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What I Really Know About Gossip: Small Towns

In 1971, my husband, Rocky, our four children, ages 5 to 10, and I lived outside a very small rural town in Maine. We had 90 acres, mostly wooded. Neighbors lived a distance away but were connected by a party telephone line.

One day, we’d forgotten a dentist appointment for my son Rockma, and Rocky took him out of school rather abruptly. Because Rocky had come from his night shift, he looked disheveled and tired. One rather imaginative girl in my son’s class assumed the worst and told other students that I had obviously died.

On the school bus home, she reported this news to my daughter, Tracy. I was peering out my kitchen window when I saw Tracy and two of her brothers racing up the road, coattails flying and books and lunch boxes dropped along the way. Worried, I ran to meet them. All three sobbed in my arms and told me what they heard.

The party line had also absorbed the gossip. Soon, the telephone rang and family, friends and neighbors began to ask what had happened. The news had even reached my husband’s aunt, who lived in a nearby town: People on her street had started a collection for flowers, food and money for my family.

Some weeks later, after the emotions had died down, my niece put a positive spin on the whole episode. “Well, Brenda, at least you know how many people will come to your funeral!”

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online.  Brenda Wing is a reader from Temple Terrace, Fla.

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