Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers. Here’s this week’s! It’s really directed primarily at my newspaper audience: those who live in the smaller towns all over southeastern Ontario. If you happen to live in a big city, forgive me! But here’s my ode to small towns:
When I first moved to my “smaller” town I was pretty stupid. I didn’t understand certain basic facts of small town life, such as that barbecuing is mandatory, hunting is not considered barbaric, and grocery shopping is for socializing, not just for shopping. In fact, my first grocery shopping experience here was rather traumatic. As I emptied my cart contents onto the conveyor, the checkout woman started talking. I glanced nervously around to see to whom this conversation was directed, but when I verified that I was alone, I naturally assumed that she was off of her medication.
In all my years living in Toronto, no one had ever spoken to me in line at a store. In fact, we had lectures in high school on how to avoid making eye contact with anyone so as to prevent unpleasant situations, such as people starting up a spontaneous conversation about the weather.
I have thankfully assimilated to my foreign environment, and now I’m the one to chat up people in grocery stores, commenting on various soya sauce brands, the exorbitant price of red peppers, and of course complaining about the latest snowfall. I love my small town life.
Why do we assume that it’s life in Toronto that is civilized? Personally, if I were down on my luck, I’d much rather live here where you can turn to a neighbour than live there where you have to double bolt your door. Southeastern Ontario, where we live, is considered the most self-reliant area of the country, even ahead of Alberta. We’re hardy folk, and we can withstand most anything, as long as you leave us alone to do what we do best. And even though I’m a recent transplant, I still love saying “we” when it comes to this part of the country, because I feel more at home here than I ever did anywhere else.
After all, what’s so great about the big city? It may have a greater variety of restaurants, but it takes forever to get to them and then you have to fight for parking. Your friends live at least fifty minutes away by public transit. Commuting is a hassle. Grocery shopping is a hassle. And nobody ever, ever talks to you.
Unfortunately, young people don’t always see the appeal of living in a small town. They’re lured by the restaurants and night life and culture of the city. What they don’t realize is that it’s hard to drive a mini-van to hockey practices when you live in a highrise. It’s hard to be essentially Canadian when your life is reduced to a few stops on the Yonge subway line. The big world isn’t in Toronto; it’s out here.
I went to school with teens who had never seen cows. Few of my classmates drove, even in our senior year of high school, because their parents didn’t own cars. It was too cumbersome downtown. They knew everything about the city, and nothing about constellations, or flowers, or fresh-picked corn. They didn’t make snowmen because there were no yards. We didn’t ride bikes. Our lives were reduced to metal playgrounds and after school specials on TV.
The biggest horizons in life aren’t in the big city; they’re where the sky stretches the farthest. They’re where you can step outside your door and cross country ski. You can taste venison stew because you have a neighbour who hunts, not because you frequent some exotic restaurant. You can go fishing. You can talk to people in the grocery store. It’s a great life, and I hope our twenty-somethings realize it, before they chuck it for the small life I used to live in the big city.
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