I grew up in a town. By some standards, I guess my hometown could’ve been called small, but it never occurred to me to think of it that way–not then and not now. My guess is that all the old small town sayings might have been true back in my grandmother’s day and maybe even at the beginning of my mom’s, but by the time my awareness of Place took hold and I was growing up there, I didn’t come close to knowing everybody’s name or family, let alone the personal business that they wanted–at all costs–to keep quiet. Then again, I was way too preoccupied with making sure no one had a make on me to pay much attention to the gossip mill.
My mother was the very embodiment of a Midwestern girl and I like to think that I inherited that characteristic (along with all the other good ones) from her. Maybe it’s just me embellishing the Midwest with all the beautiful and desirable things about the world, but I’ve always thought there was something about this area and the people who reside here. I’ve lived other places, but there’s never been a time that I wasn’t ready to come home. The streets and back roads are familiar and the people only smile at you if they mean it. Unless they’ve had particularly difficult lives, they are not unnecessarily rude or cruel, but most of the time they’ll say what they think and/or walk away from you rather than smile to your face and talk shit about you when you’re gone. I appreciate that kind of honesty, and I’ve given it to other people on more than one occasion. It’s a tradition, I think, and I don’t want to see the popularity of our corn-fed frank kindness wane like Sunday drives, board games, and quilting.
I think, in fact, that these are all things of value in a world that’s becoming altogether too Twitterified. They take time. And devotion far beyond 140 (or even 280) characters.
Anyway…Mama. When I was a kid, she always referred to herself as a jack-of-all-trades. Some of her talents were by necessity (like hanging, seaming, and sanding drywall), but most of them were just gifts of nature or things she decided she wanted to do and then learned. She was artistic enough to draw ridiculous things to amuse all of us, teach us a little, and get us through our school projects. She had enough skill on the guitar to make all four of us believe (then and now) that she was amazing. She wrote (and writes) poetry and short stories, choreographed high school musicals, was an expert at finding smart dogs, and could back a trailer and drive a stick better than any man we had ever met. Before the ruination of her knees, she was an awesome basketball player and roller skater, and she managed to teach even her graceless daughter how to jitterbug. But by far the thing that I admired most about Mama when I was younger was her ability to find the most unique and loyal people in the area with whom to be friends. In my twenties (when she was in her forties), Mama had a posse of women surrounding her who were close enough for long enough that I still call three of them my aunts.
I never had a lot of friends, not in my twenties and not in my forties either. I’ve been wondering lately if that’s because I trotted my silly ass all over the country for a couple of decades instead of staying in the place where I was born…where I not only knew all the street names but also trusted most of the people I met to smile only when they really meant it.
I think Mama would probably tell me that I’m silly for thinking that Home (or a lack thereof) has anything to do with the friends I made or didn’t. (My “aunts” are all from surrounding communities; none are from the same town.) But I’ve always thought it played a major part. While I might not have really known much about most of the people in my medium-sized town, I think I knew/know more than I would have thought. There’s something about being from the same place that makes getting to know a person easier from the get-go. And I don’t think it’s about walking to the same convenience store for candy when you were a kid…I really do believe it’s about being able to “read” one another. Inherently. With little or no effort.
Of course, in a lot of ways, that may be just a guess on my part. The two people I’m closest to in the world (outside of those with whom I share blood) are my husband and my sister-in-law, and a lot of times it feels like we’re really family and I shouldn’t count them as “people I’m close to largely because we come from the same place”. I spent a lot of time at their house when I was a teenager–so much that we all have the same recipe for macaroni and cheese and the same ingrained love for Queen, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, and Cat Stevens.
But I have quite a few Facebook friends from Home, and it never fails to surprise me how very much I like some of them. I don’t remember ever feeling that way in high school. Then, we barely knew one another’s names. Now, I spend a lot of mornings smiling at their posts and wishing like hell that we’d spent all of these intervening years as actual friends instead of acquaintances. Mostly, everybody’s still in the bi-state area, but there are a few who’ve gone far afield. Seattle. London. Denver. We don’t see them anymore…except sometimes accidentally at Christmas.
I’m really not sure what it is about people from home. Is it that we speak the same language and feel similarly about most of the important things? Is that what makes them more trustworthy and easier to get to know? Maybe. Partly.
But I also wonder if it has mostly to do with me, with you, with us ourselves. Hard as we might deny or fight against it, it seems pretty clear that we are primarily self-centered beings. At the end of the day, it’s all about us. I have a history with my mom, my brothers, my husband, sister-in-law, and mother and father-in-law. Those people knew and loved me before I learned how to be a decent person in the world, and also before some of the other people in the world tried to break everything good about me. They know me–and the fact that they do means that I get to relax in their presence and just be who I am. While I’m not necessarily aware of being ill at ease in other people’s company, I certainly know that it’s different with them. And there’s a similar (though definitely lessened) response to other people from home.
With them, I mostly just get to be. They knew me back when I was still me. Sometimes I think I should chase them down the street and pump them for information.
Hubby and I talk about moving a lot. We talk about where we’ll go when the last kid is out of high school. So far, the only points of consensus seem to involve bodies of water. While it’s still a ways off (four years), I have to admit that there’s something in me that is reluctant to travel far, even though all the other adults I love would likely be going with us (or coming along in short order). I’ve gone away before–once for more than a decade–and although I found good people eventually, I can’t say that I ever felt as known as I do when I’m grocery shopping in my hometown Wal-Mart. While there may be more than an inkling of truth in the old adage about people being the same all over, that hasn’t been my experience at all.
Yes, there are decent folks and assholes wherever in the world you go. But they aren’t your assholes, you know?