Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Country Mouse turned into a City Mouse

Editor's Note:  We liked frequent commenter J-Lo's input so much, we asked her if she'd be interested in writing a guest column for us to post on the front page.  One of the ultimate goals of Rural Republic is to allow an open forum for anyone to post their thoughts, ideas, problems, and solutions on just about any topic.  If you think you'd like to try your hand at writing and join in the conversation, comments are a good start.  If we're not talking about anything that interests you, talk about what does interest you in the Open Threads.  And if you want to submit an essay for front page consideration, feel free to email us at ruralrepublic(dot)us(at)gmail(dot)com.  Thanks for the outstanding and thought-provoking article, J-Lo!

I watched The Devil Wears Prada last night. I really like that movie. I’ve seen it a few times. It would definitely be the epitome of what I would consider the opposite of rural life to the extreme. The part of that movie which I can really relate to is when Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, transforms from a serious, wide-eyed and innocent journalist to a quick-witted and harsh "fashionista". She is so seduced by the fashion world, that she temporarily looses her roots. When I moved to the city, over ten years ago, I remember feeling so insecure and then I quickly latched on to confident, somewhat overbearing city women trying to fit in. Several years went by and I soberly took a look at the life and friendships I had and determined that I truly didn’t really care for much, if any, of it. I remember a previous work mentor, who I was trying to emulate at the time, would always tell me to “fake it until you make it”. I soon realized that I was just being a fake. I didn’t like it. Which got me thinking about something that has been on my mind a lot lately: what separates city slickers from us farm kids? I don’t want to villainize the city, but there is a huge distinction. Hollywood likes to play off farm kids as ignorant, innocent and extremely simple-minded. While that perception doesn’t surprise me, it does usually insult me, as it should.

When pondering about writing this, I found it almost humorous that I grew up 6 miles more rural than the creator of this blog, but have no practical knowledge about farming. Maybe it’s because my mom was a city slicker transplanted into rural Colorado when she married my dad, but there are just certain boasting points that a country girl like me should have that I don’t. I can’t explain why, but I sometimes feel like a fake or a traitor when I try to describe myself as a product of a good, rural upbringing. For instance, I pretty well understand the price of crops/livestock and how that affects my family. However, if you asked me how many head of cattle my dad has, I would respond with, “Ask my husband, he knows.” Or, when other farm kids talk farm talk, I’ll admit that I get a little lost (okay a LOT lost). I know the terms bushel and acre, but if you asked me to describe them, you’d get a generic textbook answer. I don’t know how to drive a tractor. I don’t like to shoot guns. I was never in 4-H or FFA. And, probably the most scandalous, in my husband’s opinion, I like my steak cooked medium well. That’s not a typo…too much pink and I don’t touch it. Even more ironic, if you look at my step-sister, she could definitely be the poster girl for what a farm girl should be. She didn’t move to the farm until she was 8. She lived 10 years on the farm before going off to college and you guessed it: she can shoot (scarily well), she enjoyed being in FFA, she probably knows how to drive a tractor and I’m pretty sure she’d be happy eating a steak just shy of it mooing.

The next natural step for me to validate my rural member card is to think of my upbringing. That’s when it hit me: Being rural is such a deep-rooted, proud, unexplainable feeling that I can’t imagine describing myself as anything different. It is as much of who I am as is my faith in God. I may not be FFA’s poster girl for being the perfect farmer’s daughter, but I can reassure you that some of my most vivid and fond memories of growing up probably do remove me from city slicker status. For instance, I remember curling up into a ball behind the seat in my dad’s tractor to take a nap while he was driving during planting season. I’ve stepped on a rattlesnake and didn’t freak out. I loved playing with my cousins on a regular basis. I remember opening and shutting the chutes on an irrigation pipe in the field by my house all summer long and then being surprised when, at the end of the summer of doing it faithfully, my dad handed me $20. I just thought I had to do it, I never expected to get paid to do it. I’ve been shocked multiple times by my brother with a hot shot. And, you can take all those expensive, real-life playhouses that kids play in now (yes, even my kids have one of those plastic mini-houses), but in my mind the perfect playhouse growing up was an old hog pen in my grandma’s yard. Yup, being a farm girl is so deeply rooted in me that I feel sorry for those city slickers who missed out on those good times.

Which brings me to my original question: what separates city slickers from us farm kids? I’ve been a resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana for over ten years now. Fort Wayne’s population is approximately 256,000. I am a farm kid in the city. Sigh. I have since found a good niche in this city and am surrounded with great friends, many who have lived their entire lives in the city.

Here are some of my observations to distinguish the difference in my way of life now versus when I was growing up. The funniest thing that most farm kids who move to the city will tell you is that we all go through a temporary period of ‘wave-a-lot-itis’. It drove my husband nuts when we moved here because I would (completely out of habit) attempt to wave ‘hi’ to all the oncoming cars that met me on the road. I got weird looks, awkward stares, and probably even a few choice words and some hand gestures. Probably for the pure practicality of it, it never occurs to a city person to wave to an on-coming car, unless it is someone they know from church or work.

Rural people are often portrayed as being easily manipulated. That just has never been my experience. I probably am very gullible, and do like to be overly courteous to others (it’s how I was raised), but I also notice that while I may believe someone telling me that they climbed Mt. Everest, I am usually the first to see when someone is not genuine in how they are responding to others. I may be polite, but I don’t like to feed others egos if I feel they are out of line.

Sometimes, I stick my foot in my mouth. Country people are often looked as being too honest (is there such a thing?). I think that goes back to in a rural setting, there are few secrets. Everyone knows everyone’s business. It does not benefit anyone in a rural town to lie or spin a story to one’s benefit. It almost always is exposed. Sometimes, we just short circuit and tell you too much information. There are definitely honest and open city people, but there is a difference.

The biggest and most noticeable difference is the pace of life. Country people are more in tune to nature. There are physical reminders all around you that things are always changing, but in that change are constant cycles. Summer always changes into fall, fall to winter, winter to spring, and spring to summer. Why the attempt to rush it? This change of pace was the hardest change for me, but quite inevitably the fastest change I had to go through. If you walk with runners, you’ll get knocked down. I relish in the brief moments of quietness. It was something I never noticed growing up, but always treasure now.

I wonder what fabric of our DNA gave us the ability to be as resourceful as Red Green, as honorable and patriotic as John Wayne, and as ornery as the Dukes of Hazard. Whatever it is, I’m very proud and humbled that I was privileged enough to experience that. Upon writing this, it occurred to me that I am raising a generation of city kids. I wonder how much of my country upbringing carries over to the next generation. I’ll have to save that entire topic for a different blog.


  1. I haven't thought about that hog shed in such a long time! It's funny: I think I would probably tell my own kids to stay away from something like that because it was a tetanus shot waiting to happen, plus who knows what kind of nasty stuff was in the dirt around and under it, but it was more fun than one of those giant foam-rubber mall play areas.

    Nice job on your post. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Great writing! I enjoyed reading this with my cup of coffee in the quiet of a country morning. There was a time I did not think our sons would want to return to small town life. Now I know that I was wrong. You just can't take the country out of the boy (or the girl for that matter). It is a good place to be and a great place to raise a family. Keep up the good work writing.

  3. Great article, Jamee! I think running through a field sprinkler for fun certainly makes you rural!

  4. Thanks, everyone! I had fun writing it. Jon may have created a monster. Ha! I love the points about tetanus shot waiting to happen and that you can't take the country out of the (girl)! Elizabeth, you can most definitely consider yourself rural. Holyoke has only 2,000 people. Town people are rural people there.

  5. Oh yeah...and I was surprised that Jon was the only one (he did so via email) that gave me grief for preferring my steak medium well.

  6. I still have a horrible case of 'wave-a-lot-itis' that I still catch some grief over from some of my city cousins. Great piece, looking forward to more but we're gonna have to work on how you eat your steaks!