Now that I’ve completed the writing of The Secrets of Clayton County and published the third and final novel I sit here drinking my morning coffee reflecting on what it all means. Why did I choose “secrets” for the title? And, if there are secrets, what are they? Let me share with you my feelings about this question.
All people have secrets, don’t you think? Those things in our past that we keep covered up with a quilt so that people look at the beautiful squares instead of underneath. I know I do. A few even my wife doesn’t know, either because they are so bad or very embarrassing. It would be easier to hide secret information about yourself in a city like Chicago than a small town of 1900 people, wouldn’t it? Then how have Kent and Warren gotten away with it for years? Kent’s secret is right under the resident’s noses, while almost everyone in the community has outlived Warren’s secret. Even Ralph, Kent’s Scottish terrier has a secret. How can a dog have a secret? Really, he does.
Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble. In the early, 70’s Alvin Toffler wrote a book called Future Shock promoting the theme that information was doubling faster and faster. He felt it doubled every three years at that time. Also, he depicted a modular lifestyle where we all lived in our own bubble. Is that possible? Do you see that? The Secrets of Clayton County, a trilogy of novels, draws a contrast between two lifestyles.
In the big city, Sarah drove her new car on freeways guided by her GPS while talking on her hands-free phone. By contrast, if you want to go somewhere in Clayton you can walk. If you’re unsure where you’re going, you can knock on a door and ask a neighbor. And, if you’re seeking out someone to talk to, the men stop by the barber shop and the women go to Wilma’s café. It’s a wonderful life, you don’t even have to remember to charge your batteries.
Our modern society allows us to live in our own protective bubble. We should be safe, shouldn’t we? Then why do our family members carry a cell phone with “location” activated so we know where everyone is at all times? In a small town like Clayton, they turn the kids loose with orders to be home before dark. OMG! Who would do that? It happens in Clayton. Why, three-year-old Wendy just walked off and left her mother at the street corner talking with Betty Bendenhoff. Her dog Ralph tailed her, and when Adel Adams saw her alone Adel invited her to sit on her porch swing, keeping her safe.
Not to worry. You’ve heard the phrase “It takes A Village” haven’t you? Well, in Clayton the kids are free to use their imagination to create mischief, as long as it doesn’t harm people or property. But let them get out of line and they can get disciplined before they ever see their parents. Discipline could come from the owner of the café or the barber. And, sometimes the locals can be harsher than mom or dad, like the day two mischievous kids agreed to paint the dentist’s fishing boat, instead of being turned over to the sheriff for stealing.
The opposite is true as well. Norm helped Teddy skate out from under his father’s scrutiny, and Sheriff J.R. Norvus relieved a little girl of her punishing walk home by giving her and her slimy fish a ride while she played with his siren and flashing lights.
The secrets I envisioned as I wrote this story weren’t just the juicy personal tid-bits we all carry with us. I wanted to include the lifestyle of peace, trust, and tranquility many of us have left behind. If you’ve never had it, this story will make you long for it. You don’t have to move to reflect it in your life.
I also wanted to share the secret of a culture. The one of trust, even if it involves a stranger at your local coffee shop. Or, taking a moment to offer help to someone in need, or support to someone needing help. Reach out to a mother, a child, an older person whose frailty causes him to move to slowly across a busy street.
“Where is this place? I want to move there,” wrote one reader.
The answer is that you don’t have to move to enjoy the secrets of Clayton County. You can apply them in your life today. Right where you are.
If you want to learn more, read the trilogy, The Secrets of Clayton County, and meet the wonderful characters that make it come alive.