ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY:   Is it public or private?

© Another Day in the Country

About 15 years ago, my sister and I came out to Ramona for several months one summer, unlike our usual 10-day stay. We’d just “saved” our second house in town from what we were sure would be “utter destruction,” and were busy doing what we could to fix it up.

While we’d paid a regular price for this house, we heard tales of people buying houses for ridiculously cheap prices. “You could get an old house for a thousand dollars,” my uncle said to me after I’d paid four times that for our first little shack on Main St.

Coming from California, I’d never heard of such a thing. So, when we read that there would be an auction of a house on the outskirts of Ramona, we were curious and before the afternoon was over, we found ourselves the owners of one of those cheap houses.

We named the house “Green Acres” because it had no water, no electricity, no telephone, and no plumbing. Furthermore, like the TV show with the same name, only a fool from the city would think it worth owning.

Back in California, the phone rang. It was our Aunt Gertie calling, “You girls were in the paper,” she said, “for not paying your taxes.” She had that tone of voice that told us this was serious business in Ramona. One did not want to see ones relatives listed in the delinquent section of the Marion County Record, just like you didn’t want to see any relatives named in the police records.

“How did this happen?” she wanted to know. We promised to get to the bottom of it. Several phone calls later, we discovered that our “cheap housing deal” included an acre of land outside city limits, thus on a separate tax bill which somehow had not gotten to us. You can believe we explained all this to our relatives because we didn’t want them to be embarrassed by “those girls from California”.

We chuckled about the efficiency of public humiliation to get taxes paid, and you can be sure we made sure to get our taxes paid after that before the delinquent notices were due to be published in the newspaper. Until this year, that is.

“Well,” my sister said with a frown, “our name just appeared in the delinquent tax notices,” obviously, she wasn’t happy; but I had to laugh. “Really?” This time, we gave a piece of property away with the understanding that the new owner would pay the tax bill when it came due. Ooops, they didn’t.

We’ve all read in history books about public floggings and being stood up in stocks for some moral indiscretion. Someone in town even gave me an old newspaper clipping about some guy in Ramona caught in bed with someone else’s wife. He was rousted out in next to nothing and paraded down Main St., according to the paper. Talk about public humiliation! And, I’m wondering if it still works?

I think it worked for my grandparent’s generation, church-going, God-fearing people who cared deeply for their reputation. It certainly worked on my parents’ generation. They had a keen sense of what was public and private, what was right and wrong, what you spoke about and when you kept silent.

Each generation seems to draw a different line in the sand as to what is known and by whom, what is talked about, divulged or kept secret. In my daughter’s generation the areas of discussion are even broader than mine. Naturally, we’re at a point where I think self disclosure has gone too far.

In this day and age, with Facebook, web sites, instant cell phone communication, emails flying through the air, and non-stop texting, everybody seems to be talking. There is this non-stop regurgitation of information, a constant exposure of themselves (pun intended) to virtual strangers.

I’m shocked. In my time, I called for transparency, “Be open,” I said; and now I wonder if I’m partly to blame for this craze to just “let it all hang out.” I wonder, “What is this lunacy where people clutch their cell phones, closer than their children, reading and writing constantly, fighting on the air waves with people in the next room?”

It’s like we gulp down food without chewing, let alone digesting the content and letting it nourish us before swallowing more and are never satisfied. Full. Done.

And here I sit at my computer, aghast at all the texting trivia, typing. I’m talking to people I cannot see and may never meet, acknowledging my humiliation at finding my name in some other portion of the Marion County Record, wondering where this wave of self disclosure will lead another generation.

Meanwhile I’ve not only listed facts, but I’ve gone up another level on the scale of self-disclosure, telling you my thoughts and even higher on the scale, told you how I feel on another day in the country! Does this make us friends?

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