Susan Gladin: A trip to town offers pleasant reminders

Jan. 06, 2013 @ 03:24 PM

When you live some distance from town, as we do, every trip is planned carefully to maximize the mileage. My preparation was thwarted last week when I found myself in Hillsborough with a long list of things to do but having forgotten the purse I needed to do them.

But I had brought some checks to deposit. Surely someone at Suntrust would know me and let me get cash for groceries. I walked right up to a cashier and asked, “Do you know who I am?” And then I laughed, because I recognized this as the opening line to a very good joke — a story that supposedly happened to the Rev. Billy Graham.

While visiting a nursing home he went up to an elderly resident and asked, “Do you know who I am?” The resident squinted into his face and finally answered, “No I don’t. But if you go over to the nurse’s station, someone there will remind you who you are!”

Back at the bank the cashier did recognize me. I walked out with a little cash, but also with greater appreciation for life in a small town. Hillsborough isn’t so small that “everybody knows your name,” as the line from “Cheers” goes, but it is small enough to remind me who I am.

When I was a little girl in another little town a friend and I decided to practice crossing a busy street. Someone saw us, of course, and my mother came to swiftly remind us who we were – children not yet old enough to make that crossing alone.

When I go to Hillsborough I am reminded of the many pieces of my life here. I go to the OCIM Thrift Shop and see Mary Ellen Godwin, and we always remember something about the early years of OCIM when I worked there in the ’80’s. That was a long time ago, and I don’t think about those days that often.

On trips to town I might see one of my kids’ teachers. Last week it was Jessie’s second-grade teacher, Martha Brown. Those encounters remind me that I was once a young mother with small children. If I wander into Cuppa Joe I might see Mike Troy and ask about his wife, Laura, who is a member of a Handspinning Guild that has met at our farm for nearly 20 years. Once, when the bus schedule had changed, I found myself in town with no way to get to Chapel Hill until I saw our friend Ed Zimmer, who drove me. At Weaver Street I might run into a fellow horseback rider, or a friend of Peter’s, or a musician who has played out at our farm.

On New Years’ Eve at the Hillsborough Depot it seems like people from all of these parts of our life converged while Peter’s band played the early gig there. The place was populated with a bunch of folks from my current job at The Johnson Intern Program, but there were riding friends, school friends of our daughters’, spinners, and musicians from the many bands Peter has put together over the years.

John Prine sings a song called “In a Town This Size.” “You have no place to hide,” he croons. “Everywhere you go you meet someone you know.” Prine puts a pejorative spin on it (“How the rumors do fly …”), which has its truth, of course.

But I can’t imagine growing up in a place of anonymity. What comes with the awareness of being known (and perhaps watched) is the consciousness of being cared about and loved. I was annoyed when my childhood dashes across the street were curtailed, but I felt safer for it, and even as an adult I carry an awareness that, in a town this size, someone has my back.

I can’t get into too much trouble here without someone stopping to help. I look forward to growing old with Hillsborough as my home base. When I forget who I am, I’ll just catch a ride to town for a pleasant reminder.


Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and curriculum coordinator at the Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill. She tends horses and a home business on the farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.