I grew up in a town without sidewalks. No stop lights. The post office closed because not enough people were using it. I remember, barely, when the county came through and painted lines on the road. Everyone had their own well for water, and there was no such thing as cable.
No library. No movie theater. No grocery store, drug store or doctor’s office.
Readers are now thinking either that I grew up on Mars, or I’m so old, I grew up in the early 1900s.Nope. My mom still lives in the house I grew up in, and good luck getting cell phone service there. It just doesn’t exist. Everybody still has well water, but they leapfrogged past cable and went straight to satellite dishes. I’m willing to bet the school bus drivers still know not only your name, but the name of your parents, your siblings, your cousins and your grandparents. Who you have a crush on, who has a crush on you, and what base you went to in your boyfriend’s car after the basketball game on Friday night.
There were definite advantages to growing up in the middle of nowhere. Acres of woods to roam through. A river in the backyard for swimming and tubing. Snowmobiling in the winter. Making maple syrup in the spring. The scent of falling leaves and wood smoke in the fall. The sense that everyone in the community was looking out for everyone else. The feeling that all the kids were safe, and the grownups were reasonably responsible.
I couldn’t get out fast enough.
Because the problem with these idyllic childhoods is that they aren’t. Every problem you have in the big city? We have them, in some flavor, in rural America.
Alcohol. Ooh, baby, was that ever easy to get your hands on. Oceans of beer. Keg parties on stateland. The drinking age was 18 back then, sure, but how many high school sophomores or juniors are 18? There was always an older brother or cousin of somebody around who was willing to buy it, or store owners willing to look the other way or too tired to care. Rural economies are not booming, and a sale is a sale.
Drugs. OK, maybe we didn’t have ready access to or money for cocaine, but marijuana? Plentiful. You would have thought we were growing it in the hay fields. Not hard to find, not hard to procure.
So if you aren’t drinking or smoking, what do you do in a small town? Well, there’s always the opposite sex. Sometimes age-appropriate, sometimes older and predatory. Sometimes love, sometimes boredom, the old “sure, why not, we only get three channels on TV and one of them is the French station out of Canada.” Safe Sex hadn’t become a media campaign yet, nobody in school talked about birth control, so engaging in sex was a game of roulette, much like drinking too much at a kegger before driving home on snowy roads.
Once I moved to a city, it was all over. The sheer convenience, the noise, the lights, the smells, the crush of people whose entire family histories I did NOT know. And oh, the ability to reinvent myself. It’s hard to figure out who you are and what you want to be when you’re surrounded by people who have your niche all figured out for you, sometimes before you’re even born. It’s a relief not be judged by the actions of my siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, stepfamily or in-laws, all people I don’t have (and don’t want) control over.
There are many, many aspects of growing up in a small town that I’m thankful for. But don’t ask me to move back there. I’m a happy urbanite now. While I’ll always have that small town in my soul, it doesn’t own me.