This weekend marked the anniversary of our nation’s decision to initiate our independence.
During the celebrations with fireworks and bar-b-ques, family gatherings with apple pie, flags, parades, and gratitude, I really want to live in a small town.
And I do, sort of.
Many here in St. Louis will roll their eyes at me and gripe that at nearly 3MM people, St. Louis isn’t “small.” But that population number includes all the little municipalities surrounding the city, including Webster Groves where we live for another 28 days.
Yesterday, hub and I took the peanut to the Webster Groves Independence Day parade. Nama and Papa came too. It was every bit of a July day in St. Louis (think swamp but with sunburn and without gators). We found a scrap of shade on the main street and camped out to watch the scene.
The floats were mostly amateur. Many of the signs were hand-written by someone who had never taken art. Politicians dominated the line up (annoying), Planned Parenthood (5 people) and Pro-Life (50 people) marched for their causes. There were beauty queens and politically-correct queens. There were football teams, cheerleaders, clowns, cops, firefighters and military. It was all very conservative and small town.
I loved it.
Watching my daughter ‘Oooh’ and ‘Aaaah’ over the bubble bus and the big trucks and the nice people tossing candy just about choked me up.
This is why we decided to move out of a big city in the first place. Family was the primal pull, but giving the bub access and exposure to simple joys like home-town parades, neighborhood aquatic centers, and a yard were paramount in our decision.
One woman I met at the gym summarized it perfectly. She said that not long after she and her boys had moved from Chicago to St. Louis they had walked by a man outside a shop who smiled at them. She returned his smile. Her boys were VERY alarmed asking, “Do you know him, Mom?” She explained that no, she didn’t know him. But that when someone smiles at you, it is polite to smile back.
They were dumbstruck by this revelation. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
At the opposite end of the spectrum of living in a small town is the risk of “otherness.”
During a client meeting here in St. Louis, we were marveling at how all of us lived in Webster Groves. My colleague, however, singled me out by saying, “Yeah, but you just rent.”
It would never have occured to me to categorize someone that way or to judge them so baldly for it.
People have many ways to say, “You are not like us. We don’t know what to do with you.” We’ve experience quite a few in our short stay from strangers, frenemies and even family.
I love the line in “My Cousin Vinny” where Pesci tells his girlfriend she ‘sticks out like a sore thumb.’ In her hilarious Jersey accent, Marisa Tomei retorts sarcastically, “Oh, yeah. You blend.”
Growing up here, I felt like a sore thumb most of the time. There was a certain expectation of conformity that I both craved and rejected desperately. Rejection won.
In big cities, the population is rife with “others”.
The first time I moved away from St. Louis, I was pretty certain that escape was necessary for survival. This time, however, we were so fortunate to find some “others” who were transplants by marriage, ‘misfits’ by profession or creed, or simply cosmopolitan spirits who don’t give a damn where we went to high-school.
In the end, it was an economic decision to pick the big city over the small one. We believe in reading what the universe writes out for us and in taking the next step when it is revealed. For our family, for now, we belong back in Chicago.
And to the friends whose welcome has made us feel cherished and valued, I am reminded of the closing lines from “The Prince of Tides”:
“Admit it. You just love [them] more.”
“Not more, [my friends]. Just longer.”