Friday, 4 November 2016

Small Towns, Small Minds--Lessons Learned Growing Up in Rural Saskatchewan


I have lived a number of places in my life. I grew up in the farming community of Nowheresville, Saskatchewan. Like many, I left that small town and moved to 'the city' where I went to University. After that, I traveled around a bit and lived in a few places varying in population from 7000 to 2 million until I returned to Saskatoon with my husband to start a family. We've been here for 10 years now, and I'm proud call home it home and thrilled to be raising my family here. I have nothing to but the winters to complain about, but one thing is clear to me after years of living here and there...This whole small towns-small minds thing?...It's a load of crap.

During the first number of years when we were back here in Saskatoon, of course we were eager to establish a network of friends. We met lots of people, dabbled in different hobbies and friendships and capitalized on lots of the opportunities living in this city affords us. There was lots of flux and change and new experiences during this time until we had our three children and life “slowed down” a little. After that, some friendships came and went while others stuck and stayed and became a lifeline—people we hope to know and love forever. But I have to be honest, when I reflect on the circle of people I have accumulated in the big city of Saskatoon... I have never been part of a more homogeneous group. I am saying nothing bad of these wonderful friends of mine, but we do all come from the same income bracket (-ish), we live in the same type of neighborhoods, we come from similar backgrounds, and, I would even go as far as to say, we share to same values. Perhaps it is natural that things have played out this way, but I guess the irony of the whole situation strikes me. Here I am settled in metropolis of Saskatoon—by all counts a very diverse community where I brush shoulders every single day with different people of varying races, religions, values, incomes, backgrounds—yet I maintain a more singular circle of people than I ever did in Nowheresville!

Diversity is here in Saskatoon--there's no doubt about that. It's right at our fingertips everyday in this city, but the reality is that the people inside our house that share our lives with our family would all fit pretty nicely into any type of box you'd like to put us into. Living in the city, I think many of us take comfort, not only in surrounding ourselves with like-minded (I've always hated that term) people, but also in anonymity. I certainly do. We value closing our doors at night to what is going on in our community—living in our own bubble, as they say. You know, I used to have this neighbour here in Saskatoon who was a loony as a one dollar coin. She was opinionated, rude, and occasionally a bit nasty to my kids so I as much as I could I avoided her. If she was out front when I pulled up with the van, I took my time parking or rushed the kids into the house and closed the door. It was just easier to pre-empt any unpleasantness that any encounter might bring.

All of this is markedly different than my experience growing up in Nowheresville. There was no 'closing the door.' There we truly lived in community. We all went to the same church, we played on the same hockey teams, we bumped carts at the grocery store, we stole back and forth to each others' houses freely. For better or worse, we built community together. We lived side by side in a way that is different from 'the city.' Rich or poor, culture by culture, different values by different values, we made it work. We didn't have the comfort of 'closing the door' because these people were inside our homes sharing our lives with our family every single day. There was no escape short of being a hermit. We didn't have the luxury of falling out of friendship with another because we knew it would be SO awkward when you had to see that person face-to-face at the hockey rink for the next 10 years. You knew Suzie and Sammy Gossip and kept your mouth shut when your were with them, but you forgave them for the tireless efforts they made for local charities. If experiences like that don't make an open mind, I don't know what does.

I say this because I don't think the size our mind is in any way directly proportional to the size of our town. There are small minds wherever you go, and, believe me when I say Nowheresville has a special way of forcing a small mind wide open! Here's the thing, I don't come from Nowheresville, SK where minds are small and diversity is a nuisance. That place doesn't exist. I come from Macklin, Saskatchewan. And in Macklin Saskatchewan when you have a loony neighbour that's crochety and opinionated, maybe you know that she had a daughter that died at the age of two. Or you forgive her when she's been a bit crappy to your kids because you suspect it's been difficult for her coming from a long line of abusive alcoholics. Maybe you end up sitting next to her at the church social and find you have a few things in common after all. Maybe you see first hand how her fortuitousness serves the community well. In Macklin, you learn about her, from her, and she opens your mind.

In Saskatoon, I just closed the door.

For all the fabulous people who make Macklin, SK a fantastic place to grow up...