In the last post, I marveled at “what a world we live in” because I feel like my experiences are now so wide. I want to talk about where I come from, how I grew up, and why I was so eager to leave it behind.
I grew up in a small town, with conservative (although not religiously conservative) parents, and a privileged upbringing. I married a conservative Marine/cop and held my tongue in liberal Northern Virginia for many, many years, most of the time not caring enough about politics one way or the other to make a stink. But my views have changed. They say that if you aren’t liberal when you are young you don’t have a heart and if you aren’t conservative when you are older you don’t have a brain – well, I just screwed that up!
The earliest evidence of this sentiment is from an 1875 French biography by Jules Claretie where, “Mr. [Anselme] Batbie, in a much-celebrated letter, once quoted the Burke paradox in order to account for his bizarre political shifts: ‘He who is not a républicain at twenty compels one to doubt the generosity of his heart; but he who, after thirty, persists, compels one to doubt the soundness of his mind.’”
I don’t know why I ended up being the conservative one for so long. I have two sisters that were brought up the same way and I think they have always been more liberal than I. Maybe it’s because I was the oldest? Maybe it’s because I have a powerful sense of personal responsibility (that by the way hasn’t always served me well….) I don’t know. But in just the last half a dozen years or so I have been exposed to more different kinds of views than I have been exposed to in the entire rest of my life. My upbringing was provincial, my schooling was insular, my jobs had a narrow focus (government contracting), and my social circle with my husband at the time reinforced all those things. I’m glad to have been given the opportunity to have broken out.
I grew up in a town SO SMALL. How small was it? I once addressed a letter:
and put it in the mail to prove to my college friends that my parents would get it. Inside it said “Call when you get this.” Three days later they called. My friends were gobsmacked. But I never understood that I grew up rural. You see, I lived in town. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that it dawned on me that you don’t have an “in town” unless you are rural. Somehow the fact that some of my friends’ addresses were Rural Route Numbers, meaning they didn’t have HOUSE numbers, these were just randomly assigned numbers given by the post office, didn’t sink in. Shit MY HOUSE didn’t have a house number, we used a P.O. Box. When we needed something delivered by UPS (which requires a street address) my mother would give them 1876 and the street name. But 1876 is the placard on our house that the town gave us to indicate when the house was built, it’s NOT a house number. We had no gas stations and no stop lights. The only retail establishment was the “little store” across the alley from my house, and across the street was “The Comm”. The Comm, or Waverly Community House, was modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia and held many vital Waverly institutions.
I had my first job at The Comm. I was the Saturday morning librarian. It was small, I mean really small. People look back fondly on the days of card catalogs – ha! I was expected to know the names of all the patrons who came in to get books. When they chose new books, all they had to do was hand them to me, I’d pop in their pre-stamped due date card and hand them back. After they left, I would write their name on the take-out card and file it away. Occasionally I’d have to do some detective work if I couldn’t come up with a name. I’d try to remember the last book they took out, go find it and see what name was written down on the card. My school bus stop was at The Comm, which means I had a warm, dry place to wait – kids at school hated us for that. We even had a fire in the fireplace going for us on cold snowy mornings. There was a gymnasium (where we could roller skate on Saturdays), a candy store, a post office, a bowling alley, a playground, a thrift store, a dance studio, a daycare, tennis courts, and meeting rooms (my Girl Scout meetings were there.) So you can see, where I lived didn’t seem rural at all. 😉 Of course, we always went to the farm to get our ice cream, but I digress……
When I grew up we had a mall. One. No big box stores, no internet shopping. The “big city” was not somewhere we went very often. As a young girl, I was taught that when we did go, we had to dress up. My dad was an attorney there and I guess my mom (who was from just outside of Philly) didn’t want to embarrass him. Looking back, I really am surprised by all the signs I missed. There was nothing much to do. Not as a kid, not as a teenager, not on a date, surely not as an adult. We had one, yes ONE black kid in my grade. And he wasn’t even there all year. He was the son of migrant workers and was only there seasonally. Even now, the entire minority population is 9% at my old high school, I looked it up. By comparison, where I live now, only 28% of the kids are white! I don’t know the percentage, but I think a lot of kids did not go on to college, but I sure as hell was. I wanted out. Granted I went to a small, mostly white, liberal arts college, but I also never “went back home.” I stayed at my parents’ house the summer after my freshmen year and again after my sophomore year, but then never lived there again.
This might sound like I didn’t like where I grew up. You couldn’t be farther from the truth. I loved the life I was given and I was blessed to have lived it. I regularly went back for visits and thought “What a wonderful place this is.” But it was quickly followed up by “What do people DO here??” I guess I became a big city girl. Which is a good topic for another time. So maybe my transition wasn’t the “expected” young idealist to older establishment, but was more like provincial to worldly. In that light, it makes more sense. So unlike the song reference in the title, I’m *not* going to be dying in a small town, not me.