I live in a house that is identical to one quarter of all the houses in town. There are only four floor plans that were used when the paper mill built the town and the houses for everyone at the factory. Everyone worked for the factory, either directly in the mill or in the shops owned by the mill or any of the other mill-owned businesses. Even though there were four different styles, we were actually all the same.
See, that’s what I didn’t get at first. I mean, sure, I guess I expected everyone to be pretty much the same in a small town. I was in the same grade as twenty-four of my neighbors, and we all moved from one grade to the next. We all read the same books, worked the same math, learned the same history, painted the same pictures, and sang the same songs. Why wouldn’t we look the same.
Almost the same. Some of us were girls, of course. And some of us were boys. But it dawned on me one day as we were lining up for class picture in Miss Webster’s Third Grade that I was in the same row I always was, right in front, along with Tommy, Spencer, and Gary. Just like we were in second grade, and first grade. All with the same red and black plaid shirt tucked in our tan corduroys, a sprinkling of freckles across our noses and cheeks, and our hair freshly cut and parted on the right. When we smiled for the camera, we each had one missing front tooth, too.
I looked at the second row, and the four boys there also looked the same as each other, and so did the girls. Every row had identical looking kids. How did the teacher tell us apart? For that matter, how did our parents, or how did we?
On the bus ride home, Tommy, Spencer, and Gary each got out in front of a house that looked just like mine. The same little white fence in front of colorful flowers, two steps to the porch, a blue front door, and three windows: one for the kitchen, one for a bathroom, and one for a bedroom, just like my house.
When I tried to ask my older sister about it, she said I was being stupid and shouldn’t ask questions like that. She said I would get in trouble if I kept at it and to leave it alone. It was funny though, because when she said it, she didn’t sound mean like she usually does when she’s bossing me around; she sounded kind of scared or sad or something like that.