I grew up in a very small town in rural Alberta. I was two years old when we moved there at a time when it was still considered a village and the roads were all gravel. The new roads were all anyone could talk about when they actually started paving them.
I always felt trapped in this town and desperate to get out. From the stench of pig shit wafting down wind when the local pig farmer opened his barn, to the endless gossip from townsfolk about who was doing what (or who) because they had nothing interesting of their own to discuss, to the lack of any opportunity, education or careers it felt like I was stuck in a time warp. Everyone had their beaks in everyone else’s business and most of the time they were wrong about whatever bullshit they were gossiping or lying about. As a vegetarian (by my own choice) at the ripe old age of 5, you can imagine how popular I was with families in this farming community – especially when I would share with other kids where their hot dogs really came from. I hated the endless harassment about my diet and people trying to trick or force me to eat meat at their houses if I happened to be there for dinner or a birthday party. My childhood dream was to grow up, move away and never come back and it couldn’t happen fast enough.
I used to look back at this town by just never looking back, but over the years I have come to appreciate the gifts this tiny shit hole gave me. I am so fortunate to have been able to live in a place like this for so many reasons.
Friends: I still have friends from Kindergarten. For reals. I don’t know many adults now who can say the same.
Appreciation for privacy: As soon as I moved away and experienced not having everyone up in my b’inness, I felt like I hit the jackpot! What an amazing gift to actually have the boundaries of privacy!
Conviction: Because a little vegetarian kid in a farming community in the 1980s was so rare, I learned to stand up for what I believed in. There was nothing anyone could have done to make me waver on something that was so important to me even when it was not popular or supported by others. Had I grown up in a city with a more diverse culture and more than a handful of people, it would have been normal and I would have had to find some other way to experience the importance of standing in my truth.
Exposure to farms & animals: I can’t believe how many people have never visited a farm. The work that goes into farming is an enormous commitment and significantly time consuming. I think I have a deeper understanding and respect for where food comes from and how much it involves than I would have if I grew up in the city. Farm animals provide so much opportunity for responsibility and respect for animals.
Saying “hi” to people: In a city, this is can be considered a threat or a segue to someone robbing you or asking you to join an obscure religious type of cult. In a small town, this is completely normal. You know why? Because it is completely normal and genuine to acknowledge a fellow human. It’s normal to stop to help someone with a flat tire or help your neighbor. Small towns don’t always have the same complexities of violent criminals on the loose to contend with and people are generally more trusting. It’s endearing.
We did lots of cool things that our city friends didn’t experience, like learn about wildlife and how to shoot guns in outdoor education, and play outside without our parents worrying about our safety. Ukrainian was a second language choice at school and everyone had a Baba who made the best perogies ever. Sure, we couldn’t go shopping anywhere but the Saan store in the next town so we all had hideous clothes and hair, but it was the 80s so I guess that’s kind of par for the course.
Through living in both small towns and large cities, I have now found the perfect balance of a smaller city that has everything I need combined with people who stop to help each other. It’s big enough that nobody knows your business but small enough that if you’re a dick, it’s newsworthy. There’s a lot of love and support in this place and while I would never move back to a town as small as the one I grew up in, I am grateful for the love and perspective I gained living there. And also for all the perogies, because they’re freaking delicious.