There’s No Place Like Home in the Big City (A Suburban, Country Girl’s Journey)
I was not conditioned to love the city. I spent the first 11 years of my life in the suburbs, going to the neighborhood pool in the summer, sharing ownership of a lemonade stand, and organizing a street hockey club with some neighbor kids (it lasted one day).
The latter part of my life was spent in the country. It was quiet and green, with a long driveway. In the summertime, when the trees were filled out, you couldn’t see the road from the front porch—the front porch where you’d have your coffee in the morning and only hear the sound of the birds.
Why then, did the city get into my veins? How did I come to love the chaos and noise? The convenience over space? When my childhood and young adult world was homogeneous culture and relaxed Sunday evenings with friends who looked like me, why did I crave the tension caused by diversity of minds and spirits?
I’ve been wondering this for a while: Why I deviated from the path followed by so many of my peers and family members. The height of achievement in the small Alabama town where I grew up was a house and a yard. A dog and porch swing and a little garden. Maybe a picket fence so the kids could wander in the grass full of dandelions without stumbling into the street.
Yet here I am, in an apartment building next to a bus stop. I can walk to just about anything I need. I can take the bus to the beach for $1.25 and 20 minutes of time. I have a fan running almost constantly, just to drown out some of the traffic sounds. My apartment is tiny, but it only bothers me when I have visitors. I wish I could offer them a guest room, but so long as I stay in the city, it’s likely I’ll never have one.
I don’t know why I fell in love with the city when I wasn’t raised to love the city. I used to listen to country songs that longed for an escape from the “concrete jungle” and a return to Mayberry. The city was a place you visited, not a place you lived.
I suppose I’m asking the nature vs. nurture question. I’m inclined to say city life was part of my nature and a few elements in my upbringing nurtured this pre-ordained proclivity. I do not think I would have been happy if I’d never left the burbs. I would have always wondered what else was out there. It wasn’t a penchant for discontent, but rather a bent towards a certain lifestyle a small town and suburbandom couldn’t deliver.
I didn’t know I’d love the city until I lived in a city. I wonder if someday I’ll end up in place like the one where I grew up. That world has become almost foreign, but I can think of a few things in my upbringing that might have contributed to finding a home in the city.
I was a half middle, half firstborn child (this is common of secondborns who are the opposite gender of the firstborn child). My birth placement made me generally adaptable. I was one of seven children, so I am comfortable with chaos. Actually, I’m uncomfortable if things are too organized, too predictable.
In my late teens and early twenties, I remember a regular boredom and aimlessness. After going to the same restaurants and seeing the same people, over and over, I began to wonder what else was out there. I’d outgrown my small town and wanted to experience new things and meet new people, and an occasional vacation or mission trip was not enough.
My first adjustment to living in a world outside the one I’d always known was in Mexico. While it wasn’t easy, moving to a foreign country made all the other moves a little less climactic. If I could move to Mexico, I could move anywhere.
And I never once missed Alabama.
That still doesn’t explain fully why I fell in love with city living. I know many people who’ve had similar experiences and couldn’t wait to return to suburban life. I’ve known people who grew up in the city and couldn’t wait to escape. I’ve known people who’ve never left small-town world and are perfectly content to remain there until they see their grandkids grow up.
When I return to the town where I grew up, I am acutely aware of the space—the space in homes. In the yard. In the grocery story. On the street while I’m driving. I’m aware of the cleanliness associated with a smaller population, the lack of trash on the road, and a general lack of grime.
But then I miss the grunge of my city and long to go home to my tiny apartment, my raucous traffic, my unruly and chaotic world of exotic individuals from across the globe, who intersect daily in coffee shops and bars. I never yearn after the quietness of the country or the warmth of the burbs.
I love the never-ending access to people with stories of places and experiences so very different from my own. I love that no one human being is exactly the same or desires the same exact thing. I love knowing there are people in the world who can rock the suburban life or who can shuffle to the small-town ditty. I love knowing there are people who are forever countryfied.
I love living in a world full of different lifestyles and leanings. I love that we’re all different.
What a wonderful world it is.