Dear City Kids,
First of all, this is not a lecture. This not a rant about urban America or an advertisement for country living. To criticize you for enjoying the subway system and bustling nightlife at your fingertips wouldn’t make sense. And to take offense at your aversion to living in a town that just installed its first and only stoplight would be downright hypocritical.
I’m not a city kid and never will be. I live on a dead-end, five-house street in a town people 15 miles away haven’t heard of. Our “downtown” consists of two gas stations, a Subway, Dominos and a consistently empty coffee shop. Yet all through high school, I drove 45 minutes every morning to attend the Minneapolis school where my dad teaches. I spent my weekends sleeping at friends’ houses so I could go to the ballgames, concerts and cafes that don’t exist where I live.
Despite the many more rural schools I considered, I chose Vassar—an easy train ride from New York City. And I plan on making a beeline to New York City or another large urban center like it upon graduation. If we’re pointing fingers for not desiring a life on the prairie, I’m as guilty as the next person.
So, you ask, what am I writing for? When you tease me for living in Canada (practically) and joke about the backwoods farmers with their tractors and guns and getting stuck in the middle of nowhere, my laughter is genuine. I make those jokes too.
And after the 2016 presidential election, those good-natured digs at rural America have deepened into sharp criticism. No one can ignore the geographical element in our country’s ideological divide. Those red expanses between blue dots symbolize the racism, sexism and appalling ignorance us college students vent about every day. I’m all too familiar with the Trump signs staked proudly in lawns across town, the avid arguments my neighbors give me for building walls and defending gun rights. I breathe a sigh of relief when I step off the plane and envelope myself in the liberal attitudes of my urban peers. So you ask again, what am I writing for?
I’m writing this because as I do, I think about how something inside me lights up when I talk about home. How the crickets sound at dusk, how you can trace constellations in the wide, uninterrupted sky bright with stars. I think about ambling down my neighborhood roads with six goats in tow, nothing connecting them to me but our familiarity. I remember biking to the lake with the girls from the house on the other side of the woods, watching a loon float by as I crouched beside the river with my sketchbook. I smell tractor oil and sawdust and hear snowmobiles and chainsaws. No matter where I live in the future, I’m glad I grew up where I did.
I know, from talking to you, that growing up in a city wasn’t a fairytale either. There are things that got on your nerves, like the raucous bar down the street, the bumper-to-bumper traffic or that sketchy alley you went the long way to avoid. You probably wished for a night sky actually good for stargazing or snow that wasn’t piled into icy brown heaps. But you are a city kid through and through, and the less-than-perfect doesn’t diminish that.
I guess what I’m saying is, the next time living in the middle of nowhere comes up, remember what home means to you. Yes, I complain about my lack of civilization and that’s on me too. But there are so many things I miss about my one-stoplight town. You don’t have to give up your nowheresville digs and I won’t either.
Every once in a while, ask your friend about their family farm without a hint of teasing in your voice. Believe me, if they think you’re joking, they’ll joke right back. But if they feel you actually care, they’ll spill their stories. Instead of hosting your small-town friends in the city like usual, think about venturing into the boonies and visiting them. I think you’ll be surprised. Rural America holds it own charms. Most importantly, for many of us it’s home. And that should matter.
A small-town kid with no regrets