Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Snapshot Of Rural America

Rod Dreher points to this Chad Oldfeather post about Oldfeather's Minnesota hometown.  Much of the post reminds me of my North Dakota hometown and what I have found on recent visits back.
A place where I walked into a store over twenty years after I had left and conversed with the cashier like I’d been there the week before and would undoubtedly be back sometime soon. Folks generally don’t greet one another with a handshake where I am from, and I think that’s because handshakes are for people who enter and leave your life rather than for those who are part of the community and therefore always around.

The people of this community – my people – are by many measures deeply conservative. A lot of what I took from growing up is that you work hard and you don’t complain and you say the Pledge of Allegiance and mean it and you go to church and mean it. But I also learned that education is important. (To refer to it as public education would, in this context, be redundant.) And that while you don’t ever want to be seen looking for a handout, if you see that somebody’s car is stuck in the snow you stop and help push them out. . . .

I write this from a distance, with all the advantages and disadvantages that confers. . . .         [M]y direct experiences as a resident featured me as an insecure, self-absorbed, and generally disagreeable teenager. But even accounting for the distorting effects of my perspective, it is clear that the people . . . .have cared about their community. They kept their houses up. They paid enough in taxes to have nicely paved streets with curbs and gutters and sidewalks, and to build what in retrospect was undoubtedly more water tower than they needed when the old one started leaking. They funded a school system that punched well above its weight in terms of fancy degrees earned by its graduates, even though getting fancy degrees was not the point, and even though that good school led to opportunities for their kids that were almost always somewhere else. . . .
The lone remaining grocery store has been through a couple periods of municipal ownership to keep it going. (Some might call that socialism. I think the folks back home would call it doing what needs to be done.). . . .
Too often, in the circles I now tend to find myself in, I am part of conversations in which I hear a casual disdain for rural people. I find the prejudice inherent in these comments every bit as misguided as the prejudices the speakers seem to imagine all rural people harbor. No doubt there are small places where many or even most – it is never all – of the people hold views that we should rightly condemn. But I can assure you they are not all that way, and I am skeptical of the suggestion that there are even all that many that are that way.
I don't want to wax too idyllic about small town America.  Like Dreher, I understand that Mayberry never was real:
It won’t do to replace one flawed vision with another. This is one reason I find Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon stories so interesting is that he manages to write with affection about the people in his fictional small town without sentimentalizing them (well, without overly sentimentalizing them), or ignoring their flaws and foibles. I find that people who denounce the “Mayberry” view of small towns (charming, folksy, etc.) tend to do so with some sort of agenda. Of course Mayberry is a lie! But who actually believes in Mayberry? Nobody who actually lives in a small town, unless they’re some sort of kook.
Even with that caveat, small towns seem to give more than they demand of their expatriates.

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