Just a Small Town Girl

Photo: wikipedia.com
Photo: wikipedia.com

For the last twenty-five years, I’ve been a big city gal; concrete jungle where dreams are made of and all the rest. Mass transit, museums, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.  Too much of the great outdoors unnerves me.  Mother Nature makes me break out in hives.  Where others see beauty and wildlife, I see Blair Witch and hay fever.  Given the choice, my olfactory system will choose the smell of wine and cheap perfume to fresh mown lawn every time.

But as happily married as I am to my urban landscape, I wasn’t raised in the city.  For the most part, I grew up in a quiet, New England town.  Not remote enough to be rural, not sub-divided enough to be suburban, one of thousands of one-stoplight towns across the United States.  Just a small town girl, living in a small town world.  There was an eponymous house of pizza, a few churches, a local Dairy Queen (my first job) and not much else.  Except for the freedom to grow up.

And grow up we did.  As kids, we plunged recklessly down huge sand hills blanketed in snow, cat-a-corner to a cemetery with headstones dating back to the Revolution.  We ice-skated on frozen ponds behind the church and rode our bikes to neighboring towns.  There were dark and winding roads to speed down, plenty of grassy lawns to stain the knees of your jeans after a make-out session, hide-outs and pull-offs where you could smoke a cigarette, or roll a joint, organize a kegger.

Though I’ve reached an age where my city dwelling years have outstripped my small town years, I come home regularly.  And far from the straight jacket constraints of my teen years, it is a welcome break.  My own children are city children, apartment dwellers, green space appreciators.  As parents of city kids, we have to seek out sport opportunities for them.  We have to make play dates, arrange free time and plan school vacations.  And don’t get me started on the nightmare of having children with winter month birthdays when you live in a flat.  We have annual passes to museums and lots of take out options.  And generally, we love it.  But when we visit the town I grew up in, I can open the screen door and let my children out.  They are free to roam the neighborhood.  To ride their bikes around the block, to hopscotch in the neighborhood pools.  The woods, the ones I watched burn down those many years ago, are no longer there, so there won’t be a canopy of pines under which to steal a French kiss or hide a pilfered Playboy.  There are no more mint leaves to crush between your fingers to mask the smell of a stolen cigarette.  But for a few weeks a year, my kids have the kind of summer I remember growing up with.  Freedom from school, from schedules, from bedtimes and rules.  Freedom to play kick the can from dawn to dusk.  In the summer months, the flicker of the porch light was enough to call us home.  My own children aren’t old enough to stay out that late yet, but they will be soon enough.  They will be old enough to have backyard campouts with games of spin the bottle and come home smelling of earth and sun and summer on their skin after a day of adventure.

Photo: portage.highschoolmedia.org
Photo: portage.highschoolmedia.org

Of course, small towns aren’t perfect.  They are romanticized and air brushed in their role as American ideal.  But just because they are small does not mean they are free from strife, from problems, from pain.  As a teen growing up, there was a lot of drinking.  A lot of drugs.  Not just pot, but cocaine, acid, mushrooms.  There was a lot of sex.  Anyone who thinks they can stop teenagers from having sex should spend a month in small town USA with hormone riddled teens with nothing to do on a Saturday night but hang down the sand pits with a bottle of stolen Schnapps.  There was a lot of drunk driving down those long and winding roads.  There were accidents.  There were deaths.  But there was also a sense of pride, of community, of togetherness that is hard to find in the city.  In a small town, Homecoming is a big deal.  Football and Little League are a big deal.  Big games and pep rallies and spirit weeks.  Town parades on Memorial Day with the local dance school, 4th of July fireworks displays.  All the stuff I feel like my kids miss out on.

Photo:  huffingtonpost.com
Photo: huffingtonpost.com

A lot has changed in twenty-five years.  As a teen, I felt boxed in, hemmed in by small town life.  I was restless.  As soon as I could, I took that midnight train going anywhere, though in my case it was a Greyhound bus headed to Port Authority.   But there are things for teens to do now; a 14 screen movie theatre, McDonald’s, a Barnes and Noble.  There are numerous chain restaurants, and to my utter astonishment, a sushi place.  For real.  Sushi has hit small town, U.S.A.   The sand hills that I used to sled down have been taken over by a shopping complex.  There are strings of traffic lights now, lighting up the town.

I love raising kids in the city.  I love the diversity they are exposed to, the opportunities they are offered, the culture at their fingertips.  But as a mother, I can better appreciate the safety and sense of home that small towns offer.  It’s nice to be able to play kick-ball in the middle of the street.  Yell “CAR!” during a game of street hockey, knock on someone’s door and ask if they can come out to play.   There are times I long for that small town security for my kids.   The sense of knowing there will be friends in the bleachers to cheer them on a frosty November afternoon.  The idea of one of them waking up one day and realizing the girl next door is suddenly and completely gorgeous.  And yes, even hanging out at the sand pits with a bottle of Schanpps.

Modern art museums are great.  Take out is a life-saver.  Mass transit is a fantastic thing.

But so is having a sense of belonging.  The kind you get when you’re just a small town girl.

27 thoughts on “Just a Small Town Girl

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  1. You hit this one! Great job. As much as I miss the city, it is less than an hour away, and so are the beaches. But I stay for the community where I’ve made some of the best friends of my life among all of the other tired mothers! Can’t wait to walk our old stomping grounds while you’re here!


    1. I have a bizarre fascination with Kansas. It’s as foreign in my head as Sri Lanka. I’m sure it has something to do with The Wizard of Oz, but there you go. Sometimes it takes leaving to appreciate being there.


    1. Thank you. If you’d asked me five years ago, I would have said the city hands down for sure (and probably still would). But as my kids get older, I start to waver a bit. I think I’d like to go to a high school baseball game every now and again, boo the neighboring town a little 😉


  2. I grew up in a very small, rural town. My mate and I have moved all over the country these last 44 years. Sometimes we land in another small town. Sometimes we try a big city. I would love to try a town of 40,000 or so. It might offer me the size to give variety and less traffic to deal with. Right now I’m stuck in the middle of Kansas in a small town I absolutely hate. I still wouldn’t go back to a big city though.

    Nice post!


    1. I like your criteria. Variety, less traffic. Someone else on here posted about having grown up in Kansas and I mentioned that I have a bit of a fixation about Kansas. To me it is the epitome of rural, small-town, corn-fed, blonde, Norman Rockwell Americana. I’m sure it isn’t like that. But in my head it is.


      1. Kansas isn’t so bad if you like wind. Oh my the wind blows a lot. We are nearing retirement and trying to think of some place we would like to move. No high heat, no extreme cold, no wind, and a few more democrats than we currently have. lol


  3. I have no idea where I’m going to raise my future (not even thought of properly yet) children; in the city, in my home town or somewhere else entirely. Maybe I’ll have them 10 years apart and try one in each. Lovely post.


    1. Word of advice: Do not have children 10 years apart. You will be almost to the light at the end of the tunnel and then you will have to start all over again! I never once thought that my kids would be growing up as 3rd culture kids in a few different countries. Life takes some funny turns. Usually it turns out ok 😉


    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I remember moaning about how boring my town was when I was a teenager. Now I would kill for my kids to experience some of that boredom.


  4. This is a wonderful post, that brings up all sorts of nostalgic feelings about the small town I raised my children in,and the beautiful old house we lived in for 17 years, all quite different from my own upbringing. I’m not sure I can ever capture the essence of that life as well as you have here, but you may just have inspired me to try.


    1. Thank you, that means a lot to me. Just today I was reminiscing with a old childhood friend about how different life is now than when we were children and running back and forth, slamming screen doors and playing all day and night. For a few weeks every summer, my kids get to experience that and it makes me smile. Thanks again.


  5. I love this. In my case it was 50 years ago, 1 stop light, no fast food still none), 1500 people; total. You couldn’t spit without somebody mentioning it “casually” to your parents. You drive too fast, someone sees you. You walk home from school with a girl and your parents know you have a new girlfriend before you do. The telephone exchange was so small we had to have the operator place our calls until the mid 60s. But I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else.


    1. That sounds lovely. My town was bigger, but there was still a sense of everyone knowing who you were, who you were dating, when you had a party, and whether or not you were getting into trouble. People looked out for each other. I think they still do today, but our own experiences tend to take on that mystical, nostalgic quality. Ironically even though we live abroad and in a city, because the international community is quite small, you get more of a ‘small town’ feeling amongst the ex-pats, which is really nice.


  6. I may live in a city now but my heart relaxes when I visit my home town in eastern, NC. This is an awful example but I’ll share anyway. My father had a stroke years ago and I moved there for two months until he died. I stayed around to help my mother with all the details involved in an estate or funerals or all kinds of paperwork. I remember one day when I went to the courthouse for a death certificate (many copies as lots of places/agencies required a certified copy.) From there I went to the lawyers office one block away and then to the veterans association regarding a military funeral. I crossed the street and walked down the block to meet my mother at the funeral home. I could walk two more blocks to Mom’s church to meet with the minister. And the florist lives right next door to Mom. When I thought of all the long drives it would have taken me in Charlotte, NC to handle all those issues, it would have taken days, not the few hours it took in my small town home. I love the statement, sense of belonging. When the visitors came bearing flowers or casseroles or ham or whatever, Mom knew where she belonged. And so did I.


    1. Yes, small towns really are at their best when one of their own is in need, I think. Funny you should have stumbled upon this, as I’m back in that small town for a few weeks this summer, revisiting old haunts and sleeping in my old bedroom, staring up at the same glow in the dark stars that have been stuck to the ceiling for nearly 3 decades. It always feels like home.

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