I come from small town folks, on both sides for as far back as I can identify. My grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and great-great-grandfathers were farmers, teachers, grain merchants, bankers, and small-scale bureaucrats. Their wives raised kids and looked after their homes; some worked on the family farms or were teachers. Near as I can tell, the biggest town any of them lived in was Hutchinson, Kansas, which at the time my father was a boy had a population of about 23,000.
I, on the other hand, am a big-city woman. My father was a naval officer and we lived in a number of places, but most of my youth was spent in Washington, D.C. As an adult, I have lived in Philadelphia, San Diego, Los Angeles, Denver, and Albuquerque, plus some smaller cities along the way.
I feel at home in cities. I like having access to more than one doctor, jeweler, florist, bank, McDonalds, Walmart, Starbucks. And yet … I liked to sit on my mother’s porch in El Reno, OK (pop. 14,000) and wave at the neighbors as they drove by. I liked that my mother’s mailman came to her funeral. I liked that my grandmother’s house was mid-way between the Presbyterian Church and the Dairy Queen, along a stretch of state highway in Arkansas that didn’t have much else on it. I liked hearing that my great-grandmother is commemorated with a statue to the Pioneer Mother in Ardmore, OK. I liked eating fish & chips last Friday in a mom&pop restaurant in Truth or Consequences, NM, and listening to the regulars chat with each other and tease the waitresses.
The allure of the small town is that, like the fictional bar “Cheers,” everybody knows your name. The downside is that, as my small-town friend Carol Porta used to say, everybody knows what you ate for breakfast — and with whom.
I plan to keep living in cities. I’m going to build in some small-town ambience, though, by waving at my neighbors and being loyal to one McDonalds and one dry cleaners, and learning my mailman’s name.