It was one of those coming of age moments for me where my worldview changed in an instant. The question was, "would you rather live in the city or the country when you're older," and my best friend --- the one I'd shared nearly 14 years of sleepovers, secrets, and giggles with since age 3 immediately answered, "CITY!" The answer was so clearly "country" that "Dueling Banjos" started playing in my head as soon as I'd heard the question. When I corrected her, her jaw dropped open a little, as expected, but, unexpectedly, it was out of sheer bewilderment at MY answer, not embarrassment for HER answer being completely wrong.
At the time, we both lived in the suburbs of Denver and now we both live in Cali. Okay, that's not completely true. She lives in San Francisco, Cali. and I live in Cowley, WY. We call ourselves the Country Mouse and the City Mouse.
I've always admired her jet-setting qualities and street smarts -- qualities I do not have. As adults, we once met up in Utah where she somehow talked me into taking an Uber. She swore it was a legitimate taxi-type service and showed me the, "Frederico is on his way to pick you up," message on her phone as if watching a stranger's vehicle inch closer to our location on a map would put my mind at ease. I spent the 13 minute car ride texting my contact list my whereabouts, scrawling out the Last Will and Testament of Anna Anderson on the back of a napkin with a crayon, tearing up over the fact that my last meal had been a Slim Jim and that the only asset listed on my will was the crayon, and praying to Heaven and the King of Rock (just in case) that'd we'd survive.
Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of city-life experience growing up in Littleton, Colorado. I once had a drunk, homeless man yell in my face, which is pretty much a city-dweller initiation, so...
I honestly enjoyed growing up near a city. We regularly visited museums, saw plays, shopped at places other than hour-away Wal-marts and ate at places other than Subway. I even had a Target within 2 miles of my house! Even so, something about country living enticed me.
I don't particularly like country music or camping or hunting or hiking or horseback riding or fishing or driving long distances, so what was it exactly that attracted me to the country? I think it stemmed from my childhood trips to Worland, Wyoming to visit my grandparents.
To me, Worland was like Disneyland. It had hay bales to climb, canals to get thrown into, fireworks that left the ground, horses that bolted off with you clinging to the saddle horn for dear life, dirt roads you could drive trucks down as a 12-year-old, Bobcat tractors with a hydraulic scoop to ride in, movies that'd been released months before in the theatre, exhilarating water parks in the endearingly stinky hot springs of Thermopolis, and the most fabulous milkshakes known to humankind at Yellowstone Drug in Shoshoni (may it rest in peace).
My grandpa's a veterinarian, so there were also adventures like, "who can stomach watching a horse castration longest (not me)," or, "who can pull the lamb out of the laboring...eww." I mean, ewe, and even, "who can find the cow embryo that's no larger than a thumbnail? Step right up. Oh. You may want to roll up your sleeves."
Even though I had visited Worland several times growing up, the shift from suburban to rural living was monumental. I don't think a person can fully grasp the shift without experiencing it firsthand, but I'll try my best to illustrate. If you are a city dweller, just close your eyes and try to imagine these scenarios. Wait. Don't really close your eyes. Keep reading.
Here we go:
1. Your 6-year-old son is asked to be a crown-bearer for the Junior Prom, which is a BIG DEAL. After all, the whole town shows up to Junior Prom to watch the promenade-- a ceremony of sorts in which each junior is presented by an announcer, the entire junior class performs a choreographed dance they've practiced for weeks, and royalty is announced and given crowns and flowers by darling children who are dressed to the nines. Afterwards, the audience leaves and the kids have their dance followed by an after party at the bowling alley. Only poodle skirts and root beer floats could make it more adorable.
Here's the problem. Your son has a black tux and brown dress shoes. If you'd noticed at least a week beforehand, you could have ordered new shoes from Amazon whose Prime 2-day delivery only takes 4 days to get to you. And by "you" I actually mean your neighbor because for some reason Amazon gets all snooty about your address saying it couldn't possibly exist even though you try to specify that your house is the green one near the Cunningham's. That one house where that family with all the kids used to live. The green house just a quarter mile up the road from where Jim spotted that rabid raccoon that one time.
When your attempt to borrow shoes falls flat, you jet to the only shoe store within 50 miles, Family Dollar. There, you find 6 pairs of flip-flops, 50 pairs of adult women slippers, Paw Patrol everything, and one pair of perfect black dress shoes, several sizes too large. Lowering your standards, you look again. No black Converse. No black Reeboks. No black Crocs. Nothing. Desperate, you look in the little girls' section and finally find black tennis shoes that could pass for boys if only they'd held off on the glitter. You show the Family Dollar employee the glittery shoes and explain your plight. He says, "Dude, these would look baller with a tux," and you believe him because you have to. In the car you rehearse your approach and then tell your son you found the absolute best Michael Jackson tux shoes in the world. Luckily for you, they do look baller with a tux.
2. You don't feel like cooking so you decide to eat out. Then, you remember where you live and make a bowl of cereal.
3. Your kid just had his 3rd grade choir concert. To celebrate, you go out for donuts and Dr. Pepper at the gas station.
4. You leave your keys and wallet in your unlocked truck because in the unlikely scenario that some out-of-towner steals it, he'll likely get pulled over in the next town for speeding anyways. And if a neighbor steals it, you know he'll bring it back when he's done.
5. You are itching for a family outing, so you flatten cardboard boxes, drive to the hills, and use the cardboard like sleds down a large rock. Locals call it "slide rock" to describe its surface rubbed smooth by the hundreds of cardboard mounted bottoms who've gone before.
6. You're dying to see the latest Star Wars movie (pre-coronavirus), so you check the theatre's showtimes. This can't be right. It just says 7:00 pm on Friday and 7:00 pm on Saturday. And, wait a second, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi? Am I in some alternate universe?
While the transition from city life to rural life is challenging, it's not without its benefits. I only get stuck in traffic if someone's moving cows or driving a giant tractor on the road. I admit that just today I was temporarily stalled on foot by a loose rooster approaching me, which was a bit unsettling, but I just, you know, picked up the pace. For the most part, it's idyllic. My kids ride bikes to the pool, the gym, school, the baseball field, and most of their classmates' homes.
You also can't pass by another human being here without receiving a friendly wave, two finger salute, or at the very least a nod or single *index finger flex, which can only mean, "why, hello there. You're looking well today. How's your family?" I've recently moved from a full wave to a finger flex myself, but sometimes mix it up with a nod. I'd just look like a total poser doing the two finger salute.
My husband is a full on waver. He got so used to waving at passersby, in fact, that he kept it up even when we took a trip to Denver. Turns out, a friendly wave is a surefire way to confuse and scare city people. I could almost hear them saying, "Oh my gosh, do you know that guy? I have never seen that guy in my life and he just waved at us. He must think we're someone else. He totally just waved at that other guy too! What is going on?! Is this a parade or something? Are we on T.V.? Do you think he needs help?"
What I find funny is that small towns are all my kids have ever known. One time we drove into Casper, Wyoming and my son audibly gasped thinking we'd reached Las Vegas. I'm pretty sure they think Spiderman actually swings from buildings in New York and that bank robberies happen on the daily in cities, too.
At any rate, I hope when they grow up they realize their right answer to where they'd most like to live, and it had better be next door to their mama.
*Please note the specification of "index finger" here. Lifting a different finger could change the message entirely. Wish I'd known this earlier.