Thursday, June 21, 2012

Small Town Life

“I’m from a small town, too,” one of my coworkers in Nashville once claimed. He then went on to describe his hometown, which, even though I was not from Tennessee, I had heard of.

                “What’s the population there?” I asked him.

“Not even twenty thousand,” he answered with shame, as if he had just admitted to French kissing his cousin.

“My hometown has a population of twenty-five hundred,” I told him, as if to say, I’m sorry that you kissed your cousin but I’ve made out with my dog, so who’s worse now?

“You mean twenty-five thousand?” He wasn’t just going to concede his hilly-billy small town-ness to this out-of-state girl, but I couldn’t lie.

“No. Two thousand five hundred.” And then I added as a concession to make him feel better, “Actually it was twin cities and each of them had about the same population, so closer to five thousand, I guess.” (A.K.A. “I’ll bet your cousin was at least a good kisser, so there’s that.”)

Growing up in a small community, bordered on all sides by farms and not other suburbs, definitely gives you some different experiences than what “city kids” may have had growing up. Although I was considered a city kid myself, living right in town by the middle school and high school, even though there were still fields of corn and strawberries directly across the street from my house.

But we did not have the city activities that others had, whether that was visiting museums or sidestepping gangs at the park. Except for an escaped elephant and a murderous police officer, not much really happened in our town.

Yet, what did pass for excitement there was just as interesting as gazing at any Rembrandt or Renoir. I’ve gotten to see what happens when a cow wanders through a hole in the fence and is struck by a car (it falls down with its feet in the air and its muscles shake involuntarily as it expires). I’ve seen chickens beheaded and then flop around for a time afterward. (Dancing dead chickens is not something farmers make a practice of creating, because it dirties the chicken and gets the blood all over, but if you’ve got a guest, you have to give her a good show.) I’ve even seen things that do not involve the deaths of farm animals. Such as taking freshly butchered meat down to the basement of the farm house and grinding your own hamburger patties. I also have stories about farms that don’t involve dead animals.

Once, when I was quite young, I was running up a gravel driveway to the pig barn where my great uncle said they had a pig that was about ready to have babies. I tripped on the gravel and fell and bloodied my knee. As I sat there weeping and waiting for one of the adults to catch up to me, I noticed that in the grass beside me was a tiny newborn pig. This is how I learned that piglets can walk immediately after they’re born. We found one more outside the barn with its umbilical cord still attached, but the rest were sliding and slipping around the mama pig, searching for an open teat.

I’m taking the kids back to my hometown this weekend and to the family farm I visited when I was a kid. A cat there recently had kittens and my kids are eager to search for the newborns in the barn. Some consider where we live now to be the “countryside,” but I like to take them into the real countryside, where there’s not a business for miles and no Wi-Fi either. They will have their own farm-animal stories to someday tell their kids. Or to strangers on a blog.

(P.S. I’ve never owned a dog. Just so we’re clear.)

 A view of the back field and pasture on the farm.

 One of the kitties from last year.

One of the kitties from many years ago.

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