Thursday, March 18, 2004

Rumors, Rumors

“He who answers a matter before he hears the facts, it is folly and shame to him.”
~Proverbs 18:13 (NKJV)

Phones were ringing, tongues were wagging
Hot gossip was flying all around town
She heard the talk, the lowdown was
The shameless color of her wedding gown
It’s white

I mean, really, who’s she trying to kid
Everybody knows the things she did
It just isn’t right, won’t that be a sight?
To see her wearing white

It's nobody's business what she wears
Anyway the truth is she don't care
Baby it's her life, she'll do what she likes
And she likes wearing white

“Wearing White”
~ recorded by Martina McBride

Living in a small town has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages is that you don’t have to live amongst the hustle and bustle of a big city, yet you’re close enough to drive there when you need to. The down side is that everybody makes it their business to know your business. Maybe that wouldn’t be all bad if they got the story straight. But that’s not normally the case.

Every rumor seems to have a thread of truth running through it somewhere, but it’s usually buried so deep that it barely resembles the original version. It’s like that game of operator we used to play as kids when one person would whisper a sentence into the ear of the next person and so on and so forth until it reached the last person in line. Who could forget how ridiculous the end result turned out to be!

Keen and I have several stories about our life in a small town. I remember when we first moved to Alma back in 1979 and I took my first trip to the local grocery store. After writing out my check, I asked the clerk if she needed to see my driver’s license. “Oh no,” she replied with a smile. “I know who you are.”

Another time, after we’d lived in Alma for several years, Keen was watching the kids for me while I drove to Minnesota to visit one of my sisters. When I was getting out of the car upon my return, my next door neighbor hollered, “So, did you decide you liked Alma after all?” I guess he thought I’d “flown the coop” before I came to my senses and returned to my family.

Back in 1998, Keen was invited to speak to a group of high school students in
Connecticut. During his speech, Keen talked about his dream of one day selling the trash business and earning a law degree. Well, he never imagined that it would get back to anyone in Alma, but just a few days after he returned he walked in the door and announced, “Guess who has a sister in Hartford, Connecticut?” Sure enough, an Alma resident had a sister who read about Keen’s speech in The Hartford Courant. (“Lessons Learned in a Fight for Rights”, October 3, 1998.) It’s a small, small world.

When we sold our business in 1999 so Keen could return to college and pursue his dream, we set up an office for him in the basement of the house we owned near the Kansas State campus in Manhattan. (Our son Josh, who was also attending K-State at the time, lived upstairs.)

When Gene Smith from The Topeka Capital-Journal interviewed him about the new journey he was embarking on, Keen made the mistake of mentioning our house in Manhattan. He was quoted as saying: "We've bought a house five blocks from the Student Union, so we can walk to school each day. We won't even need a car!"

Boy, did that statement ever come back to haunt us! Everywhere we went, people were asking us when we were moving to Manhattan. One time a lady at the post office asked me about it and I explained the whole situation. Later in the day, I ran into her again at the grocery store where she overheard the clerk ask me the exact same question. “If you had a nickel for every time someone asked you that, you’d be rich,” she commented. Then the clerk replied, “Well, you need to put it in the paper so we’ll know!” I had to laugh because we did put an ad in the paper! We thanked all our customers for their past business and explained our future plans. “Although we own a house in Manhattan where Keen will have an office,” we wrote, “we will continue to make our home in Alma.” We thought that was pretty clear. But it was too late – the rumor mill had been set in motion and there was no turning back.

During that same time, Josh was working for a construction company in the summer. One day during his lunch break he was talking to one of his co-workers and telling him about how his dad likes to debate his professors at K-State. “Well,” the co-worker replied somberly, “maybe that’s why your parents got divorced.” “Divorced?!” Josh replied in utter shock. “Are you kidding? They’re just like newlyweds!”

I can only imagine the rumors that are flying around town since I left for Nevada to write my book. When I was home for Christmas, Keen and I were attending Kirk’s Christmas concert and I noticed a couple sitting together who had been separated for quite some time. I’ll call them Glenn and Gloria. “Look, Glenn and Gloria are sitting together,” I whispered to Keen. “Maybe they’ve patched things up.” After a short pause, Keen leaned over and said, “That’s probably what they’re saying about us.”

One person came right out and asked me if Keen and I were still married. This person had received my Christmas newsletter where I went to great lengths to explain what I was doing and why, but she still didn’t seem to understand that I went to Nevada with the full support of my husband and family. She went on to say, “Well, your sister got a divorce so I thought maybe you did, too.” The last time I checked, divorce wasn’t contagious!

An elderly woman from Alma (who also received my newsletter), called Keen on the phone recently. After making small talk, she came right out and asked, “Keen. Did Eileen leave you? Because I would just be sick if she did.” Keen did his best to calm her fears and assure her that was not the case. Whether he succeeded is anybody’s guess.

Another older woman had this bold reaction: “Why, if I were married to a good looking guy like you, I wouldn’t leave you alone for five minutes!”
Several years ago Keen was waiting in line at the local parts store when he struck up a conversation with the “stranger” standing in front of him. Sure enough, the woman and her husband had just moved to town, so Keen asked her where they lived. When she rattled off their address, Keen replied, “No, not your street address – nobody pays any attention to those around here.” After she described the physical location of their new home, Keen replied, “Ohhhhh, you bought the Nedrow place.” By now, the new Alma resident was becoming quite exasperated. “Why does everyone keep calling it the Nedrow house?” Keen explained, “Oh, it will always be the Nedrow house. Until you move. Then we’ll call it the Smith house.”

But my all-time favorite small town story involves the time we were looking for a larger house to accommodate our growing family. We heard about a lovely, five-bedroom home for sale out in the country (which was what we’d always wanted), so I called the realtor to inquire about the selling price. After he told me, I politely explained that it was out of our price range and thanked him for his time. But before I could hang up, the realtor asked if I would mind leaving my name. I told him that I’d really rather remain anonymous since we weren’t serious buyers. He stated that he just wanted to be able to show the sellers that he had fielded some calls. After reiterating the fact that I was simply curious about the price, I reluctantly gave my name.

I kid you not – within a week people started telling us how they’d heard we bought the Taylor house. I could not believe my ears. One woman at the doctor’s office said she’d heard we signed the papers on Friday and were moving in the following weekend. We even received a phone call inquiring about whether our current house would be coming up for rent.

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a
chance to get its pants on."
~ Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

I guess those humorous sayings about life in a small town are true: What we don’t know, we make up and we never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

(Note: Just for the record: I really did come to Nevada to write a book. Now I’m busy packing to return home. Next week Keen is flying out to spend a few days with me during his spring break. I can’t wait to show him where I’ve been living, the people I’ve met and the mountains I’ve enjoyed walking on. We’re also going to see Stew Stewart while he’s here. So spread the word – but please….. get it straight!)

Wishing you always—
Walls for the wind, and a roof for the rain,
and tea beside the fire—
Laughter to cheer you, and those you love near you—
And all that your heart might desire!
~ Irish blessing