Daily I am struck with the pleasures and challenges of living in a small town. I've been inspired to gather my thoughts regarding small-town living by this post by Flibberty. Unfortunately, this post isn't really coming together but I am going to throw it out there for you anyway. Let's call this Part One because I know I am going to want to revisit this topic on a more articulate day!
I grew up in a small, western town and couldn't wait to get the hell out. Shortly after college I ran away to Washington, DC. After being perpetually lost for the first six months (there was no visible mountain range to remind me of where West was and damn, if the Washington Monument doesn't look exactly the same from every angle! No navigational help there.) I woke up one day and quite literally just knew how the city was laid out and knew my way around. It instantly became Home and I loved it fiercely. Still do.
But. I decided I really needed a master's in American Studies (a post about just what the hell is this field of study is in the works... I know, you can't wait, can you?) so I moved back to the West, back to a small town.
Initially I was too busy trying to read 349,208 pages per week for my coursework to notice the daily challenges of living in a small town. To be fair, I missed out on many of its pleasures, too.
I have really started to contemplate living here now that A. and I have a home together, a life together, and all that remains of The Graduate School Experience is The Thesis.
On the one hand, I keep thinking that, "Geez. Living in the city is so much work. It is such a hassle to get anywhere and it takes so long!" But it is a lot of work to live here, too. There isn't much for industry or commercial enterprises here, or anywhere within 200 miles for that matter (and in only one direction, otherwise you are looking at more like 500 miles). To buy a pair of jeans (any pair of jeans) requires a hunt and usually ends with an online order or a trip out of town. There is a Target 50 miles away, but for most people in the state a Target is no less than 250 miles away.
But, for the most part, people know their neighbors here. When A. and I were doing our Christmas shopping downtown we ran into a number of acquaintances. When S. waved at us through a shop window I nearly burst from how happy and neighborly and merry it all was. The little local toy shop owner helps me pick out gifts for the niece and nephews and they are always the biggest hit. I know the owner/pastry chef of the local bakery on a first name basis. I know I will run into J. and S. at the local coffee shop on any evening of the week and on Sunday mornings.
(For what it is worth, I think this small-town-ness is only possible and fostered by a healthy downtown that operates as functional public space. Thank you, Farmers' Market!)
You can't afford to be rude to anyone. You will run into them again, somewhere in town. Or they will turn out to be related to your boss. Or they will be your next landlord or new gynecologist.
But this all means that it is nearly impossible to make a quick run to the grocery store for milk. There is always visiting involved when you run to the grocery store, the video store, the hardware store. And God forbid you think you'll be able to sneak in and out with condoms or a pregnancy test. I've noticed that folks who live out of town and pick up their mail at the post office do a lot of visiting in the lobby.
More and more I feel like I did my stint as a big-city girl and feel happy and content to remain a small-town woman. If A. and I do move somewhere larger when he finishes grad school, say in the 100,000 range or so, I really hope we live in the city center and can live by the "10-block rule" (all daily requirements can be met within 10 blocks of our house). Kind of make a small town in the midst of the big town, you know? Come to think if it, that is exactly how I got by in DC.
Thanks for all of your questions! The new Q and A feature is up and running! Keep sending those questions...this is fun!