Growing Up in Small Town America
Even after spending most of my adult life living in larger cities, working for a large multinational company, and traveling the world, one of the life experiences that best defines me and who I am as a person is having grown up in Small Town America. And by small, I mean small. As in an official population of 226 people. My graduating class at the local public school was made up of a whopping 38 people!
I grew up in rural Northwest Ohio, in one of the many small farming communities that dot the countryside. Most families there, including mine on both my paternal and maternal sides, have German roots and are members of the local Catholic church. I went to the same elementary and high school as my parents (and had some of the same teachers), my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and probably further back than that, considering my family tree in that area dates back to the mid-1800’s. My grandfather was the mayor of our village in the 1960’s (yes, the town is actually incorporated) and my father was the fire chief for the volunteer fire department for a number of years. It was pure Mayberry.
As is the case with many small towns, my hometown is built firmly on the foundation of a family-first, work hard, take-care-of-your-neighbor type of mentality. A place where everyone knows everyone and family roots run deep, with many families now in their seven or eight generation. A place where kids play in the park until dark almost every summer day. A place where, if something needed repair, you just fixed it yourself, or you called a friend that could help. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer adults from Generation X, Generation Y, and the Millennials are staying in these small towns, and fewer still are returning after leaving for college.
Even though I know that I will probably never live there again, I still occasionally find myself reminiscing about my childhood and hoping to find a special place like that to raise my own children. I can’t imagine myself growing up anywhere else. I am sure there are lots of similar towns across our beautiful country, but I have not found one that has quite the same unique mix of small size, friendly naivety, old-school blue-collar work ethic, and deep family traditions. The bar for my expectations of how and where my children grow up has been set pretty high.
Our daughter recently turned two, and the quality of schools and safety of neighborhoods is quickly becoming a hot topic for my wife and I. That is one of the big reasons that we chose to move on from Phoenix last year and settle our family in Denver. It was very difficult to leave behind so many wonderful friends, but we just felt like Colorado was a better fit for us and our family. Our hope is that we will be able to bring up our daughter in a town or neighborhood that leaves a similar impression on her when she is an adult.
Do you think Mayberry types of towns and neighborhoods still exist? Or has society changed so much that this type of childhood nirvana is just a pipe dream? Do you have fond memories of your childhood neighborhood? Would you want your kids to grow up in your childhood neighborhood? If not, why?
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