Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Famous in a Small Town

Sometimes I marvel at my love of cities. It's unlikely given that I grew up in the middle of nowhere. Although we lived in "town", I grew up in a town of around 400 people an hour from the nearest mall. To this day my hometown doesn't have cell phone service (or at least it didn't about a year and a half ago during my last visit). Even as a kid I knew that I wouldn't stay in that town when I grew up, and perhaps my love of cities grew from my rebellion against a small town. On the other hand my small town had many of the attributes I love about large cities in an improbable way.

Last weekend we went home to West Virginia to see my family. My parents moved from my hometown of Hundred to the bustling metropolis of Morgantown almost 9 years ago. I rarely visit Hundred, and that's okay with me. I lived in Morgantown for six years in college and law school, and I love it there. I'm happy that it's my pseudo hometown. 

My husband, sister, niece and I went to see country music superstar Brad Paisley at the WVU Coliseum. This isn't the first time I've seen him perform; we've also seen him in Auburn Hills, MI and Grand Rapids. He's one of my favorite performers, and he's a fellow West Virginian. While the shows in Michigan were great, there was something about Brad Paisley playing in his home state that elevated this show. I thought about him growing up in tiny Glen Dale, West Virginia, a town of just over 1,500 people (about 40 miles from Hundred). Was he always ambitious? Would he have become a superstar if he was from a larger place? Does being from a small place make an ambitious person inherently more so? Does one have to try harder and push more than someone from a place with more opportunities? Is being from a small town a hindrance or a help?

With my niece and sister at the concert
I think about my high school experience. I hear lots of people say they hate high school and would never go back. I thought high school was pretty awesome. I was popular. I dated cute boys. I was involved in every club under the sun and two out of the three sports offered for girls at the time. This is a huge benefit of a small town and school: one can be involved in everything. I felt like I could conquer the world, and I knew that would ultimately mean leaving Hundred behind without looking back. I did that, and I've never regretted it.

My senior yearbook photo and list of activities. 
In my senior memory book there was a page to discuss what you wanted your future life to look like. I ambitiously wanted two homes near Washington, DC, a six figure salary and a BMW. Aim high, right? While that isn't exactly what my life looks like 19 (gulp) years later, I'm still pretty ambitious. And my desire to leave that small town in the dust also had me looking for the biggest and most vibrant cities to love. My disdain for the smallness that is Hundred helped me love huge, bustling cities.

Straight from my senior memory book.
At the same time there are attributes about Hundred that contributed to my love for cities. We lived in "downtown" Hundred, and even from a small age we walked or biked everywhere. My brother and I could go to the store, the community pool or to our friends' houses on foot or on our bikes without supervision. My parents house fronted the street with an alley in the back - a great design. On a small scale, Hundred was designed like all of the cities I admire.

I love the 2002 movie Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon. If you haven't seen it, Reese plays Melanie, a girl from Alabama who leaves her small town behind as she makes it as a fashion designer in New York City. In one scene Reese drunkenly yells to her hometown friends in the bar, "How do y'all live like this?" I'll be honest - that's how I feel when I go to my hometown. I love that it was a safe, quiet place to grow up, and it is a huge part of who I am. But I needed bigger, louder and busier, and that small town just wasn't going to cut it.

When I fell in love with Washington, DC at age 16, I never imagined my professional life would be dedicated to cities. I never imagined that a significant part of my personal life would include traveling to cities for running and vacation. When I think back to growing up in Hundred my thoughts are nostalgic. I've always known I'd need more than a tiny town in northern West Virginia. But as Jake says in Sweet Home Alabama: "Who says you can't have roots and wings?"     

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