Saturday, September 6, 2008

Our town, not hers

There were an excessive number of heartwarming references to the charms of small towns in the rhetoric of the Republican convention.  It made me wonder whether  there was not a subtle attempt to divide America into the murderous, evil life of urban America Democrats and, say the benign virtues of Sarah Palin's Wasilla, which, in character at least, was projected as the Biblical City on the Hill. Or perhaps St. Augustine's City of God (as opposed to the City of Man).  A reasonable assumption, I think,  inasmuch as reverence for such Alaskan hideaways trumped New York City, Chicago and even Akron, Oh.

It was, of course, baloney.  Particularly from Palin, who is hell-bent on moving to the big bad uncivilized city of Washington anyway. 

I think I am perfectly qualified to say this because I spent the first 18 years of my life growing up in a Western Pennsylvania town smaller than Wasilla, and folks, it wasn't  like what they want you to believe.  Yes, my town was the home of hard-working glassworkers and coal miners.  From my front porch, I watched the miners, their faces blackened with coal dust, trudge past each evening to salvage a few moments with their families before the next day's labors.   They had a shorter lifespan than the average, and those who did live longer always appeared to be 20 years older than you would assume. 

But there were other, less morally valued, aspects of the town -  a lot of them. It had its moments of belligerence and bawdiness.  Rowdies forever hung out in bars.  Fistfights outside of the bowling alley or the dance hall were common on Saturday nights as drunks entertained the rest of us.  The lone pool hall was the scene of nightly smoke-filled  garbage-mouth gambling. And the poker games usually turned up on Sunday afternoon with the players hunching around a makeshift slate table in my neighbor's front yard.  

Want more?  Several girls in the high school class  ahead of me  were kicked out of a summer camp for naughty sexual activities. And some students gleefully blew up condoms during the football pep rallies and batted them back and forth.

There were manly tussles in the lot next to my house. There was, for example, the ugly episode when a football landed beyond a wooden  fence and the unthinking neighbor decided to keep it. Two of my burly cousins bounded over the fence and would have at the very least maimed the poor fellow if some of us hadn't intervened to rescue him.   

Religious differences occasionally flared.  My best friend's girl friend was grounded by her father when he learned that she had attended my friend's Catholic church rather than her Catholic church.  My own family was noisily divided between between Rome and Constantinople. 

Mainly, the town made do, for better or worse. The volunteer firemen sponsored a annual  Halloween parade that was full of weird costumes that were hardly angelic. And the great trumpet player who blasted at half time of the football games wore a band uniform but was actually a  war veteran assumed to be a student.  And when a bully  came into my uncle's small restaurant and started annoying the customers, Uncle Dan, who once worked as a a guard at a mental institution,  didn't even issue a warning.  Instead he grabbed the big guy, dragged him outside  and threw him face down on the sidewalk.  .  

On this and a lot of other things, nobody asked a lot of silly questions about things that were worse.  

This is not to say that my town didn't have decent and generous people, too. (In fact, Sarah, I don't remember a single instance in which the mayor thought about banning books.)   But it is fair  to say that soapy references to small-town innocence project a myth.  And I do believe it is scurrilous  to suggest that the good life can only be attained when it is free of urban culture. Quite the opposite is true.   I happen to prefer living around museums,  concerts, libraries, first-rate medical attention and access to a campus.  Of course, I'm not running for president on the small-town nostalgia ticket.   



Anonymous said...

All I can say is BRAVO!!

Anonymous said...

Why do you think people like New Orleans and LasVegas so much? They can be themselves (sinners) and still pretend to be saints at home!

Laura said...

All these ideas about how small towns are still a holdout of morality and all things good are crap. There are just as many problems with small towns, and they're the big ones-like poor quality of education and lack of access to healthcare.