‘If only a Bedford Falls or Stars Hollow or Mayberry existed somewhere’
NEWTOWN, Conn., is about 20 miles from the town where my wife grew up. It’s the kind of place that rewards rambling New England drives: there are big old Victorian houses flanking the main street, a hill with a huge flagpole rising in the center of town, and a large pasture just below, with shaded side roads radiating outward from the greensward, and then horse farms in the hills beyond.
When you live in a hectic, self-important city, it’s easy to romanticize a town like Newtown, and maybe imagine escaping there someday, children in tow. The last time we drove through was more than a year ago: it was a summer dusk, and there were families out everywhere — kids on bikes, crowds around the ice cream stand, the images of small town innocence flickering past our car windows like slides on a carousel.
Any grown-up knows that such small-town innocence is illusory, and that what looks pristine to outsiders can be as darkened by suffering as any other place where human beings live together, and alone.
But even so, the illusion has real power, not least because the dream of small-town life makes the whole universe seem somehow kinder and homier. If only a Bedford Falls or Stars Hollow or Mayberry existed somewhere, we tend to feel — in New England or Nebraska, the present or the past — then perhaps there’s some ultimate hope for the rest of us as well. Maybe the universe really was meant to be a home to humanity, and not just a blindly cruel cosmos in which a 6-year-old’s fate is significant to his parents but no more meaningful in absolute terms than the cracking of a seashell or an extinction of a star.