In My Little Town

“A fellow of mediocre talent will remain a mediocrity, whether he travels or not; but one of superior talent (which without impiety I cannot deny that I possess) will go to seed if he always remains in the same place.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Pitman, New Jersey, small town, growing up, childhood

Main Street, Pitman (Jesse Bair/South Jersey Times)

I couldn’t wait to leave my little town. Pitman, NJ. Where everyone knew your name, your business (and your parents’), where you lived, how you lived, and who your best friends were, or were not.

By my junior year in high school, I began collecting college brochures from the guidance counselor’s office: North Carolina, Vermont, Florida, even Ohio sounded romantic and far away from southern New Jersey.But my parents encouraged me to look at colleges less than five hours away. So I shortened the list to New York,Pitman, NJ, small town, family, friends Pennsylvania, Northern New Jersey (a completely different state from Southern NJ), and Virginia.

I left home for college at 18 and never looked back, so happy to be far from the claustrophobic closeness of the Wilsons and the Robbins, the Stephens and the Jones, the Murphys and the Johnsons.

Strangers! I wanted to find strangers in a strange land.

Forty years later, I smile at how far I’ve come.

Tiburon, CA, small town, friends, family

Main Street, Tiburon

I live, purposely, in a small town where everyone knows your name. My heart leaps when I enter the post office and run into John, a colleague and one of my writing students, and then Shirley, wife of a Board member from work.

After acquiring my stamps from Keith, our friendly postal clerk, I run across the street to the grocery store and wave to Dave, our one-time realtor, while listening to Phil, head of the seafood department, explain the merits of Pacific Snapper over Alaskan Cod.

I blush at the checkout counter when Derek, our accountant, points out the fresh cupcakes in my basket, and then, when racing out the door, I pet Molly, our former neighbor’s 10-year-old lab,

On my way to get gas, I note the three traffic lights in our small town while passing the elementary school that my 30-something childrenTiburon, California, small town, family, friends attended oh so many years ago. Oh, look at the lupine bush by the playground that I’ve watched grow up from a tiny sapling when it was planted along the Bay years ago.

Ah yes, I’ve come so far from the mediocrity of living in my small childhood town.

I’ve grown up to learn that the “ordinariness” that sometimes signals mediocrity can actually be another word for comfort, friendship, security, and love.

Mozart – perhaps you got it all wrong.

38 thoughts on “In My Little Town

  1. I’m intrigued by the Mozart quote (though not at all sure i agree 100%) and truth is, right now, I’m feeling a little claustrophobic myself, although there is much to be said for being surrounded by so many people who know and care for me, and of course that’s mutual. But I think there’s also something about personal transformation which maybe needs strangers and strange places…because those who know us know who we are now and that can make it hard to grow and develop new aspects of ourselves, because those around us might get uncomfortable and want us to stay the same. Not sure if that makes any sense, but those are the thoughts this interesting post brought up in me:-) Blessings, Harula xxx


    • Yes, your words make a lot of sense. I note that my small town is not the SAME small town I grew up in. 🙂 But once we’ve established exactly who we are, it’s nice to be recognized as such by those we know (and who know us) and love.


  2. I think everyone needs to make at least one big move away in their lives; failing that, to be well-travelled. I can’t see how you can otherwise see the world other than with a narrow perspective.
    That said, the world can literally be at your fingertips these days in a way it wasn’t years ago.
    I guess I have the best of both worlds – a village-like island less than an hour away from London.


  3. I have never wanted to live where the buildings are taller than the trees! I was in no hurry to leave Pitman….probably would have been happy living there my whole life ~ as several of our friends have! But, I have loved living in 5 other places and the people in them. I got a kick out of your description of a trip to downtown Tiburon, because I went into our downtown to the Acme where Nancy, my checkout buddy, told me that Nick’s wife had her baby and it was a girl they were naming after her grandmother…Nick owns our local pizza place and is a great guy and community asset. When Bruce goes to Scott, the barber, they not only talk Phillies,but Scott fills Bruce in on all the local guff…that’s how we found out that our WaWa was becoming a Pantry First because WaWa did not have enough land there to turn it into a Super WaWa with gas station. I love the caring community a good small town can be and it’s funny that 40+ years, 3 states, 2 large towns, 1 largest town, 1 planned community and 1 village I am now living practically where I started! It amazes me the wide range of blog topics you continue to come up with week after week and how many of them I can closely identify with….thanks, Pam!


    • I suppose sitcoms are made out of the small-town experience (and gossip, and knowing-everyone-syndrome), but truly, we gain more insight and knowledge about the human condition by living in a small community where we DO hear everyone’s stories!

      Sooooo glad you relate to my writing subjects – I write of what I know, or think I know, anyway. 🙂


  4. I wish I could find a place with that sort of contentment. Alas, Minot is just a stop on my son’s military assignments, and we’ll be leaving in about 6-7 years (I will not miss the winters). Yes, I have friends and a job here, but it still doesn’t feel like home after nearly four years. I am grateful to be near my kids and grandkids – that is what makes it “home” for me. I grew up just across the bridge from southern Jersey, in Wilmington, DE.


  5. Here, we attribute it to those things written on our wet cement; those days upon which we were inscribed, when we were becoming who we are. It seems I am never so comfortable as when I am in that similar environment of the wet cement years. And I love Tiburon! I even named a cat after it!


    • The ‘wet cement’ years – what a lovely expression. Brought back memories of when the sidewalks were made in our little town, and we kids tried to get our hand print, or at least an initial, before it set. But you use that term metaphorically also, and I think that’s brilliant.

      Let me know when you next visit Tiburon – we’ll talk writing over a cup of tea at the corner cafe!


  6. well done Pam – makes one remember all the moves (first northern N.J., Atlanta, Pitman; Ok. City, Hollywood, Fl. Wilmington, De.) we would find our Church first; next a tennis club; neighbors, and on it goes. Where am now is the longest spot after Pitman. Marcia


  7. Don’t you think that as we grow older, we find that most of the things we rebelled against in our youth are that which gives us comfort now? I was born on an Island with 500 people, went to high school in a town of 4,000 and now am comfortably settled in a town that can (but often does not) have a population around 50,000. I yearn for the simpler times of my youth, but know that I would not be content with them. However, on days when my heart is aching for something, I find that letting my mind wander back to those simpler times fills my heart with that which seems to be missing. Thanks so much for visiting my blog! You know have a new fan!


    • Oh, absolutely. I would not be able to enjoy the benefits of living in ‘my little town’ when I was younger. It’s only through maturity and insight that we arrive into our ‘little towns’ feeling satisfied and secure. And perhaps just REMEMBERING our little towns of our youth, helps gain that happiness and security…?
      The ‘fandom’ goes both ways.


    • You win! I remember when I met my first college roomie, she was glorified/terrified by the SIX traffic lights in our college town; where she grew up there were none. I felt sorry for her then, but now, I imagine what a lovely little town it must have been.


  8. My, what we never discussed when we were neighbors. Maybe the kids being chased by Jerry had something to do with our train of thought. Or having dinner together with the Raccoon Straits as a backdrop.

    Loved your topic and thoughts. It allowed me to wander back in time to when I was going to college at Oregon State Univ. (oh so long ago) I lived in a small town, Shedd, Oregon (population less than 20). Biked to school unless it was raining. I grew to know my neighbors and my landlord (rented his cabin for $25 per month). Lived there by myself and three dogs and felt completely at ease both socially and spiritually. My friends loved to spend time at “the cabin”, drinking beer, smoking weed and fishing in the Willamette River, which was basically my backyard When I graduated I got married and moved into Corvallis for grad school. It took awhile to transition from the rural “cabin” life to life in the “Big City”; Corvallis Oregon had a population of around 30,000 when I lived there. Completed grad school and packed up all that we needed in and on a VW bug and headed East to Matawan, NJ.

    We were both awestruck and full of fear-based emotions by the NY and NJ massive population, buildings, freeway systems slums, etc.. The first day I commuted to work, the Raritan River caught fire; yes, a river on fire for God’s sake. At that moment I wanted to just go back to Oregon and forget the East Coast. However, as luck would have it, our landlord invited us to spend the weekend with him at his retirement cottage along the southern NJ coast. It was as if I had returned to Shedd, Oregon! Walking through the coastal pine barrens, our landlord would point out where ammunitions were manufactured for the Civil War and showed us where battles took place, and on and on about the local history. We dined on blue crab caught in a tidal channel that ran through his property. Eventually I found the ease and comfort we all strive for in our lives.

    While the settings were extremely different, it seems to me that I feel I am outward and open and at ease when I’m living in a small town, community, or neighborhood. When I’m in large population centers I am inward, closed and fearful. I have found that even in large population centers I can create my “small town” and be at ease and in peace with the world. But to do so means I will need to walk through my fears and put my hand out first.

    I wonder if our paths crossed in NJ; I lived there in 1974 and 1975? Sorry this is so long. I just started this to thank you for being part of my “small town”.


    • Oh Chuck, this is wonderful to learn about that part of your life, and you’re right, we never discussed our ‘past’ when we were neighbors – too busy playing with our kids chased by monster Jerry, for sure (or running Bay to Breakers, or your crab lessons to all of us in Sausalito). Anyway, by 1974 I was off to grad school BUT on the Jersey beach every August. We probably walked by each other on the beach.
      And you are right, we are neighbors always, part of each other’s ‘small town.’


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