Wednesday, September 20, 2006

We're All Mad, Aren't We?

Growing up in a very small town, I was used to the people that surrounded me. The do-gooders, the cowboys, the town gossips, the trouble-makers, the innocent and sweet, and the criminal minds--all made up our little place on the map. I still remember the sting of hearing the larger city school kids shout names at us when we'd arrive to compete in a basketball tournament. "Go home, HICKS!" (We'd go on to beat their rather large but slower-than-Christmas girls team that day, which gave us a little payback.)

Those larger city schools were intimidating, with their fancy football fields and asphalt-paved running tracks. Their brand new band instruments gleamed and their football players always stood a good foot over our own, making us worry our team would be squashed like little ants beneath their beefed up big-city armada. While I never regretted where I grew up, I must admit to some envy and curiosity of what it must be like to go to class at one of these big city fancy-schmanzy schools.

As an adult, I chose a career and a husband whose career required us to live in a larger city than where I grew up. Was this purposely done? Well, not consciously, but I have always known deep down that I would not return to live in my hometown.

With that said, I still hold a lot of love in my heart for this place, with its huge historic courthouse and surrounding town square. And, so each year when the annual reunion and rodeo approaches, I try to make plans to attend. I have only missed a few years of it from the time I was a very small child.

The reunion has a wonderful parade, as well as tons of events on the courthouse square, including an art show, a fashion show, turtle races, a BBQ feast, and so on. The evenings of this grand weekend are capped off by a great small-venue rodeo that's earned a good reputation on the rodeo circuit. My family has box seats right in the front of the action, and my son absolutely loves nights at the rodeo the best of all.

Now, lately, here in my suburban surroundings, I've felt the snubs of a lot of neighbors who are more concerned with what high dollar car they are driving or what sort of elite activities in which to enroll their children, than they are being genuinely kind people. And, I have to admit, at times it really gets to me. Just the other evening, I attended a party at a friend's home and listened to one of the women going on and on about how she has to "dress down" when she visits her husband's small hometown and how even then she looks more made up than anyone around her. She cackled at how lousy everyone dressed and presented themselves and talked about what a bore the whole experience always was for her.

I felt my hackles rise as I heard her talking. I wanted to jump in and defend this little town that I'd never even visited. "But, aren't people just the friendliest there?" I'd ask her. "You know if you ever fell sick, they would ring your door with covered dishes in hand for dinner, ready to drive your kids to school, don't you?" I'd add. "And, if you weren't seen for awhile, there would be someone on the phone checking on you to make sure you were OK," I'd retort.

People in small towns know about everyone else's business, it is true. And, if you are a private person, this can get very old. But, it is also quite wonderful in some ways to have people around you who know enough about you to step in and help if you need a hand without even having to ask for it. I could never say that about my neighbors currently, even after having lived here for more than five years.

After that evening, I suppose I built up my trip "home" to the reunion into more than I should have. I expected to see old high school classmates and feel the warmth of that small town friendliness that makes it an entirely different place to live than a city.

And, I did have a few of those experiences over the weekend and we had a wonderful time overall. But, at some point during all of the festivities, I was able to also step back and people watch and realize a few things.

Small town people will welcome you with open arms when you're a new-comer. They are happy to have you living around them and will welcome you with a cookie basket and a lot of questions. (Be prepared to answer them, or someone will make up the answers for you and you really DO NOT want to leave your reputation up to the gossips!)

People in rural towns also embrace and welcome those who have recently left--whether it be off to college or a move for a job after living a life in your midst. They are happy to see you, want to know all about where you live and what you are doing, and will update you on everything you have missed since you moved away.

However, once you have been gone for awhile and there are indications you will not return, the welcome matt is removed and replaced by almost an angry vibe. There will be curious looks and exchanged whispers, perhaps about who you've married or your current weight, as well as snotty looks. The "who do you think you are showing up here" feeling is evident from the get-go. I started getting this about 4-5 years ago when I'd visit my hometown.

My street has its share of the "Keeping Up with the Joneses" type, those who only wear designer duds and only wave at those they deem socially superior. But, my hometown has its own version of these people too. They too are decked out in overly expensive clothing, have fake tans, too much makeup, and the Texas smalltown trademark--big hair. These women are on a mission to prove to everyone that they are better than anyone else, and they are among the worst to snub you if you dare to visit from your big city. They behave as if your very presence threatens their being, as ridiculous as that sounds.

So, my lesson learned from our weekend in my small town is that people are really the same everywhere. Over the course of the trip, I did bump into some very dear old friends, I enjoyed friendly welcomes from members of my old church and former teachers, and even enjoyed watching the snubbers snub me after I'd come to this understanding.

I was drawing these conclusions on the long car ride home as the rain beat strongly against my windshield, when a song came on from one of my current CD favorites, Natasha Bedingfield. It too perfectly described the understanding I developed over the weekend that I am sure will stay with me always.

We're all mad in our own way
Colors fade the grey away
Different people all the same
Each reveals the meaning

We're all mad in our own way
Fill the sky with different shades
Read the story on each page
Each reveals the meaning


Blogger Tamara said...

I agree with this wholeheartedly. People are basically, just people. Doesn't matter where you live. Great post. Don't know if you ever read this post of mine from eons ago, but it's relevant:

7:12 AM, September 21, 2006  
Blogger Nicole said...

I know what you mean...we lived in a small town for a few years and I had culture shock when we moved back to a big suburb. I missed a lot about that small town life but now I appreciate what the "big city" has to offer. BTW, I have a good friend who lives in your old home town (my sister mentioned the name to me). Great post!

3:02 PM, September 21, 2006  
Blogger Babs said...

oooh, I loved this post too! It totally went a different way than I had expected... And I totally agree with you! Small towns, suburbs, big cities... there's good people and snubbers within them all. Just gotta stay true to ourselves and try to stay on the "good" side!

p.s. I'm glad your kids get to experience all that... the turtle races, rodeo, etc sound like so much fun!

4:54 PM, September 21, 2006  

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