Monday, January 19, 2009
Ten Bonuses of Rural Living
A year or two ago, our niece, April, had an itch to move to a small town. April was born and bred a country girl, the daughter of a hog farmer and a school marm, on one of those farm places where the phone company is from one town, the schools in another, and the post office is another.
However, she went to college at Butler (Indiana's answer to Yale*) in Indianapolis and never looked back. She became thoroughly urbanized, getting involved in things like 'sororities' and 'musical theater' and 'graduate school'. She married a guy who also left "Green Acres," and moved to a 'vinyl village' with her husband and two boys in an upwardly mobile suburb of Indianapolis.**
Anyhow, when the itch hit her, she decided to run her ideas by Karen and me. After all, we live in rural Indiana by choice. I'm sure to a girl looking to re-connect with her country roots, we must have appeared to be living the dream.
While helping April make her decision, I came up with some bonuses to rural living. I'd like to share them with you.
1) The Commute. When I drive to work, I drive 20 minutes through green fields, woods, over rivers and streams. I see wildlife - turkeys, foxes, deer, snapping turtles, quail. I don't have to drive to the country to see the changing colors in autumn. The sky is huge and there's little enough traffic to drive slowly and enjoy it.
2) The People. In rural communities, you can't really say anything about anyone because everyone is related to someone somehow. That may sound a little confining, until you realize that the converse is also true: people know you and care about you. They may know more about my business than I'd really like, but they also know enough to be there when I need them.
3) The Shopping. It's no secret that Wal-Mart is the great merchandiser in rural areas. However, they're not the only ones. There are still hardware stores, where the clerks know your name and have an idea of what you're after. TSC (Tractor Supply) and Rural King thrive and we have smaller, lesser known department stores: Alco, Pamida, Dollar General. Nothing beats filling the cart with bargains at Dollar General. We wear labels like Carharrt, Dickies, Red Wing and Harley-Davidson.
4) The History. Rural Indiana is dotted with accessible, living history. Cities put history in museums, but in the country, you can walk through cemeteries that are 150 years old; you'll recognize names that are still alive and vital in the community. You can see the houses that have hosted generations of the same family. There are places like the covered bridge (above) that you simply run across on a quiet drive on a Sunday afternoon.
5) The News. I was having coffee one morning in the restaurant here in Roann and the man at the table next to mine folded up the newspaper he had been reading. Mildly disgusted, he said to me, "There's nothing in this paper." "Isn't that why we live here?" I asked him in response. He agreed. It's true that no news is good news and I'd rather keep the things that make news at arms length.
6) The Perspective. It always cracks me up when I hear the national news folks describe a place like Fort Wayne (pop. 275,000) as a "small town." For us, Fort Wayne is the big city. Our town of 400 souls is big enough, thank you. We can find everything we need in the town where Karen and I work - pop. 6,000 - or in the county seat - pop. 11,000. Maybe the biggest effect this has on 'perspective' is in the statement 'everything we need'. One of the bonuses of rural life is that you go to the city and find that there's an awful lot of stuff out there you don't need.
7) Priorities. Living in the country means that there is distance between people and places and decisions have to be made with that in mind. When we go to town, we try to make it worthwhile. It's not like running down the block to CVS to pick something up. Rural living means that more time is spent at home and more time is spent with each other. Entertaining family and friends at home is still common. Most country people eat out, but we also put a premium on eating at home, too. (A phenomenon the New York Times recently labeled "eating in." Sheesh.)
8) Church. Christianity is still the norm in rural Indiana. We sometimes take it for granted. Even those who don't go to Church (and there are plenty of them) respect the Church and what it stands for. It sounds like a cliche, but we are indeed the people Mrs. Clinton indelicately described as holding on to our religion and our guns.
9) Sunrise and Sunset. The long black silhouette of the sunrise is the backdrop for my morning drive to work. Trees stretching up and out greet the pink of daybreak. Shadows of barns and grain bins break up the open spaces. But mostly there are open spaces. At sunset, the sky is so large that the moon is rising in the east while the sun sinks in the west. It happens every day and I can't get enough of it.
10) Soil. It seems that most people I know in rural Indiana have a connection to the soil. We plant gardens and flowere beds. We love the smell of newly plowed fields in spring. We talk about the weather, even if we're not farmers, because we know that things like rainfall and water tables affect farmers, and we all know them.
To my way of thinking, the benefits of rural living make this the best place to be.
* Butler is Indiana's Yale; the obvious 'Harvard' here is Notre Dame.
** They left the vinyl village a year or so ago and now live in a respectable tree-lined street, still in the 'burbs.