People know me here. It wasn’t always so. But living thirty-odd years in the same place begins to show on a man. In the course of such a time, without even realizing it, one takes on the characteristics of the locality, the color and stamp of the prevailing dress and gait and even speech—those gentle bells of the sidewalk passersby . . .
These words open the novel and introduce the reader to Doc Hata, a man who has lived in the Bedley Run community for the past thirty years. The tone that Doc Hata employs in describing the place he’s called home for so long is almost nostalgic, including details that suggest the idyllic connectedness of a small-town community. Doc Hata’s way of describing the polite friendliness of the average passerby inclines the reader to think fondly of Bedley Run, just as he no doubt does. He also emphasizes his sense of familiarity and grounding in this place, where, as he implies, he enjoys a good reputation. Doc Hata feels comfortable in Bedley Run, and others feel comfortable with him. Doc Hata clearly had to work to earn his reputation,since it “wasn’t always so” that people knew him as well as they do now. But just as clearly, his work has paid off and positioned him well in the community where he decided to settle down.
Yet underneath the nostalgic tone and idyllic images of Bedley Run, Doc Hata also sounds a note of disenchantment. Consider how the third sentence begins with the word “but,” and proceeds to suggest that Doc Hata’s “thirty-odd years in the same place” has begun to “show on him.” In other words, he may respect and appreciate Bedley Run, but the town might also be wearing him out. In addition to his sense of personal exhaustion, Doc Hata also points to the subtle coercion of cultural assimilation. As the reader will soon learn, Doc Hata settled in Bedley Run shortly after immigrating to the United States from Japan. In this quotation, he notes how, if a person lives for a long time in one place, they inevitably take on the normative values and behaviors of the other people who live there. As Doc Hata explains, this happens to a person without them even realizing it, and it can change nearly every aspect of a person, from the way they dress to the way they talk to the way they carry themselves physically. Doc Hata clearly feels changed by this place, and he doesn’t seem sure that’s a good thing.