Watch out, Joyce! Here Comes That New Girl - Evolved Mommy
Last night one of my great friends came to this tiny town we currently live in. He’s running for Secretary of State, and I couldn’t be more proud. We met in college as officers in the Young Democrats (wait Republicans, Independents and otherwise undeclared readers! This post isn’t about politics).
He held a fundraiser here because one of his best friends and political allies is a native son of this town. The friend has been gone from here for twenty years, but to this town he is their success story, proof that you can get out, do well and still be a great person. He is idolized by the little old ladies, and he is a source of pride for the men.
Nobody in this town knows my friend, but they know his friend, so there was a HUGE turnout. When I say huge, I mean 50 people. In a town of 3,000 that is quite impressive. It’s the equivalent of 3,000 people turning out for a political fundraiser in Little Rock, our state capitol, and for a Secretary of State candidate that would be ridiculous. Wonderful, but ridiculous.
Needless to say, I was excited to be asked to be one of hosts for this event. My husband and I aren’t terribly connected here, but I couldn’t wait for these people to meet my friend. Besides, I love a good stump speech.
We arrived to a packed parking lot at the local pizza shop, which is one of two restaurants here. Well, actually there are three, but two of them are Mexican restaurants that are right next door to each other, so I count them as one.
Funny side note: when we walked in the front door no one was inside. What? It turns out there’s a well-hidden back room at this pizza place. Of course, I’ve dreamt up all kinds of scandalous stories about what goes on back there.
Sitting near the entrance of this little room is a table FULL of women I used to go to church with. We were all in the ladies circle at church. We had fundraisers, monthly meetings, church clean up days, etc.
My first thought was, “Yay! Oh, it’s so good to see everybody. Wow. I can’t wait to catch up. I’m sure they all want to know how Charlie is doing.”
They all turned as we walked in, but as I approached the table I realized something strange. Only one of them was looking at me, barely making eye contact and feigning a smile.
It’s too late to turn back now. I’m bending down for the seated hug.
And I’m up.
What the hell was that? Not even a polite pat on the back during the forced hug.
As I glance around the table it’s occurring to me that they are all avoiding me.
Suddenly I feel an inch tall.
No problem. I’m here for bigger reasons. I’m here to support my friend. As soon as he sees me his face lights up and there’s a huge hug. Even Steve gets a hug. Joy! This is why I’m here.
We visit for a minute, find a place to sit and wait for the candidate to speak.
In the meantime, a man from our former church comes up with a hearty hello. He’s sincerely glad to see us. Gosh this is confusing. What the heck is going on? We chat, catching up on Charlie (finally someone wants to hear about Charlie) and the goings on about town.
The candidate speaks.
As soon as the speech is over the table full of church ladies rushes out without so much as a glance my direction. And, honestly, they had to make an effort to avoid looking at me.
WHAT THE HELL???
Not even a polite wave, nod or glance.
Okay, I need to regroup and think about this. I haven’t seen these women in six months. If I did something to offend them six months ago it must’ve been pretty bad for them to hold a grudge this long. But I don’t remember doing anything.
Can this be purely about leaving the church?
As soon as we get to the car I ask Steve what he thinks it’s about.
“Leaving the church,” he says.
We left the church for two main reason (and several lesser ones):
- We like traditional worship in a sanctuary. While this church offers a traditional service, there is no sanctuary. And what they considered traditional was not. We did sing hymns, but they were displayed on a giant screen while the choir director directed the congregation. I’m not performing when I sing hymns. I’m praising God. He knows I sing off key and sometimes the wrong stanza, and He doesn’t care. Contemporary worship just isn’t my thing.
- We never felt “a part of” the church community. Despite our best efforts (I joined the women’s group and volunteered for every special event. Steve helped with the audio equipment even though he has no knowledge of that kind of thing) we just felt like we were kept at arm’s length. People were polite and happy to see us, but not genuinely.
We’re still Christian. We didn’t even change denominations. What on earth would they have done if we’d suddenly become Buddhist or Islamic?
So if this is about leaving the church, I still don’t get it.
Steve patiently explains what I had known in my heart all along. We aren’t from here. These people have known each other all of their lives. They are comfortable. Safe.
We could be lunatic liberals or swingers or from lesser lineage.
But don’t they know I went to Catholic school and to Jr. Cotillion and I was in the Jr. League for crying out loud. I’m from good stock, damn it!
But I didn’t square dance at the Clothesline Festival. I didn’t submit blueberry jam to the county fair. I didn’t own livestock or a pair of wranglers.
Never mind the fact that my husband is from the rival neighboring town, and he dated some of their daughters. Oops. He was trouble! They didn’t know how exactly, but he just was.
When I woke up this morning I was still thinking about how awkward and unwelcome I’d felt, so I where do I go for answers? Twitter!
Here’s what I wrote (start at the bottom):
My hope was that someone would have some words of wisdom or a similar experience. They did. And how!
Twelve people got in on the conversation with stories of similar experiences, and one (@mrjawright) even shared this book (which is currently sold out on Amazon… for good reason I’m sure):
So this is my small town experience so far: We will smile politely at you from a distance, but please don’t make us talk to you. And, certainly, don’t expect an intimate friendship.
Those who argue that living in a small town is a simpler, more wholesome experience are naïve.
One friend summed it up best: