Infinitely vast fields policed only by the population density of deer
When I was growing up I always had one foot out the door. I wanted to get out of that small rural farm town smack dab in the middle of the no where as quickly as possible. To get there you have to drive about thirty miles south of the halfway point between Chicago and Detroit down a strip of I-69 bounded by infinitely vast fields policed only by the population density of deer. To my ears, that just meant you were thirty miles south of being half way to anywhere that mattered.
My hometown has about 10,000 people, not exactly a town with no people, but it covers enough land to tout two of the largest in-land chain of lakes in Michigan. For those of you not from the middle, “in-land chain” refers to chains of lakes excluding the Great Lakes. They’re basically our ocean. Anyway, what you should get from that is that there a very few people in a large area, if you factor in it’s the largest town in the county, you can see how vast and remote the area is.
Do crickets chirp?
I never appreciated that as I grew up. I loathed the sound of crickets chirping (do they chirp?) in the middle of the night, I hated going to friends houses/barns for parties because it took 20 minutes going down a dirt road in the middle of the dark. But most of all I hated that everyone knows everything about each others personal lives. What I didn’t realize until I left was what I learned and what I took for granted being a product of rural America.
Driving 20 minutes in the dark sober means falling asleep in a cornfield drunk surrounded by friends
I took for granted that those crickets chirping represent simplicity, calmness, and a fresh start in the morning. They’re a whole lot better than the repetitive sound of cabbies speeding around street corners slamming their car horns down at screaming drunk college students who don’t look both ways. I learned driving 20 minutes in the dark sober means falling asleep in a cornfield drunk surrounded by friends and waking up tomorrow ready for a safe drive home. That’s a whole lot better than pre-gaming in your apartment with friends before walking five minutes to the bar, getting blackout for no reason other than “no keys, no limits” (YOLO, am I right?), and waking up in a strangers bed unsure if you if you were kidnapped or not.
People knowing each other means that if you get into hard times there’s always someone who knows you deep down, will be there for you, and give you the benefit out the doubt because they’ve seen the good in you once before. There’s always someone who has seen everything about you unfold in front of their own eyes, knows the good and not so good details about your true story, and no matter who you become or what you do you’re still just you when you’re back in town. Having a small town childhood is having an even larger extended family for the rest of your life.
It brings us this calming sense of familiarity
I didn’t realized that it’s okay to be from a small town until I went to college and got to experience just how small we all are in such a large world, how crazy it all can be, and how fortunate those of us from small towns like Coldwater really are. We have a home unique to us, a place very few have entered, and even fewer have left. Our home isn’t fancy, it isn’t rich, and it’s got a whole slew of problems, but for each of us – no matter how adamantly we deny it – whenever we cruise down it’s back-roads or pull up to the four corners, it brings us this calming sense of familiarity. That no matter what, home is home and it’s going to stay that way. The lake will always be where you should be (why aren’t you right now?), Northwoods will always be where you get that good shit, and movies just aren’t as good unless you’ve pulled into Capri for a night.
All of us, no matter where we go, no matter who we become, we’ll always be from this small town in Michigan that whenever we say it’s name to an outsider we don’t wait for their habitual “where’s that?” response – we’ve already held our right hand up, the left pointing towards the base of our palm just above the wrist, and we begin to figure out how well they know the geography around our little slice of Southwest Michigan…
“You know Battle Creek? We’re about thirty minutes from there. No? How about Kalamazoo? It’s fouty-five minutes from there. No? How about Lansing? We’re not really close to them, about an hour, same as Fort Wayne. Say, you know Fort Wayne right? We’re right on the border of Indiana.”
Speaking of Fort Wayne, anyone down for a road trip to the good mall? Poor Lakeview Square… WTF happened to that place, #amiright?