A very unscientific semi-anthropological sort of study of Sherman, Texas
I spent two months working in Sherman, Texas. My job was fun and challenging and I loved it. For Sherman, however, I had a totally unfounded and irrational hatred mixed with intense interest, which has now faded into a dim sort of nostalgia. Somewhat like my irrational hatred for fig newtons or using the descriptor "sweet" on a person. Except that neither of these is nostalgic. Don't give me fig newtons or call me sweet.
Small towns and the people who live in them have always interested me in a passing way. As in, "I am going to only pass through because there is nothing here but I am very interested to know why you live here and what you do with your time." As an anthropologist, I'm always wanting to know why people do what they do. Why do people live in small towns and never leave? Why do small towns appear to be a breeding ground for gossip and scandal? I have two great friends, one from a small town in South Dakota and another from one in Virginia and I would grill them to no end about what growing up in their respective tiny towns was like. Their stories of affairs and family legacies and having the whole town watching how you did on the basketball court seemed the stuff of cheesy beach reads or Disney channel original movies.
Now, technically, I grew up in a small town. However, my small town was being steadily engulfed by the slow flood that is metro Atlanta. It was an easy jaunt into the city for shows, museums and baseball games, there were tons of theaters, parks and restaurants around, and it really came down to being able to choose exactly how small town you wanted to be. Want to just hang out with high school or church friends and never leave a 10 mile radius? Go ahead. Want to go into the city every weekend and bop around the mountains other days? You can do that too. I know affairs and gossip etc etc happened where I grew up, just as it did in my friend's small towns, but you didn't have to hear about it if you didn't want to.
I thought I liked small towns. I spent wonderful summer days in a small town in the mountains with my grandmother and it seemed like a great place to grow up. I decided to go to college in a small town. It was the most boring year of my life. Apparently, I was much more a suburbanite/city girl than a small towner. I moved to DC as soon as I could and never looked back.
I don't think small towns are evil. I just don't get them. I don't understand their ways. Like how I don't understand the pull of Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. But I would like to. So Sherman seemed like an exciting case study.
Here is what I learned about Sherman from my very unscientific study of wandering around during my one day off a week and chatting with locals:
1. Sherman is supposedly the meth capital of Texas. I can neither confirm nor deny this and neither can Google it seems.
2. Sherman has two operating bars. One is connected to a bowling alley.
3. In Sherman, chivalry isn't dead. Or, looking at it another way, sexism isn't. Either way you dice it, I got a lot of free drinks.
4. There are some great thrift stores in Sherman. Way more than seems necessary in fact.
5. People are curious and friendly and also appear very open and interested in different people. (I HATE the stereotyping of the south, and let me just say this - the karaoke bar I frequented had a very diverse clientele and everyone was mingling and friendly to each other. Of course, this doesn't prove much beyond that this one bar attracted an awesome crowd, but I had to throw it out there.)
6. Old ladies are pretty awesome everywhere, including in Sherman.
I constantly had to stop myself from walking up to young-ish people in the bars and asking "what do you DO in Sherman?" What we did in Sherman was go to a karaoke bar, sing fun tunes, and sometimes get into arm-wrestling matches. I kid you not, some of the males on staff were arm wrestling and a local came up to challenge them. He set down his beer, but not his cigarette which he continued to smoke, and defeated one of our guys in the midst of the smokey, cowboy-hat filled room. I felt like we were in an old movie. But this outing was something that only happened maybe four times, when groups of us had time off. Otherwise I played tennis and went to Walmart.
I got a lot of questions when I would thrift shop with friends. "Y'all must not be from the South!" We were asked once. But we all were - Georgia, Texas, South Carolina. What the comment should have been was, "Y'all must not be from a small town in the South." All of us non-Shermanites looked at and spoke of Shermanites with awe. What mysterious people they seemed, as I'm sure we seemed to them. Why did they approach us in Walmart and talk for five minutes without breathing? Why did a woman named Sunshine offer to make us necklaces (which was very kind of her)? What was a bearcat and why were they all so excited about it? And the kicker, what did they do with their time?
I did not like Sherman, though, again, my dislike was mostly unfounded. I do not dislike the South, or Texas (I love the South- and I would love to return and visit San Antonio and Austin and some national parks!). In fact, I think I could really love Texas - the glimpses I saw of it in the people and the smoky karaoke and the long sunflower fields told me there was definitely something more to discover.
Someday, I think I might live in a small town. Probably in the Appalachians. Maybe with a family. Maybe with cats and half-written novels. Maybe then I will un-puzzle the puzzle that is small towns to me.
With all my forays into Sherman - bars, tennis courts, doctor's offices, shopping centers, a church and a tattoo parlor, I still never felt like I got to the heart of the place. And I didn't, of course. Maybe if I lived there with family and friends and bartenders that I knew and a weekly tennis team and church ladies that made great casseroles then I would love it. But probably not, because that's not who I am. It's who other people are though, and it's those other people, the Shermanites of the world, who I am interested in.
If any Shermanites, or small town lovers, are reading this, tell me about yourself and your town. I'd love to hear.