I feel like inserting the John Mellencamp song as I typed out the title of this blog entry. Yes, I spent my whole life growing up in a small town. As a matter of fact, I lived in the same house from the time I was born until I graduated high school and college- my father still lives there to this day.
There were many things to like and dislike about growing up in a small, tight knit community. It did feel like the television show Cheers in some respects. Everyone knew your name, a lot of people knew everyone in your family, and your reputation often proceeded you, especially if your siblings were honor students or trouble makers. I fell into the former category, and struggled to gain my own identity as my older brother (four years my elder) set the bar very high in my household as far as his extra academic activities and his number 1 status in class ranking.
It’s one thing when people call you by your best friend’s name because they both start with the same letter- it’s another thing 6 months into gym class when the teacher consistently calls you by your brother’s name- despite reminding him 100 times who you were! I felt like I had to claw and scrape my way through my freshman year just to establish to the same teachers that my brother had that while I may be intelligent, I do have my own personality, my own unique interests and that I would appreciate being looked at based on my own merits, not anyone else’s.
My home town had a reputation as being one with little to do as far as teenagers were concerned- so if you weren’t involved in sports or the recreation center across from the post office, there were countless ways to get into trouble. Parties were legendary from week to week, and I believe by the time I finished school 30-40% of my classmates either fathered a child or were pregnant with a child on the way. Maybe in another blog entry I’ll explain the effort I tried to put in to develop a safe haven for the kids to call their own that was thwarted by the businessmen of the town- yet I felt that I had enough interests within and outside of school to not become bored, isolated and feel like I needed to rebel against the angst and confusion going through my growing mind and body.
As a result, my children don’t understand why I don’t just let them ‘hang out’ in the downtown of the city where we live like their friends can. My parents wanted to know at all times who I was with, where I would be and what time I would be home. They made it a point to not only get to know the friends of mine but also the friends’ parents. They wanted to be sure that I had good influences around me, people that wouldn’t bring me down into dangerous elements of drinking or drug use.
If I could go back and modify some of the things back then that I know now, I would have been less conservative and slightly more of a risk taker. Childhood is one of the times when you are supposed to fall and pick yourself back up, hopefully to learn from any poor choices and make better ones the next time. It was an eye opening experience to go to college at 18 and have my first freshman lecture class be the size of my entire four grade high school. The small town atmosphere provided a sense of safety, yet didn’t prepare me for the diverse, larger world that exists in college and beyond.
Remember how we all wanted to grow up so fast? How we couldn’t wait to leave our small town? I think the benefit of getting to know people on a deeper level due to smaller numbers influenced me to care more about people as a total entity, rather than judge people by outward appearances or any sort of ‘reputation’ that may have been with them currently. I gave everyone a chance- and I think in today’s society my children find that hard to come by.
That’s why I make an effort for them to know people young and old, our friends, their children, our family and extended family. You can never have enough practice in socializing and working with other people. Small towns thrive on the effort and support of a community- all working together for common goals.
I’d love to hear your stories about living in small towns or bigger cities. What shaped and influenced your thoughts and dreams growing up? What special memories do you have to share that made you the person you’ve become?
Even as I live in the city, you can’t take the small town boy out of me…