Friday, October 15, 2010

Hold onto your hats, I've been ruminating.

I was raised in a small x-burb of a smallish city in Ohio.  We lived in one of those unimaginative tract developments laid out with a t-square in what once was farmland.  There was one main street with side streets laid at right angles, all ending on a narrow dirt track that ran parallel along a forlorn strip of woods at the end of the side roads.  To the north was Lake Erie, to the south were fields.  In the early days, it was a place of young families, stay-at-home-moms, carpooling, and bridge players.  Everyone was in the same boat and kids ran around freely with neighborly supervision.  Mothers came out at dinner time and called you in.  And, depending on the season, you hightailed it in with frozen fingers and toes, or you dragged your feet, scratched a trail behind you with a stick, and did just about anything but hurry.  As we grew up, families sold and moved to areas with better school systems and the development suffered.

Many years and many moves later, I have ended up in upstate New York - not to be confused in any way with downstate - in a small village within a small town.  This village in which I live has a lot of that same sense of community with which I grew up.  While everyone knows your business, they also know when someone has hit hard times, due to illness, loss of work, or just bad luck.  There are five churches in the town/village, and all congregations reach out to those who need them.  There are movie nights for free family entertainment, clothing drives, a food pantry.  When word gets out that a family has been struck by illness, there is a line of of local women bearing casseroles, cakes, roasts and side dishes at their front door.  I am blessed with amazing friends and good neighbors.  I really love it here.  (Other than the fact that NY State is the top Nanny State, over-regulated, over-taxed, governed by idiots.)

Before I moved here, I lived in a small town just one county further south.  I lived there for seven years and, in that time, I made one friend - Maggie, who I still cherish.  And she lived in another town.  No one helped each other.  There were feuds and fights and nasty letters in the local paper.  It has made me wonder what makes such a difference in small towns that are so close, geographically speaking.

The pre-here town (p-town) had a long history and had flourished with its mills and businesses back in the day.  Now-town (n-town) has a long history and flourished with mills and businesses back in the day.  Both lost most of their industries and have struggled for years.  P-town is closer to The City, and now has a lot of full-time City residents - especially after 9-11.  There is a big disparity between the wealthy cityfolks and poor townfolks.  N-town also has its wealthy residents, but they tend to be artists and writers who like the anonymity of a very rural setting.  We've got lots of "hollers" here - dirt roads that lead way back, up the mountains - and that is where they settle.  From my non-scientific study, it seems that the biggest difference is that the families here tend to stick around for generations; it's not unusual for three or four generations to still be living within a mile of each other.  Back in p-town, as soon as they're able, the young people skedaddle and don't look back.  Another difference - and I may be way off here - is that n-town is basically a rural, farming community and there is an ingrained sense of dignity and the worth of hard work that infuses a lot of the families here.  Of course, there are slackers and drunks and crooks, too, but they have very little impact on the solid sense of community of the place.  P-town is more settled, with more affluent towns clustered around it.  It just seemed angry and envious and petty.  There was a pervading sense of resentment and entitlement.  I was very glad to leave.

I am curious to know what you think makes a good sense of community.  I've lived in small, medium and very large cities with the contrasting large, small, smaller sense of community in each.  I am not a romantic when it comes to farms, farming and farmers.  It's dirty, hard work and there is no time off for good behaviour.  Is it this shared hardship that brings out that intimacy that seems to be shared in this little village?


Erin said...

Good post! I too have lived pretty much everywhere, coast to coast thanks to the Navy, and have a newfound appreciation for my hometown! My dad got out of the Navy to move our family back to his & mom's hometown in rural MN and back then I thought "yikes, can't wait to get out of here", and now that I have, I can't wait to get back and hubby and I keep finding ourselves entertaining the very same idea of getting out before retirement and moving back because of the wonderful town and people. We won't, because he is only 9 years from that military retirement paycheck, but it doesn't stop us from dreaming about it! 9 more years.... LOL

Susan said...

Thanks, Erin. I figure I have one more move left in me, and it will be north. We're from hearty stock! As much as I loved growing up in Ohio, I don't think I could go back to flat country. I love the mountains and forests and all that go with them. (It's amazing how fast 9 years can go! ;o))

Jordan said...

I wonder if part of it isn't you. Meaning that you, uniquely you, fit into a space in this community. If another person had moved into your house, they'd fit differently, and maybe not as well, just as you didn't fit as well into your last place. It's a timely topic for me. Some folks on my street feel a community there and sometimes hang out together. I've stopped and chatted with most everyone I see, asked leading questions, hinted, but never have been invited in and haven't pushed my way in. I do think it's just not my tribe, this place, but it will be in another place.

Susan said...

Jordan, that could be true. A friend mentioned that I was friendly, so I made lots of friends in n-town. But, then again, I was friendly in p-town and made none. Except for Maggie, who was not in-town. Places do have a "feel" about them - some fit, some don't.

Mama Pea said...

I've not moved around much so I'm sure no expert on this topic. But I do feel that community is VERY important. The kicker is that how do you know the ins and outs, the people, the feel of a community until you live there for a while? As they say, it's a cwap shoot.

The Apple Pie Gal said...

Found ya ;) We moved around ALOT. I think it's random, big or small how a community knits together. And also it does depend on you to an extent. I was forced to make friends because we did move so much. But oddly enough as the years go by, I've gone back to the places and friendships that make me feel like 'home'. Which means you can still stick me in a room full of new people and I will make and keep friends with all of them, but loooove when it's time to go 'home'.