Flashback Friday: Small Town Life

My nostalgia for times during which I have never lived is a bit odd.  I get “nostalgic” for the 50s, when moms could stay home and wear pretty dresses and aprons all day, stay perfectly-coifed through any trial, and tuck Jimmy and Sally in with a lipsticked smile at 7:30 sharp.  I get “nostalgic” for the riotous 20s, for snazzy cars, flapper dresses and long beads.

However, all these decades are superseded by one actual nostalgia: for my small hometown.  It’s not necessarily the town itself that I long for, but for simpler, slower life.  Where I grew up, no one “went out” for coffee, they “came over” for coffee.  In the Twin Cities, it feels like an imposition to ask a friend over for coffee, because you know they have to drive 30 minutes to get to your house, and they would probably prefer their perfectly frothed Caribou.

In my small town, I could bike across town to my friend’s house in 4.5 minutes (call me anal meticulous efficient, I timed myself multiple times on different routes until I found the fastest one, over the old wooden bridge that is no longer there).  Also, my parents didn’t have a problem with a 14-yr-old biking all the way across town on her own.

In my small town, we made our own fun.  Bowling and one movie theater were about the only entertainment for a bunch of teenagers, so we got creative.  We made our own movies, baked crazy cakes and pies, built Lego villages, played sports in the summer (golf, tennis, softball, volleyball, soccer), and even made up our own sports (ice blocking, shadow boxing, wallyball).  We drove from train bridge to train bridge out in the country, sitting on gravel roads talking into the wee hours of the night waiting for a train to pass.  We rollerbladed, played cards, held luaus, car-stuffed, and drove in “posses” down the main drag.  A clump of 14 cars is a sight to behold in a town that shuts down at 10:00 p.m., let me tell ya!  We all had SuperPumper mugs that we could get filled with cappucino or hot chocolate for 29 cents at the gas station.  Sometimes we would sit there and drink it, but most often we would take it on the road with us.  I still have my mug.

In my small town, we hung out at each other’s places of work.   We would go to the local pizza parlor or video store and loiter until our friends got off.  No one really cared.

In my small town, I knew all my neighbors.  Here, unless I go knock on doors, we rarely see anyone outside.  I run into the occasional neighbor in a park, but we don’t know each other’s business.  At home, if someone’s grandmother died or they received some sort of award, you knew about it within minutes AND then you baked something for them.  There’s something to be said for a bit of anonymity (small town gossip can also be hurtful), but I miss being “known.”  Even in Fargo I would run into someone I knew almost every time I left the house.

In my small town, people helped.  When we got hit with the big floods in 1997, everybody chipped in.  We were at the local arena filling sandbags, at people’s homes building walls, opening homes to refugees from surrounding cities who had been hit even worse.  Here I fear a type of Kitty Genovese syndrome, where people watch, frozen and heartless at their windows.

I don’t mean this post to be a slam on the Twin Cities.  I know the Lord has brought us here for a reason, but I don’t think it is wrong to miss certain things.  I even hold out hope that someday we will again live in a town or neighborhood that is close-knit and involved.  Until then, I will cherish the memories I was able to make.

How does your community/neighborhood/town function?  Is there anything you would change?  Anything you miss from decades gone by?

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13 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: Small Town Life

  1. Huh, I was taking pictures in black and white (for some odd reason) of the flooded Mississippi in St. Paul in the Spring of 1997.

    I just asked my mom yesterday if she thought she could ever embrace the city where we live as her own and learn to love it. The answer for both her and me was that it’s too big and impersonal to embrace. There’s nothing special about it – except for the Joann’s down the street. It’s just another big, ugly suburb of a big, ugly city. No one knows their neighbors and everyone keeps to themselves. It’s weird. I don’t miss the city I grew up in either. I had a different sort of a life there from the average small town citizen and then I moved to spend my last three years of school in a small suburb of some other huge, impersonal, ugly city. I miss one thing about that time and that’s my friend Johanna. I’m a big city sob story, eh? LOL. It’s taught me that the most important thing is your family. If your family is there, any city is home.

  2. We live in a small town, and I love it. Our neighbor helps us out when we need it, and we do the same for them. I baked cookies for all the neighbors at Christmas. The postmaster knows me by name. We can walk to the library, and in the summer, we’re probably there every day. I love it!

  3. I absolutely love this post, Heidi. It captures all the good things I saw when we lived in our (ex) small town.

    And it hits on something I believe is true across the board — the more you have at your disposal, the less creative you tend to be.

  4. I was lucky in that My great Uncle Al had a farm in WI. So we went there in the summers. So I got to have that experience. But now as an adult I have a hard time with the smells (like the barns at the fair). I am not really a downtown city girl either. I get confused and turned around easily in the big buildings. I need to see sky!
    I also like that I don’t know everybody too. I would hate to be famous.

  5. You live in a townhouse, don’t you? If you get into a neighborhood of single-family homes, I think your neighbors might be more neighborly. It still may not be what you’re used to, but it will probably be better. I think there’s more of a feeling of permanence with single-family homes, and people are more willing to make the effort.

    I miss my friends from my hometown and the fun (and often stupid) things we did together on the weekends. But the town itself? Not really. Somehow, I knew I would live in “the Cities” someday and I loved it when I was finally able to move there after college.

    Even though we have no plans to move back, I still look at Minneapolis real estate on the Strib site. Last week, I found the perfect home for us . . . in Rosemount. If MN had the weather that we have here, I’d move back in a heartbeat.

    Even though I prefer the suburban life for myself, I do think there’s a lot to be said for raising kids in a small town. I might feel differently if we had children.

  6. I don’t know if people who have never lived in a small town can see the difference between small town community and city community. It can be found in the city, it’s just different and also harder to attain.

    I totally could have written this post. I do love the cities for many reasons, but I too miss the small town life for the same reasons as you’ve listed here.

    I’m sure it’s hard for a person who’s used to the city to go small town because it’s almost TOO close-knit for people who aren’t comfortable with that.

    I too dream to go back and I’m longing for it because I feel isolated now. People think country life is isolating, but the people make it just the opposite.

  7. I am a former Oklahoma country girl, now a Mpls transplant (via San Francisco and a master planned community Disneyland-esque suburb outside of Washington DC). I understand your post completely, but I have found that living here I’m finding truer community than I ever did in my small OK town. Being able to actually walk to a neighbors house to ask for an egg is something I was never able to do growing up because we lived too far “out”. I love living in a place where there are so many opportunities, and I can drive for less than an hour and be in a farming community. I hope to help my children find the freedoms I had (and that you talk about) in how they play as they continue to grow, though I probably won’t ever be okay with them biking across town alone. 😉 Mpls provides for me the perfect balance of what I loved about living in the quiet country, with what I loved about living on the east and west coasts in/near major US cities. The slower pace of life here (compared to the coasts) and the opportunities of the city (unavailable when you live “out”.) Maybe the community sense comes from my church, too.

    I’m glad I found your blog, neighbor!

  8. We live in Farmington…which is sort of small town…but we are in the burb area of it. It doesn’t feel small town at all. I have a 22 month old daughter and this year we took her trick or treating in my hometown in Wisconsin. Walking the streets I used to walk…it felt so real! There were tons and tons of people out and everyone was talking and being friendly. In Farmington…there are just a few kids out and nobody seems to get into it. I don’t care for the suburbs really. It feels mass produced and generic. Our only choices for shopping seem to be corporate chains and fast food. We really hope to move to a smaller town/city someday. I wonder though…could it ever feel as authentic and special as the place you grew up?

  9. I grew up in Orange County, CA – in the 70’s and early 80’s – which, surprisingly, had a small-town feel as far as our neighborhood went. Maybe that was more the DECADE, though, than the size of the city. People and times have clearly changed, at least in bigger cities. People are much more closed off, private, inconsiderate, unfriendly. (At least in OC, I mean.)

    I live in a small town now (in CA) and love it. It’s just like you described. I can’t go to Walmart without seeing 15 people I know. Everyone helps each other out in times of need. There’s a real feeling of community here, and I love that.

    As far as feeling nostalgic goes, I totally long for the “good ol’ days” — before my time! I often say I was born about 40 years too late. How I’d love to go back to the 40’s and 50’s. I love everything about those eras. At least I say that now! (Maybe I’d feel differently if I were alive then.)

    I just long for when people weren’t so self-absorbed, thoughtless, and BUSY. *sigh*

    Great post! I always love reading your blog.

  10. I can relate. Here in Houston, it’s all: go, go, go! Hurry, hurry, hurry! Me, me, me! Traffic is a nightmare — even the way people drive is selfish. We live in the suburbs, but still don’t know many of our neighbors, and hardly see anyone, except for a few kids that play in the street sometimes.

  11. I had to smile when I read this. I grew up in a small town in northern MN with a bowling alley, a pizza place, a small movie theater and a video store. And that was it. I, too, miss it and am so thankful for the life I knew there.

  12. We live in a small town now but not having grown up here, it’s not ‘home’ for us and we don’t know anyone. I imagine for people that have been here their whole lives it feels very much like what you’re describing. Where we used to live in WA felt more that way – where people at the hardware store and the library actually recognized us and the post’mistress’ was our next-door neighbour – who would bring us veggies from their garden in the summer and leave the gate open so we could borrow their lawn mower.

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