September 24, 2013

Small Town Living

Small town life can be wonderful.  It should be community...people caring about their neighbour...meeting friends at the local fair or the grocery store.  For people who have grown up in a small town, that is what it is.  However, there is another segment of the population that lives in most small towns.  Some of us choose to leave the clutches of the big cities and move to small towns in anticipation of being part of a community, of raising our families in a clean, wholesome environment. 

We did just that.  My husband left the city and has lived in our small-town area since the mid 80’s and when we met in the mid 90’s and decided to move in together, I too made the decision to leave the city, sell my house, quit my job and all my volunteer work and move here where I had no immediate job prospects, no friends, and no volunteer work.  I met my neighbours, enjoying saying hello or sharing the occasional beer across the fence.  I got involved with volunteering in my community, canvassing for Heart and Stroke, as well as the Cancer Society.  I volunteered with other organizations as well.  And, of course, I started sending my resume around.  A visit to the local EI office gave the sad news that I could expect to earn about half of what I’d earned in the city.  Wow!  That was a shock, but cost of living is a little more reasonable up here.  Besides, I had a husband to share expenses with anyway. 

It only took 14 months to find my first job and a year and a bit later that company relocated to...yes, the city!  I once asked that boss how it was that I got the job and not his wife’s cousin’s friend’s neighbour.  He told me that it was because he was in desperate straits since his prior assistant had left with almost no notice and he really needed someone who could hit the ground running.  Since then I’ve had a couple of short term contract jobs, but mostly it’s an exercise in futility looking for work.  I have top-notch skills that are very transferable.  When I left my last position in the city (to move here), my boss offered a promotion, my own office, and more money to keep me.  The problem is that the same ‘community’ I’m so willing to embrace, doesn’t feel the same way about me.  When an interview (and there have been precious few of them) starts out, “Are you related to...” it’s pretty much guaranteed the job will go to some underqualified relative or friend of a relative of someone who works at the company.  Someone who will take two years to learn a job I already know.  Nepotism.  Companies don’t really want to hire the most qualified person, they want to hire their favourite relative or favourite employee’s relative.  Not only that, but a company in one town won’t necessarily hire someone from another town...especially when someone from their own town might need a job. 

Despite that, we’ve made friends.  Not surprisingly, these friends are mostly outsiders like ourselves.  They come from cities originally too.  While the neighbours are friendly, we can never be true ‘friends’ because my husband and I will always be those folks from the city that bought the old Smith place.  People in small towns are complacent.  They couldn’t be bothered expending the effort to actually get to know a newcomer.  Why should they?  They’ve known their friends since they were in diapers.  Perhaps they never actually learned how to make friends with a stranger.  And I’m pretty sure nobody would plan a benefit dance to help us out of any financial jam.  I volunteer in my community and participate in community events, but I know from experience that if I miss a meeting or two, there won’t be a phone call or someone dropping by to check on me.  

Our son was born here.  Maybe that will give him an "in" as he gets older.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps he will be...tainted, as it having parents who are not from here.  After all, small town means small minds a lot of the time and he will ever be the son of "those people who bought the old Smith place".  On the other hand, this apartness (yes, I made up that word) may be what allows him to eventually leave this place and spread his wings in the big wide world.  I've seen so many young people around here who have no ambition to leave and in many other cases, those who go off to university or college only to return afterwards.  Time will tell.  

So while we are part of the community, we are not of the community.  Sadly, after more than a dozen years of living here personally, I fear that this will still be the case when I mark my 25th, 40th, or even 50th year of living here.