halstead, Kansas, when I was 12, I was devastated. Halstead had about 2,000 people in it, and everyone knew everyone. I hated that. There was no anonymity. Anything you did was watched and talked about.

I missed the greenery of the South. Kansas was so flat and the landscape was boring - just pale brown with wheat. I was interested, though, in how people from Kansas hated the landscape of the South -- too claustrophobic, too many plants and trees -- you couldn't see for miles like you could in the Midwest.

So I guess it's whatever you grow up with that you love the best. But I thought of Halstead last night as I was finishing up Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. Of small towns, he wrote:

The tradition, repeated in scores of magazines every month, is that the American village remains the one sure abode of friendship, honesty, and clean sweet marriageable girls. Therefore all men who succeed in painting in Paris or in finance in New York at last become weary of smart women, return to their native towns, assert that cities are vicious, marry their childhood sweethearts, and presumably, joyously abide in those towns until death....

It is an unimaginatively standardized background, a sluggishness of speech and manners, a rigid ruling of the spirit by the desire to appear respectable. It is contentment...the contentment of the quiet dead, who are scornful of the living for their restless walking. It is negation canonized as the one positive virtue. It is the prohibition of happiness. It is slavery of self-sought and self-defended. It is dullness made God.

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