Last week, my friend, Karla, posed this question to me, “what was your favorite thing about living in a small town?” It has taken me a week to try to compile my thoughts. It has not been as easy as I would have thought! The question is an easy enough question, but the flood of emotions that came along with it has been interesting. I first thought it would go something like this: “I grew up in WaKeeney, Kansas 1/2 of a mile north of town on the highway, my best friend lived next door, my dad owned a Main street business, so it was literally a Cherry Coke town.” In many ways it was idealic. The summers were the best part of living in WaKeeney; the lake, time with family, my Gram and Bop lived down the road, swimming every day, riding horses, being a normal kid….but I really need to be honest….. as a kid, I really didn’t care for the rest of it much.
So many people I know talk about how they would redo their school years, I wouldn’t. I suffered most of my days forced to go to WaKeeney Grade School where bullying didn’t come from the kids in school as much as it came from teachers. I detested school. I was sick a lot and made myself sick a lot. The snarky, judgmental comments from teachers were unbearable some days, and their psychological abuse was intense. I had teachers that called me names like “Little Miss Brand X”, ones that grabbed my ears and told me that I wouldn’t amount to “shit”, ones who reminded me every single day in gym class that I was a fat kid and the body shaming was intense. Group showering was disturbing to say the least and the shaming from the teacher was horrible. There are some stories that most wouldn’t believe, but they ring in my head. Their prodding wasn’t all in vane because they were incredibly motivating!! They motivated me to leave and not come back!! I wasn’t the only person to suffer abuse at the grade school level, many of us did, and high school wasn’t much better. In high school, I had a couple of teachers who were kind, but as a whole they were there to knock us down and remind us where we came from! But I digress…. I was asked what my favorite thing was!!!
My favorite thing about growing up in a small town is that I have never gotten to grow up! What I mean is….no one really knows me as a fifty year old woman, wife, and mother of three. I am frozen in time in WaKeeney! I am perpetually 17-18 and they remember only what I did or didn’t do when I was 17-18! I am still my father’s daughter, and they remember every bad thing I did and proceed to remind me occasionally. After I graduated High School, I went to Southwestern College where I made Dean’s Honor Roll (at least once!! lol). My hometown newspaper printed accomplishments like this, which was really kind of cool! One of my high school teachers brought the paper into the drugstore and took it back to my dad. She told him that there was “no way this is right”. She was not joking nor being funny, she argued with him and said she would never believe it that “she wasn’t that smart.” I kid you not. Absolute fact. I don’t know but I suspect that this type of behavior exists in every small town in one form or another.
Now, I will say there are a few of my friends who live there that do know me, because we have legitimate friendships and they have gotten to know my husband and kids and watched us grow up , and I love them! But, those people who had the biggest influence on a little 5 year old girl starting school, still see me as that 17-18 year old. The people who had the opportunity to really make a difference a child’s life, did. They made a huge difference in who I was, as opposed to who I am now! That part of education hasn’t changed for many. We blindly hand our five year old children to complete strangers 8 hours a day and pray that they are kind, helpful, loving, strong role models, only to find that many of them are. Many are not. When they encounter the reality of the harshness of man, it is our responsibility as parents to attempt to undo the damage. We do the best we can, but those scars are always there.
As an adult, the thing I liked most about living in a small town was the pace of our life. When we lived in a small town in Nebraska the pace of our lives was much slower. We lived an hour in any direction from a big town and you just didn’t “run” as much as we do now! There wasn’t the luxury of going some place every day! I loved that my neighbors would check in on me, that my kids could ride bikes in relative safety, that the smell of drying corn was somehow a welcomed sign of Fall. I love how friendships were really forged out of the necessity to rely on the helpfulness of neighbors. If you didn’t have a cup of sugar, you borrowed one, had a cup of coffee and wasted an hour talking cultivating lasting friendships. The pace of our lives made this possible. Living in a bigger town now, the opportunity to be “busy” is all around me. Some days it’s difficult to navigate and I long for the slow pace of rural America. I miss it. I am so thankful for the years of small town living in Nebraska. Maybe I have been gone long enough that I romanticize it. I still dream about my old house. I dream that I am hiding in it, repairing the damage that the present owner has caused, sleeping in my old bedroom and not turning on any lights, but living there in the dark and quiet. I miss it. I miss that time in my life when my kids were little and home schooled, where time was slower. I miss my yard and the leaky basement. Honestly, I miss most things about it. Even the gossip! Thank you for welcoming us so many years ago Campbell, Nebraska, pretty much my favorite small town!!
There you go Karla!