Ken Leighton 9:30 a.m., Sept. 20
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Death in a Small Town
Life in a small town is different. So, for that matter, is death. Carrie and I, a fellow student in my UCSD writing class, spoke about this. Carrie grew up in Starbuck, Minnesota, population 1,300. Their slogan is "A Great Place to Visit, a Better Place to Live". Their claim to fame? The World's Largest Lefsa. For the uninitiated, the lefsa is a Norwegian potato cake, made with mashed potatoes, flour, cream and butter, rolled out thin, cooked on a griddle and eaten with cinnamon sugar. This is a very popular pastry in the Midwest.
"She was a little older than us and had a sister in my brother's class. She worked at a daycare center."
Carrie grew up doing the things you do in small Midwestern towns, such as snowmobiling and ice-skating in the winter, and swimming and bike-riding in the summer. Carrie never had a relative or someone she knew die, and did not as yet know anyone who had.
"She was involved with a teacher at the school. They lived together, but things were not going well, and she was already seeing someone else. One day, he did not show up for work, and instead sat in a chair all day until the kids left."
Carrie's father was on the volunteer fire department. Being such a small town, this was pretty standard. All the citizens were involved in the community. Everyone knows everyone, so when someone dies, it's almost as if an extension of yourself has died as well.
"She was trying to leave to see her new boyfriend. He shot her with a shotgun, set the house on fire, and then killed himself."
When the volunteer fire department arrived, they could not open the door because his body had formed a barricade. They had to use force to enter. No one ever forgot about this, because death in a small town is very different from death in a big city. Nameless, faceless people die in big cities. Death in a small town is all-pervasive.
"Their funerals had to be closed caskets. My father and his friends in the volunteer fire department had to go to a form of therapy afterward, like for post traumatic stress disorder. Nothing like this had happened before."
A few weeks after this was over, Carrie heard that the father of the man who killed his girlfriend and then killed himself was accused of molesting his female employees at the bank he ran.
"News travels fast in small towns. Everyone knows everyone."
Small town life suddenly seemed much smaller for Carrie, and she had out-grown it. Not long after this, Carrie joined the Navy, because the world is a big place.