Chewing the fat on living in a small town
“I still haven’t met enough people to say ‘look who’s in the big town.'” – John Mellencamp, from the song “Small Town.”
There is something comforting to me whenever I drive into a town and see a welcome sign covered with service club logos.
You know the ones. The Rotary Club is usually the largest one. Followed by the Lions Club, followed by churches and volunteer groups.
You only see signs like these in small towns. Never in cities.
Well, I’m new to this fair county and its unincorporated towns, Minden and Gardnerville. I was pleased to see the service club signs as I drove into town, my first day on the job at The Record-Courier.
Just so you know, I’m not from California. I’ve lived there, yes, but in small towns. Each small enough to have service club signs. So my time in California should not be held against me.
Actually, I was born in a small Iowa farm community and moved around some until my parents finally settled in a small town in Hawaii. Yes, it was a culture shock, but Iowa and Hawaii share some commonality.
Tight-knit communities for one. On any given weekend in summer you will see small parks filled with generations of families for some kind of get-together, reunion or celebration.
In Hawaii, if you catch an Ahi you keep a small portion for yourself and give the rest of the fish away. In Iowa, you don’t enjoy the rewards of your family’s own garden during harvest, you give what you’ve grown away because your neighbors are giving your family the fruits out of their garden.
In both places, the neighbors always seemed to have known when someone broke their curfew before you even had a chance to explain to the folks why you were late coming home. Somehow the minister of my church always seemed to know when I broke my curfew. And he lived across town.
As a teenager, I would spend my summer vacations in Iowa where I baled hay and worked in corn and bean fields in the day, and then cruised the town square and sneaked a beer or two with my cousins at night. On weekends we’d go to stock car races or work on one of my cousin’s demolition derby cars. We all chewed tobacco, a habit, unfortunately, I still haven’t broke.
During the school year in Hawaii I worked at a Woolworth’s across the street from a field of cattle. Alabama and Hank Williams Jr. were always in the tape deck of my car.
I graduated college in a small town, Durango, Colo. (pop. 14,000). It was there that I began to rebel against my small town roots. Instead of country music I began listening to jazz. I grew my hair long. Wore tie-dye shirts and boycotted products that weren’t union made. I also joined the Sierra Club, organized community clean-ups and volunteered in a homeless shelter.
Some of those things are just phases that a lot of college kids go through. Some values I still hold. Winston Churchill said something to the effect that if you’re a young adult, you should be full of idealism and as you grow older you should become more of a realist.
Being in the newspaper business for the past 10 years, I think I now know what he meant.
I did, however, push one button that my family back in Iowa thought was reprehensible.
When I was 19, I became a vegetarian. Now, to give up meat after being reared in a cornfed rural environment where beef is served with every meal was worse than the time I announced I was going to cast my very first vote for Michael Dukakis.
It was about a year after I graduated, in 1993, when my Uncle Gary told me that everyone in the family thought I was “weird” when I was away at college.
“Was it when I had long hair,” I asked him. “Or was it that I voted Democrat?”
“Nah,” he said. “Your grandma is still a Democrat even though she doesn’t like that Bill Clinton character. And that one country singer – that Billy Ray Cyrus fella – he has long hair.”
“I’ve been listening to bluegrass music lately,” I offered.
“Earl Scruggs and Bill Monroe?” he asked.
“Nah. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones mostly,” I said.
“Never heard of ’em.”
“So, what then?” I asked.
“It’s when you became a vegetarian,” he said.
“Relax. I’m eating meat again,” I told him.”You can only take tofu burgers for so long. I was only a vegetarian for about a year.”
“Great,” he boomed. “What a relief. We thought we lost you.”