Small-town life has gotten bigger

Monday, March 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:55 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

I was doing a walk-through in my garden the other day, checking for signs of new growth, when my neighbor came over for a visit. Abrupt fellow that he is, he announced right off the bat that now that the robins were signaling spring, he was through sitting around the house, listening to hour after hour of dismal national news. He was ready, he said, to return to the life of a normal, retired mid-Missourian, anxious to pursue his own interests. He was ready to garden, fish, take nature hikes and roam the countryside in search of antique furniture.

I certainly appreciated his attitude. I have a hard time dealing with people who stay glued to the tube year-round and never come up for air. It’s difficult finding a common thread on which to string a conversation. I think the national political polls are right. Eight months prior to the election, most people already have made up their minds about whom they will vote for and why. And while events can radically change the landscape in the meantime, I doubt that many voters will change their minds. Most of the people I know are absolutely polarized. They know exactly where they stand on issues such as joblessness, outsourcing, immigration, the situation in Iraq and the myriad other problems we face. Everything that can be said on both sides of the issues has already been said thousands of times. Most folks would just like to spend a few hours a day renewing their spirit, surrounded by peace and contentment.

I hope that, within a few weeks, my brother and I will be able to resurrect our custom of having one shared outdoor meal each week. In the meantime, I’ll get busy cleaning up the yard, checking the outdoor furniture for painting and repair and getting out the games. As a garage sale addict and flea market trader, I’m eagerly awaiting the season. I can’t wait to prowl for treasures through other people’s cast-off junk. I’m ready to start digging in the dirt to create new gardens and clear out the old ones.

The one thing I’m not looking forward to is having to construct a fenced area for Geronimo, the cat. Since our yard is unfenced, he explores the lawn attached to a leash as he has from kittenhood. Unfortunately, recently pet owners in my area, like so many other segments of the population, seem determined to exercise their freedoms at the expense of everyone else. As a result, increasing numbers of dogs and cats have been roaming at will, making it unsafe for household pets to be left alone outside. In the past week, police officers have had to kill three pit bulls who were threatening officers’ lives, as well as the lives of civilians. This is one of the small problems in the larger scenario, making citizens feel powerless as they watch elements surrounding their personal space spiral out of control.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling to realize small-town life is gradually becoming as problematic as life in the cities. As the population explodes, other factors, such as increased traffic and overcrowded schools, create new challenges for small towns. I have a friend from a large city who has a summer home nearby. She confided to me recently that she had abandoned the idea of retiring to a less inhabited location because she felt safer in the city because of the stability and cohesiveness of her neighborhood. In the final analysis, I think neighborhoods, rather than community size, becomes a more important consideration in choosing where to live.

Many people both in town and in the country have found that, in order to ensure a measure of tranquility, they need buy as much of the property surrounding their home as possible. For better or worse, this keeps neighbors at bay. This, I suppose, is why people move into housing developments with associations to settle problems between neighbors.

I am always amazed hearing some elected officials rant and rave about what they think Americans want. A perfect example of this is the hullabaloo over children’s television programming. It never seems to occur to these politicians that when parents seriously want to control the viewing habits of their children, they will. Many of them do. Attempts to regulate this programming without the commitment of parents is virtually impossible.

More and more, people are beginning to think they are losing control of their personal space. It makes me resentful to have to build a special cat area because irresponsible pet owners are allowed to flaunt the law as they please. I still think many community problems got out of hand when residents were advised to stay inside and lock their doors.

As far as I’m concerned, allowing the streets and sidewalks to be taken over by the forces of lawlessness was a bad idea.

It still is.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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