June 02, 2007

Country Mouse

I grew up in the town of Big Flats.

(First commenter to guess which state wins a prize. No Googling. Friends who already know should please sit on their hands.)

During my childhood, there was a sign along the highway leading up to the town that proudly declared, "Big Flats, Planned and Growing." I can still see the slanted, 50's-era typeface in my mind's eye.

But it never really did grow, at least not that I noticed; the Big Flats phonebook was more like a booklet, with just 1200 people claiming our little corner of the world as home.

Everyone knew everyone. It was a company town, so pretty much everyone's parents worked for the same company. I would probably go crazy if I lived there now. But man, was it a good place to grow up.

Living in a town that small as a kid meant, among other things, that I rode my bike pretty much anywhere I liked. My parents trusted me, and they also knew that if something went wrong that someone we knew could be counted on to help me out. Until I went to college, the only strawberries I'd ever eaten were ones that someone in my family had picked by hand. (Big Flats, as you might have guessed, is in a river valley with some good growing soil.) And when I needed a haircut, I just went and got one, telling PJ that my mom would pay her the next time she came in.

It wasn't all roses and sunshine. There were certainly moments when the lack of privacy was trying. Compared to what I'm used to now, Big Flats' cultural offerings were meagre. And the people of the town represented a pretty thin slice of the range of human diversity.

When I go back to visit, I see people I went to high school with and can't imagine still living there. But I do feel like growing up in a place that was so tightly knitted together helped me to develop an unusually strong commitment to and appreciation of the role of community in my life.

When our son was two years old, he spent a few mornings a week in the care of a fabulous local woman here in NJ. She took D and her other charges for long walks into our not-so-small town, and as a result he got to know shopkeepers and postal clerks who I didn't even know.

The first time we went into a store and the manager said, "Hi, D!" I grinned from ear to ear. Anyplace can feel like a small town if you put a little effort into it.

(Thanks to the women of Sunday Scribblings
for their continuing inspiration.)

21 comments:

Regina Clare Jane said...

I grew up in a small town, too. Those were the days, huh, when your parents didn't have to worry about you...
Now neighborhoods are like towns here- we have these things called planned communities where you don't even need to leave to go the grocery store!
I miss the good ole days...
Great post, Shelley!

forgetfulone said...

Is it Texas????????

gautami tripathy said...

Though I live in a big place like Delhi, people in the nearby markets do know me by name.

GreenishLady said...

I like that idea, that you can have "small town" friendliness wherever you live.

'n said...

Is it in Idaho?
;-)

Shelley said...

Regina: I think my current town's "walkability" is a significant factor in its desireability... there are a lot of people who feel as you do.

Forgetful one and 'n (silly girl!) : Nope, sorry, not Texas or Idaho. It's a little bit of a trick question, in that it's a state seems relatively unremarkable, geographically speaking.

Gautami: Bet your smiling face is a welcome sight at all your regular haunts!

greenishlady: I wish you friendliness whereever you go!

tongue in cheek said...

Thank you for such a lovely visual of a place called home. I could hear the river and taste the strawberries. Isn't the sense of belonging wonderful.

Patois said...

Sounds like a great place to grow up, but I don't know how appreciative you'd be of it if you lived there as a young adult. It sounds somewhat like the Air Force bases my dad was transferred to a couple of times. Safe, everyone knew everyone, and the adults (men) worked for the same "company."

megan said...

Enjoyed reading this and riding along with your images. Good job bringing it to life. The part that I'll be rolling around in my brain for a bit, is the end point that: 1)it's possible to create a sense of community wherever we live and; 2) it doesn't come knocking at our closed doors. Thanks for sharing that thought.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Sounds like a good place to have grown up. Edinburgh feels like a small town most of the time. I like to shop in the same small shops where people do get to know me as a regular.

Shelby said...

very nice post and so refreshing.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy said...

Nice post Shelley, like so much on your site! Thanks for your virtual visit - pleased to return the favor.

Karianna said...

Thanks for dropping by my place. :)

I am in the process of moving back to where I grew up - it isn't as small and safe as it used to be, but it is definitely a different feel than where I am currently!

R said...

I found you in the BAM -- it's nice to have another blog to read. I love the style and content of your writing, and I'll be dropping by more often. As a fifth grade teacher, I was especially interested in your post about children and testing. It sounds like you are raising your son with all the right values: those of appreciating others for who they are, not what they look like or what labels they are given. And growing up in a small town myself (almost the same size as Brown), I can see the tensions between the joy of a community and the squeeze of limited opportunities. You did a nice job exploring those ideas.

Molly said...

Hmm... somewhere in the Midwest?

I think there's some statistic floating out there that features a huge percentage of folks who stay in the town they grew up in. Something huge, shocking, and I'm glad I'm not one of them.

Frances said...

New York is ginormous, but it is also a town of neighborhoods, so I know what you mean about that small town feeling where everyone knows your name.
Thanks for a great share,
Frances

forgetfulone said...

New York?????????????? Are you gonna tell us? I really wanna know now! Tee hee! :-)

Shelley said...

Andy, Kari, and r, it's always nice to greet first-time visitors... hope you'll come back again sometime!

Molly, no fair tantalizing us with half-remembered statistics... get out there and Scroogle 'em up! :-) While we're citing half-remembered stats, I think I read somewhere once that PA has the highest percentage of people who are born and die in the state. Any demographers out there with good leads on this kind of stuff?

Frances, I'll bet your neighborhood is lucky to have you, and forgetfulone, you WIN! Big Flats is in upstate NY, home to the Big Flats plant of Corning Glass and some really great strawberry fields. I'm thinking about your prize... possibly a little summer reading for the hard-working teacher of high-energy middle schoolers?

Michele said...

Hmmmm. I'm guessing Upstate New York. Somewhere near Horsehead?

stillwaters said...

Hello there. I can pretty much relate to the description you gave of the town you grew up in. I am also a country mouse. I grew up in a small town where everyone there are lots of birds, rice paddies, water buffalos, rivers, mountains and planting and harvest festivals. Yes, I come from the opposite side of your world and I'm glad to have virtually landed at your blog where I get a description of a world that's far from where I am. Thank you for sharing. And thanks, too, to this thing called internet. I'm learning a lot abouut blogging through it because I am just a newbie with only two entries at my blog to date. Visiting blogs such as yours help me widen my perspective.