You want a cliché? Here’s one. Whenever you see a docu-drama about murder in a small town, the same tired old chestnuts get trotted out about small towns and big cities. New York is the biggest of big cities, at least here in the U.S., so there’s a comparison going on. Just as everyone can add “…in bed” after reading a fortune from a cookie, you can bet folks are mentally adding “…not like in New York City” after hearing “Folks here are good neighbors.” I’ll wait a beat while you do the mental addition. In the meantime, check out this charming musical number from 1954, featuring the Lizzy Borden jury singing “no, you can’t chop your papa up in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is a far cry from New York!”
Although I’ve never lived in a small, rural town, I know them by repute. Both my parents grew up in one, and I’ve spent enough time with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles on both sides of the Rocky Mountains to know something about life in the heartland.
Let’s bust some myths.
“This kind of thing isn’t suppose to happen here.” Someone always says this just after the detectives show up. Small towns are so safe that you’d never expect a sociopath to shoot her husband right next door! The flip side? Those big city folks must be stepping over dead bodies on a daily basis. It IS supposed to happen there!
The truth is that homicidal sociopaths hardly confine themselves to large cities. As Sherlock
Holmes once said, “just think of all the little horrors that go on in the countryside, Watson!” That may not be a direct quote. Plots to kill husbands for insurance money, backstabbing coworkers (literally), and murderous children tired of waiting for an inheritance are not strangers to small towns. In fact, they could be sitting beside you every Sunday in church.
“It’s a great place to raise a family.” Yes, but whose family? Not mine. The one year we lived outside of New York City we were the focus of much attention and well-intentioned but annoying questions. “Is that really your daughter? Where’s she from? Where’d you meet your husband? Isn’t that interesting!” Thank God, no one in NYC gives a crap.
“People here are hardworking.” I’m sure most of them are. All of them probably would be, except for the massive amounts of methamphetamine and opioids loosed among the population.
“Good people live here. You know, God-fearing churchgoers.” Like that’s a guarantee. If one religion had all the good people, we could all convert to that one. The truth is, people are not more trustworthy or moral in one place or one faith than any other. Pastors, preachers, priests, teachers, television and sports personalities can and do turn out to be murders and molesters. You can’t judge a book by its cover. I especially love the episodes on “Murder Comes to Town” where the preacher is the one who hired the hitman.
“The kind of place where everyone helps everyone else.” Except for when they don’t. Rivalries are plentiful and all-absorbing in a small town. My mother grew up in a town so small that it’s basically a post office and a highway sign – and I’m pretty sure the post office closed. Let’s call it “Cowboy Junction, Colorado” (not its real name). In Cowboy Junction,
rancor runs thick and deep. It’s easy to make enemies and keep them. One of my female relatives is a-feudin’ with everyone who ever dated one of her daughters (so that’s half the population right there). When you add in everyone else who got on her wrong side, you’ve effectively halved the number of restaurants our family can safely attend (from two to one). I suppose if you were drowning in the reservoir, she’d pull you out, so I guess that counts as help.
“It’s a nice safe place to settle down.” Let’s take a look at the stats, shall we? In Montana, you are more likely to die of suicide than by any other cause. In Texas, it’s infection that will most likely carry you off. Ohio and Pennsylvania lead the pack in death by overdose.
Surprise surprise – Mississippi and Louisiana beat out Texas for First in Homicide by Firearms. Texas – are you hiding gun deaths in your “accident” category?
Here in New York State? Pneumonia. And, let me remind you, we’ve got a vaccine for that.