Yesterday evening, Wednesday, was beautiful--spring temperatures, green grass from recent rain, and only light breezes (for which Okies give thanks). The town was full of people walking in the streets, often arm-in-arm. (We don't have a lot of sidewalks, but also not a lot of traffic.) Many were headed uptown to view the chalk art on the sidewalks (we do have sidewalks there)drawn by local high-school students. Until dusk settled people sauntered past the storefronts, heads down, looking at the drawings. Many paused before the street and vacant lot where the carnival was setting up.

We do this every year, just before Rattlesnake Festival, our big town celebration. In the hills west of town, and further afield, rattlesnakes are caught during the weeks before the Festival. If long enough, they will be butchered, and their meat sold (cooked or raw to take home with you) on main street. Many will be kept in a cooler to be brought out into a pen in the street for shows. Our local "snake man" will stand inside the pen Friday and Saturday and Sunday, ankle deep in rattlesnakes all rattling furiously, and tell the crowd what wonderful creatures of God these snakes are. By this time the snakes are warm and active and not in a good humor. Some he will pick up and hold. Some he will milk the venom from. Even though he wears high-topped boots he has been bitten three times over the years. Antivenom is kept in a refrigerator nearby.

Vendors today were setting up their stands on the roped-off main street. Yard sales have sprouted around town, giving a sort of gypsy-camp look to the place. The ladies of our church are preparing for an all-you-can-eat free-will donation breakfast on Saturday. One of our church members is in charge of the Festival Pow-Wow and is even busier than usual as she makes sure that everything goes well. Dancers both local and from out-of-town will dance, drum, and sing. Early on Sunday morning I am to conduct a church service uptown before the stands and carnival opens--rather than my usual congregation of local Indians I'll be leading vendors and carnies in worship. (more below)

Small towns are marked by annual rhythmns; ceremonies such as high school graduation; carnivals such as our Rattlesnake Festival; and seasonal gatherings such as Friday night football. While cities have such things also, the difference is that in a small town most of us participate in some way, and we know the kids under the helmets and caps. We greet one another as we stroll by the chalk art; we probably know the names of the people we meet. If not, we probably can place them--that man works at the Coop, he married one of the Baker girls, I forget which one. In a small town we know and are known.

Not everyone can handle such close contact; they feel in a fishbowl. But, I find it good. In our last home, also in a small town, the girl who would check me out at the grocery store would look at my articles by the register, and then ask me if I needed an item I usually bought but had not picked up this time (or tell me upon entering that my wife had been in earlier and gotten milk). I did not feel like my privacy was invaded. I knew her.

Maybe you just have to grow up small-town to handle it. I was raised on a farm in Missouri further out in the sticks than most Americans will ever get. As one of my boys once observed, "Dad, to you a crowd is three steers in the same pen." Damn straight.