Jennifer Nelson:Welcome to the suburban facade

Maybe the front-page story of The Sunday Oregonian shocked me because I’m from a small town. Maybe I can relate to the residents of Sherwood because I was once their neighbor. When I was a little girl, I took ballet lessons there in a studio off Main Street and attended Catechism classes at St. Francis Catholic Church. That was back when Sherwood was a one-stop-light town, and Tualatin, my hometown, was where the Sherwood kids came for Little League, pee-wee football and soccer practice.

Maybe the shock came when I realized that Sherwood was no longer that town, the sunny patch of mom-and-pop storefronts I remembered from my childhood, a place that made Tualatin, with its Fred Meyer and K-Mart, seem cosmopolitan.

Now, Sherwood has enough shops to keep residents spending within its city limits. Sure, Tualatin has a Haggen grocery and an Outback Steakhouse, but Sherwood has retained its small-town charm. That, and it’s a self-proclaimed sports mecca. Not only does Sherwood have enough park space for its own sport leagues, but it has an ice-skating rink, and city planners are pushing for a golf course.

Or maybe I was shocked to learn the principal of Sherwood High School resigned earlier this month after admitting to having sex with a 16-year-old boy he met on the Internet because, like the residents of little old Sherwood, I didn’t think that sort of thing could happen in a small town, a quaint town, a good town.

Maybe I was shocked they were shocked.

Because that sort of thing happens in communities such as Sherwood all the time.

My family moved to Tualatin from Orange County, Calif., in the summer of 1981, because my parents wanted my brother and me to grow up with certain freedoms. The freedom to ride our bikes across town alone. The freedom to walk home from school, sometimes cutting through wheat fields, other times sticking to the streets. It didn’t matter our route, we were safe (so long as we didn’t disturb that crazy farmer with all those stray cats, the one whose property bordered our subdivision).

My parents wanted to leave the car in the drive and the garage door open because they’d never done that before. Southern California lost that idealism in the 1960s. But Tualatin …

Twenty-five minutes from downtown Portland, Tualatin was then (and still is) what Sherwood is now.

It’s where young families chasing the suburban, I mean, American dream take root.

It’s where every family has two cars in their two-car garage, kids can play outside past dark and the Jones’ still have block parties on the Fourth of July.

It’s where there’s still that one house as old as the arrowheads buried in its back yard, the one that’s rumored to be haunted, and even though you don’t believe in ghosts, you hurry past it anyway.

It’s where people actually buy the candy from the kids at the supermarket and everyone likes to think the schools are a little safer.

But it’s also where kids occasionally bring guns to school and male teachers have sex with consenting teen-age girls. Believe me, I’ve seen it.

I know babysitters who’ve had sex with the kids they promised to protect and kids who smoked weed with their parents. I know good girls who’ve had abortions and bad girls who’ve had babies, and once I knew a girl who shot heroin under her toenails so no one would see her tracks.

And that’s just in our own back yard.

Every day we see some guy, or kid, or mom, or priest from some town somewhere do something that sends a shiver down our spines and a shock through our hearts.

Why, then, is Sherwood so shocked?

Maybe this is a lesson: you can take the life out of suburbia, but you can’t take life out of suburbia.