Monday, November 28, 2005

In my hometown...

A strange thing has happened to me over the past few months or maybe even years. I am feeling something I never expected to feel, and it is a good thing, I think. To explain this shift in perspective, let me give you a flashback.

I grew up in a very small Texas town, with a population of only about 3,000. Our town only has two stoplights--and one is only a flashing yellow one. Today, there is a Subway and a Sonic. But, when I lived there, there was only a Dairy Queen and little locally-owned coffee shops and burger stands that only stayed in business a few years at best.

For the most part, my childhood in this town was quite good. I was happy. There are benefits to living in a very small town. But, along with those benefits come the negatives too. Like anywhere you might live, I believe enjoying life is a matter of outlook and whether or not you focus on the positives or the negatives going on all around you.

I grew up with a very negative mother and an optimistic father. I spent most of my life being told I looked like a young version of my mother and being told I was just like her. Part of me liked the comparison when I was younger. As I grew older, I began to resent it because I began to see that I was, in fact, more like my father. I forgave people to a fault. I chose to remember the good in people and forget the bad. I sometimes got used by people because of these qualities. I tried to look on the bright side of things. I did retain my mother's sense of sarcasm and love of dark humor. But, I never let negativity completely consume me the way it still does her to this day.

My town has a square with a grand old courthouse and little quaint shops surrounding it. The square has had its moments of grandeur and other moments where it seemed like an old relic surrounded by rundown and abandoned old buildings.

Growing up in a small town, there are some things you learn quite quickly. First off, your business becomes everyone's business. If something good happens to you, everyone knows about it and many will be there to congratulate you. But, by the same token, when bad things happen everyone knows it as well. Sometimes they whisper behind your back, sometimes they make up things behind your back, and sometimes they make the bad things worse with their actions. But, sometimes your neighbors will rally around you with great compassion, bringing you casseroles and fried chicken when loved one dies, taking care of your kids if you are ill, and looking after your home while you are away. The life of a small towner is intruded upon, yes, but sometimes that intrusion is quite welcome and a blessing in disguise.

Some of the things I loved most about growing up in my town were the opportunities I got to explore anything that interested me. I played 4 sports, lettering in all of them, and still got to play in the band and perform as a baton twirler. If I had chosen to try a new activity, I could have done that easily. There are not so many students that you can't make the team. You may not play as much or be the star, but you always can be a part of the group. After marrying a "city boy" and seeing how bigger city school's operate, I know this is not always true in larger cities or suburbs. My kids will face fierce competition and will be lucky if they ever even make a sports team, the band, or other activities at their enormous schools.

But, this opportunity to explore and compete can also be a negative when it comes time to go to college. Bigger universities are not interested in a small town sports hero. Small town teens are written off or pushed beneath names of athletes from the big city schools, recruiters assuming that less population means less talent. And, I was discriminated against when it came to joining social clubs in college, all because I was from a small town. And, even while still in high school, I recall attending basketball tournaments where we'd hear the kids from the city schools yell down to us, "Go home, HICKS!" as we'd enter the gym to compete. It was moments like these that opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone lives the way that I grew up, and not everyone appreciates that way of life either.

And, until I went to college, I never know that most of the faces in my small town were of those living in poverty. I had always felt like a small town was just a smaller fingerprint of what a big city must be like. But, a trip to visit friends from college in Houston left my mouth gaping in awe. These very down-to-earth friends I had made, who described their lives as very middle class, well they lived in huge two-story houses with beautiful landscapes. Their schools were massive in size and they had malls and restaurants right around the corner from their homes. Their parents all drove upper-end luxury cars and SUVs. Only the most wealthy people where I grew up lived this way at all.

There were very few multi-story houses where I grew up. The brick house I grew up in was considered quite nice, even with its small floorplan (below 1400 square feet). Houses like mine in the cities of my college friends were joked to be in the "bad part of town." No one living in Houston had friends living in trailer houses or in old wooden farm houses out in the country, as I did. And, it is odd, but this was the first time that I realized that most of the people living in my small town were living there not because they chose to be, but because they could not afford to live anywhere else. Suddenly, my mother's huge chip on her shoulder towards "city" people began to make sense.

I always knew I'd leave my smaller town upbringings and attempt to move to a bigger city. From the time I was a little girl and would go visit an aunt who lived in the suburbs of Dallas, I was fascinated by the change, the hustle and bustle, and the exciting things that went on in cities. I decided to attend a school that was quite a few miles away from home. My roommate in college chose to drive home every other weekend, because she was so homesick. I missed my family, but was never homesick. College, to me, was like this fantasy world where I could be whatever I wanted to be. I wasn't the teacher's daughter, but my own person. I used to walk across campus with a huge smile on my face, just so happy to be there to observe, grow and change. To this day, I miss college at times. I learned so much in those few years that I might have never learned had I not moved away.

My sister chose to not move away. Turning down sports scholarships, she chose to try college at a nearby smaller university. She didn't end up even making it two years before she opted for just getting a job and jumping into married life. At times, I feel sad that she didn't give it a chance to see where she'd grow and change. A few years later, she did move a few hours away with her husband, but again she'd travel back home every few weekends to familiar surroundings, never giving her new life opportunity to take hold. And, so today, it often seems to me like she has not changed much at all in her outlook on things and her worldly beliefs. She has not see other lives, other perspectives, and so she cannot see that her thinking is not the only way to believe. This is what I have seen a lot in my hometown and, unfortunately, this thinking is the root of things like racism that I am embarrassed to say are a part of my community as well.

So, after moving away for college and then meeting my future husband, I knew I would never return back home. And, at that time, I was happy about that. Home was where I was labeled, smothered by an intrusive mother, and forced to face the problems of my family head on. I married a city boy and moved to several different larger cities before settling where I am now in the suburbs of a huge metropolis. The thought of moving back "home" to me was never a consideration. Sure, it was fun to go back home and see old friends. But, why in the world would I ever want to live there?

The night before Thanksgiving, my daughter could not sleep. I chose to drive her around to try to get her to crash. As I ambled through the pot-holed streets of my town, I felt something quite unexpected. I felt a love for this little niche in the world. Passing by the homes of old classmates, girlfriends, and schoolyard crushes, past the high school with it's dated "V" (for victory) sign in front that always was lit up when our school teams won a game, through the neighborhoods I used to run cross-country as a teen, I felt a deep warmth inside. This was my hometown and would always be a part of me.

There is something quite wonderful about growing up in a small town that I can recognize and appreciate now. My family still runs into old friends of mine who ask all about me and have wonderful things to say about the me that they used to know. When I visit, people walk up and talk to me as if I have never left. The town still rallies around the high school teams, with most of the population showing up to cheer for them at each game. Imagine how it feels to have the entire town show up to watch you play a basketball game or march in a band? When you're a teenager, with all the raw emotions and insecurities that run rampant as you grow up, this is such an amazing feeling. These are moments I now cherish because I know I was very fortunate to have lived them.

Today, I can know that where I grew up was a special place. I may not ever return and I may not really fit the mold of most of the citizens of my small town. But, I also know that if I ever chose to return, I would be welcomed with warm hugs, fried chicken and casseroles at my front door.


Blogger Masked Mom said...

This is very interesting for me to read--as an Army brat who grew up everywhere and nowhere, I'm always fascinated by people's sense of roots and belonging and how we all make or grow into our sense of ourselves in the world--about where we come from as much as where we are at the moment. My mother was raised in a very rural part of Pennsylvania and the town I have chosen to live in (and raise my kids in) is also small (around 5000 at last count), so I can very much identify with the small town pros and cons.

Thanks for sharing.

4:28 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Connie and Rob said...

My father grew up in a very small town in Tennessee. He always had the small-town ways about him but all his children were raised in the city. We visited his homeplace very often. I have to say it was a wonderful place to visit but I don't think I could have ever lived there permanently.

I can certainly see why you loved it and have wonderful memories.

7:50 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Lisa said...

What a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing!

9:36 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Dak-Ind said...

My hometown is Beautiful Brownsville Oregon. Now that is a thriving metropolis. It currently is home to 940 folks. It has grown considerably. No stop lights, No police force. The fire department is all volunteer. There are no schools anymore, the children get bussed to the next town over (which handles all the children in about a 20 mile radius and still has less than 250 students in total through out all 12 grades). To see my hometown for yourself... just turn on the old Stephen King movie, Stand By Me. it was filmed there.

12:10 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Tyra said...

I grew up in a very small town with only one store and a couple of stop signs. Everyone knew everyone. That town will always be home to me. Now that Mom is gone I only ride through there once a year to get our Christmas tree. As I ride through the streets I'm overwhelmed with how much I miss being able to come home.

I live outside of a small town. My children attend small, country schools. We are a part of a rather large county, we live in the northern part of the county and when we play sports we are considered north county hicks. Most of the children are farmer's children, construction worker's children.

That's ok though, we kick their butts every chance we get, lol.

8:16 AM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Babs said...

This was so awesome to read... I kept hearing Bruce Springsteen's song "My Hometown" running through my head. (man, I used to love that song!) What's funny is I've often wondered if I'd like living in a small town now... you know, really shake up my world and like become a postman in a small town. Hmmm...

My only experience has been visiting my Dad's family, who lived outside a small town in Colorado. I used to LOVE how people would know me as "mike's daughter" and how all the families knew everything about each other. It seemed so much cooler than the anonymity of a big city. I'm glad you've come to appreciate it, too!

3:00 PM, November 29, 2005  
Blogger Pink Rocket said...

I was born and raised, for the most part, in Temple, Texas. It's not small but there's only one high school...Everyone knows everyone, just drop the family name and whoever you're talking to will say something like "oh yeah? I know...blah, blah, blah...they your kin?". It's home. It's familiar. When I visit I like to drive around to all the places I remember. Something about being there I find comforting.

11:56 PM, November 30, 2005  

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