"Miss Wendy! Miss Wendy! Miss Wendy!"
Finally, I hear my name sink into me and look up to see who is calling. Betsy, with her hair chopped off. I had forgotten that. She waved, delighted to see me, a grown-up she loves, at her school program.
"I still love your new 'do, Betsy." She has a cousin with cancer. Now the other half of her hair is on its way to Florida to be made into a wig. It was her idea.
My eyes scan the room. Children everywhere, a happy din, hubbub, excitement. It's award day. Everyone is here.
For some reason I think of tiny feet and how I knew a lot of these feet back when they belonged to the babies they used to be. I live in a small town and this is what we do -- live together, die together. We know each other.
I know the story of Betsy's hair, the hair she had all her life up to this point. Two rows behind her I know the little boy who is in remission from his brain tumor. The town raised funds, for years, to help support the family through his medical care. Three seats down I know the little boy whose mother used to do meth but doesn't anymore. She got arrested for shoplifting birthday decorations for her son's party because she couldn't afford them. Now she's going to school full time because her husband has a job that is good enough to support the whole family.
Two days ago I stood on the sidewalk and heard a man yell out the door of his shop at two girls walking down the street. "DOES YER DADDY KNOW YER WEARING THAT?" The girls with their midriffs showing scurried down the street as if he might chase after them. He huffed at me and said, "I'll bet you Bobby Dean does NOT know." He turned and went back into his store. Probably to call Bobby Dean.
As my mother was called when I was 15 and skipped study hall to walk to the corner store for a roll of SweetTarts.
As I was told when my son went to the store and loaded up on double-shot espresso drinks. "Does your mother know you're buying those," the checkout lady asked. My son, who already knows how it works in a small town replied, "I'm sure she will pretty soon..."
Twenty minutes. That's how soon.
I look at the old pictures in my school yearbook. My fingers pass over the faces of the 70 people I graduated with and I name how they turned out. Dentist. Bank teller. Farmer. Insurance Salesman. Drug Addict. Housewife. Travel Agent. Store Owner. Cook. Politician.
On this day I sit and think of the tiny feet in this room and how they will grow into their future lives and how I will know them and see the string of time from when they were born until they day they get their first job, have their first child, get arrested, win an election, buy a new business, die too young from cancer, grieve when they lose a child.
We will celebrate and grieve with them. We will champion them and judge them despite the fact that most of us have memorized the first few verses of Matthew chapter 7 that cautions us not to do just that.
We have done this since our town was born and will continue to do so until the population creeps up to a size where we begin to realize we don't know the names of our neighbors or know the people who are written about in the weekly newspaper.
And we will lament what we have lost -- this sense of belonging, for better or for worse. We will cease to be how we are connected (Miz Maisie's youngest girl who has the hair salon) and become our house number or a description of what we are wearing.
We will be one in seven billion people.