According to Wikipedia, the source for all that is factual and true, the phrase “six degrees of separation” is the theory that everyone and everything is just six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world. If that’s true, then living in a small town keeps everyone just two steps away from knowing everyone else...where they work...if they've been divorced...where they live. And when that small town is nestled in an isolated mountain community, people might as well accept we're all really just one, baby step away from knowing all these facts about each other, plus pet names, car models, preferred coffee and latest physical ailments.
I came from big cities where I was lucky to even know who my neighbors were two houses down. If it wasn't for the circle of people I knew in my church or school, I’d have easily been a loner in a crowd of suburbia. As it is now, I try hard to be a hermit in the midst of 5000 people I know or at the very least recognize.
When my kids were small, we ventured to California for the requisite Disneyland visit. In the midst of the enchantment of castles, dressed characters and throngs of milling people, we ran into a family we knew from our home town. What were the odds? Well, apparently the odds dramatically increase in a small town where there is nary an unfamiliar face, compared to a huge city where the circle of friends is limited.
Within our alpine village knowing a person goes beyond just recognizing their face, it also extends to knowing their vehicles. I learned this lesson early on. For years my husband was a church minister in town—the opportunity for folks to know who we were before we learned who they were rose exponentially. One day I stopped at the local liquor store to restock my cooking wines, one each in red and white. Before the week was over, some well-intentioned saint let me know he'd seen my car out and about. “Oh really,” I asked, still naïve and therefore a bit surprised.
“Yeah, saw you were at the local liquor store.”
I peered at the good brother. Was that meant as a judgment? I never was quite sure, but from then on I resorted to bootlegging our alcohol. Out-of-town friends and family soon learned to ask us before a visit, “Can I bring you anything from the liquor store?”
With a hand cupped secretively around the mouthpiece of the phone, I’d whisper in conspiratory tones, “Yes. Please. Some beer and a bottle of cooking wine would be much appreciated. Use the back door.”
Years later, when my little red Toyota was a fixture in town, friends and colleagues at work started teasing me about seeing me in my car, waving and being ignored. “I swear,” I protested, “I never saw you.” But my apparent sightings increased and people continued to inform me about my supposed snubbing. Funny thing is, I noticed people waving at me with enthusiasm and smiles from inside their cars, and yet I couldn't have said who they were. But maybe I just wasn't in the habit of recognizing people by their cars yet.
Even my husband joined in, “I saw you in your car today and gave you a wave. You totally looked at me and looked away.” I was stumped. Was I that zoned out to people around me once I got into my car?
Finally after several weeks of this, there was a crack in the case of The Car Snubbery. I pulled into my work parking lot just as another little red Toyota pulled in next to me. The driver stepped out—a young woman with long blonde hair…just like mine. As I gazed at her, blinking, I started to put the pieces together. “We have similar cars,” I said in way of a greeting. She smiled patiently at my astute observation. “Do you ever get people you don’t know waving at you?” I asked, hoping she’d help me solve the mystery.
Her eyes widened slightly as she too put the pieces together. “Yes, I do,” she said.
What're the odds?