Thursday, November 01, 2007

They All Come Back

Since NaBloPoMo recommends we go with a theme to sustain our month long marathon, I've decided to write about Midwestern life, more or less. Although that's not too terribly different from what i write about anyway, my theme will mostly be to make 30 lame justifications about why it's better to live here than somewhere people have actually heard of. Why Nowhere is better than Somewhere.

I was taking my supper break last night at the same time as our new phlebotomist, Brittany. Or maybe Brianna....something like that. Anyway, Brittany/Brianna and I were talking about how low paying her job is here, and I told her how much Robbie makes for the same job in Tucson.

She was amazed that we left Tucson to move back to the Midwest. She did that typical Midwestern double take and said, "Why would you want to come back here?" I told her I was homesick, and she was amazed.

After a while, I went back to Hematology and considered that, while I waded through the diffs on my bench.

Almost every Southern Illinois native I've ever known plans to grow up and escape. They see Southern Illinois as hopelessly backwater, and dream of life in the city. Their goal, as Tom's daughter Emily famously phrased it, is to "Get out of Hooterville." People seem to be vaguely embarrassed and apologetic for living here, like the only ones who stayed on were too lazy or too stupid to get away.

But then...we all come back. It doesn't take too many years of living in the city somewhere to make us homesick. Cities are expensive and loud, and city dwellers are much more competitive and unkind. People drive aggressively and thoughtlessly, because there are no repercussions. If you drive like an asshole here, 9 times out of 10 the person you cut off is one of your mom's church pals, or one of your coworkers, or the clerk at your pharmacy...and they'll recognize you, and remember that you acted like a jerk. It's a lot harder to be rude and bad mannered when there's no anonymity to hide behind, so people tend to be a little more polite. They'll take a personal check without a phone number, because they know your parents and recognize you. If you don't have enough money for the gas you just pumped, they'll tell you to stop by with it later. If your car breaks down, not only will someone stop and give you a ride, but he'll also come back with tools and fix it for you.

When you first leave Hooterville, it's exciting. Big cities have a lot of cool things to do. You can buy beer on Sunday. The same crappy job you had in Carbondale pays twice as much in Chicago. But then after a few years, you realize that it's not worth it. You stop going out to the cool places, and the extra money is more than offset by the extra expense of city life, and many of the former refugees get homesick and come back.

When anyone we know leaves here triumphantly proclaiming, "I'm so glad to glad to be getting out of here!", we old refugees smile and say to each other, "She'll be back. They all come back."

I was listening to a piece on NPR a while ago about Amish teens. When they're grown, they have the option of leaving the community and living a secular life in the larger society. They are also welcome to come back at any time if they choose. Most of them return. After they get their fill of all the cool things they've always dreamed about, they realize how much harder and less rewarding an anonymous life is. Consider Southern Illinois as an Amish community, but with power tools and without those funny hats.

So I believe Brittany/Brianna when she says she plans to take her Junior College education and hightail it to California some day. But I also won't be surprised when I see her back at her old job in a couple of years. There's nothing like spending a few years in a place where you could die and be eaten by your cats before anyone noticed you'd gone missing, to make you appreciate a boring small town life with it's nosy, gossipy neighbors, unnatural obsession with the weather, and many festivals named for agricultural products.

We all come back.


Suzanne said...

On the other hand, you forge your own small communities within the larger context of the city. It's not likely that you'll die in your bathroom if you accidentally lock yourself in while your partner is out of town. (Yes, this is a fear of mine.) Many of my friends have keys to my apartment and can come looking for me if I'm MIA for a little while. (First tip: no blog posts...)

Feral Mom said...

GAAAAH! That's not what this transplanted Midwesterner in L.A. needs to hear. I beg of you, if I don't post tomorrow, please call the cops! Glad y'all are NaBloPoMo-ing it, on a Midwestern theme, no less. Cool. I plan on coming back to die, at least.

Anonymous said...

i haven't lived in Southern Illinois for 31 years(did go to SIU for a couple of didn't go to class because i was too hung over from the strip the night before years)but when people ask where i am from i proudly say Southern Illinois. Even my kids say it and they were born here. it is like a nationality "are you italian?" " no I am from Southern Illinois" i will be back someday!

Kwach said...

And may I add that, although I'm a transplant, I've never been anywhere that felt so much like home. I lived the first 50 years of my life in Arizona and never felt any kind of attachment to it, but after a mere two years in Union County I'm a Southern Illinoisan for life.

As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the world's best kept secrets.

And PS, Anonymous ... what's keepin' ya???