Small Towns, Big Appeal
friendly confines of south Oakland
As I travel around the country, I
stopping in perfect little towns
what it would have
job was an internship
up there. Edenton,
on an outstate
Michigan daily in a
Cazenovia, N.Y. Such pretty places.
How nice to fantasize about streets
As the least impor-
that never change and a way of life
tant member of the
that seems immutable.
Reality Check staff, it fell to me to
That all came back to me again
interview people who
I saw the movie Calendar Girls.
showed up without an
It was set in a perfect little town in
appointment wanting to talk to a
Yorkshire, in the north of England,
reporter. One of the first times this
with stone cottages and sheep grazing
happened involved a guy who- was
in green meadows and steak and kid-
starting a local business and wanted
ney pie for dinner.
I once spent a day in a Yorkshife
It didn't sound like much of a story
town just like that. Thirsk was the
to me and the hopeful businessman
must have seen my eyes start
to glaze. He stopped, looked
at me and said: "You're
Jewish, aren't you? Can't you
give another Jew a break?"
In my youthful righteous-
ness, I deeply resented being
approached this way. When I
went home that weekend, I
told my father what had hap-
"How easy do you think it
is being a Jew in a place like
that?" was all he said.
I had no answer to that. I
had spent my entire life
enfolded in a tightly knit
Jewish community in a large
home of writer James Herriot, who
urban center. That was all I knew.
had several best-selling books about
Only when I went to Wayne State did
his life as a country veterinarian. I fol-
I begin making a large number of
non-Jewish friends. But I could always lowed him around for a day and then
we sat in his local pub, having a pint
return to my warm Jewish cocoon.
Still, there is an attraction to an
"Yorkshire people call this a thin
alternate life, growing up in a small
wind," he said, as we walked through
town somewhere, that I find irre-
the December chill, "because it cuts
right through you instead of bothering
My wife and I sometimes discuss
to go around."
where we would choose to live if we
No wonder his books sold so well
had just moved into the Detroit area,
local color like that.
with no ties. My pick is usually
I know that in reality small town
Plymouth or Northville because I like
the small-town ambience that still pre- life, even in the prettiest places, can be
stultifying. Opportunities are limited.
Change is something to be resisted.
But there are ties, strong ties, and
of my favorite books, Winesburg,
living a fully-realized Jewish life there
long ago described the dark
would be difficult. I know there is a
that undergird the illusion of
Livonia congregation not too far away.
But to regain the comfort of the com-
And I always hear my father's
munity I knew when I was young, the
"How easy do you think it is
choice would have to be within the
being a Jew in a place like that?"
I guess I'll never know. Maybe it's
George Cantor's e-mail address is
better not to. ❑
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