Prompt #62: Town & Country
Like John (Cougar) Mellencamp, I was born in a small town, and I live in a small town, albeit on the other side of the world from my hometown.
The city is only about a two hour drive from my hometown, but it might as well be a world away for the differences. Indeed, many from my area hold great disdain for the city–my grandfather, who spent much of his life in and around there for work, called it “Filthy-delphia.” But I chose it anyway when it came time for law school, mostly because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
And you know what? This small town girl rather enjoyed big city life. It’s just so convenient to have anything you could possibly want never too far away–art, history, literature, every religion and culture imaginable, ethnic food, professional sports, and so much more.
Then there’s the not so great parts, general lack of cleanliness was my biggest complaint especially when public transportation was involved. The fact that the smell of human urine makes me think of the Broad Street subway line cannot be underestimated.
But more than that, I just never really felt at home there. I loved my living quarters, especially the second of my two Philly homes, located on this street:
Cute eh? Many inhabitants were professionals and graduate students, and we had neighborhood schools, churches, bars, restaurants, and shops that many of us frequented while politely exchanging hellos, but that was the extent of it. Indeed, the area was set up perfectly to be a neighborhood where we could create a little pocket of understanding and warmth.
But it never happened. Not for me anyway.
My neighbors, with whom we shared a small, locked entryway, were a couple with two small children. When our landlords described them, I thought of offering babysitting services. That idea was crushed the first time we crossed paths in the backyard. I introduced myself and asked some questions, but the mother quickly cut me off and rustled the girls inside. Hint taken. Nearly every morning we set off at the same time but none of them ever even glanced at me as they struggled to get everyone in their respective cars during the morning routine.
In fact, the only time I ever entered their home was to inquire whether they had picked up a package of mine from the entryway by mistake as the postman assured me he had left it there. They said they didn’t, but I sure hope they enjoyed that first edition Charles Dickens I had ordered from eBay because I have a hunch as to what really happened.
So maybe I was unlucky with the neighbors themselves, but then every time I went back to my hometown to visit, something became clearer and clearer. The idyllic neighborhood life of my youth doesn’t exist there anymore either. As the older generation has died off, new families have moved in, and they aren’t the children and grandchildren of the area; indeed, many are from larger cities.
And so there are fewer nightly chats from porch to porch, fewer pies and cakes traded across backyards, and, I imagine, fewer solid neighborly relationships. Whenever I’ve been home, it’s like being on the empty set of an old favorite sitcom–I recognize all the scenery and memories come at me from all angles, but there’s nothing going on that really makes me feel like I used to.
Why is that? Is the idea of community threatening to an individualist lifestyle? Is this a good thing? Can we get it back? Do we want to?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but on a personal level, one of the things I love best about where I live now is the neighborhood feel. All of those old-fashioned relationships are still intact, and indeed, I’ve been accepted into the fold. We have a grocer, a tobacconist, a pharmacist, a butcher, and two bars, and they all know what I want before I do.
Sure sometimes it’s a bit smothering when eyes are peeking out of windows to see where you’re going and who you’re going with–many times they’ll just flat out ask as they’re certainly not shy (I’ve learned to be vague in my answers!). And, of course, there’s the “news sure travels fast” phenomenon, but if you’re selective about who you tell things to, it’s less of a problem.
Some people like the anonymity of city life, and I have to admit, every now and again, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But I’ve had it both ways, and I have to say, I just feel at home here, and that’s the most important thing.
Or, as Mellencamp said, “my bed is in a small town, and that’s good enough for me.”
[tags]sunday scribblings, john mellencamp, smalltown, city versus country, philadelphia, rocky, philadelphia museum of art[/tags]