October 17, 2005

Collision in the grocery store

The other day I racing through the grocery store, grabbing food quickly because Boy in Black's drum lesson gave me exactly 20 minutes for shopping, and I practically collided with a colleague, a woman who recently relocated to this area and started teaching courses for us last year.

Colleague: Hey, what are you doing here?
Me: Uh, buying groceries.
Colleague: But I've never seen you here before. How long have you shopped here?
Me: Um ... my whole life.
Colleague: Seriously?
Me: Well, since this store was built. Sometime in the early seventies. I came here with my Mom.
Colleague: Really? Wow. This is the first time I've ever run into anyone I know here.
Me: When I come here, I always run into people I know. I know about half the people working here too.
Colleague: No way.
Me: Sure. See the butcher over there? I went to high school with him. And his daughter was in my son's AP Chemistry class last year.
Colleague: Wow. That's amazing.
Me: My mother still shops here. And my sister, too.
Colleague: Honestly?
Me: Sure. It's what life is like when you live in the same place your whole life.
Colleague: I can't even imagine.

The funny thing about the dialogue was her utter amazement. No one in my home community would have found any of my answers even mildly interesting. But academics are always fascinated that I live in my hometown. And I have to admit, that when I am in my hometown, in the grocery store I've shopped in since I was a child, it is always strange to run into someone from the academic world, my other life.

21 comments:

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Your situation is also different than the situation of many academics because your hometown has not changed much. The grocery store I went to with my mom as a child no longer exists. The neighborhoods immediately around mine have been entirely reshaped by immigration and rising home prices. The increased mobility of the upper classes means that most of the people I went to high school with have moved elsewhere.

negativecapability said...

I would love to move back to the community that I grew up in; although it doesn't sound as small as where you live, I also have the "knowing everyone in the grocery store" experience that you describe. I miss it, and I know that the odds of a position opening up in my field in the university in my hometown, much less the odds of me getting it, are pretty slim.

bridgett said...

My hometown has changed radically as well. The location where I grew up is now a Wal-Mart parking lot. (Ow.) The farms of my youth are now subdivisions with McMansions and SUVs in every driveway. There's still a stubborn knot of my extended family hanging tough and I'm always given the prodigal's welcome when I visit...but I'm not really capable of returning.

jo(e) said...

Rob and Bridgett: Some of those changes have happened here as well. The field I used to pick wild strawberries in lies under a highway now. The meadow where we always went horseback riding is now an office park. I'm grateful for the places that haven't changed -- like the state park where Pretty Colour Lake is.

wolfa said...

Do you never want to be free from that for a little bit, go somewhere no one knows who you used to be? Or is that what your trips rafting and to the monastery etc do?

jo(e) said...

Wolfangel: I suppose that is why I do go away for retreats -- trips to the monastery, weekends in the mountains, camping vacations, the raft trip. Academic conferences open up a whole other world for me as well. As does blogging: no one in my hometown reads my blog, except my daughter. So it's a space for me outside my hometown.

comebacknikki said...

Have you ever lived elsewhere for an extended period of time?

jo(e) said...

Comebacknikki: It depends on what you call an extended period of time. I did go away to college. I think the one thing that really felt like living away from home was the semester I spent in London when I was a junior in college. That was a great experience. I am encouraging my own kids to take semesters abroad (Daughter will go to France spring after next) because I do think it can be really a terrific experience to live somewhere else.

Otherwise ... mainly, I've just read a lot of books about other places ....

wolfa said...

I hope I didn't sound dismissive of the idea of living where everyone knows you -- I came home, and though I am not in a small town, there are a lot of small communities that interact a lot that I am part of, and my family is all here. I was curious, only I think it came out wrong.

It's funny living in the same place and watching it change, seeing your memories overlay the places they are now. My public library recently had an exhibition -- might still be on, I am not sure -- where they showed pictures of Montreal from 1899 and pictures (same angle, etc) of the same places from 200?, and it was remarkable to see the buildings grow or shrink, the people come and go.

Piece of Work said...

I would be amazed, too, Jo(e). Your reality is so different from mine--living in a large city, 3000 miles away from where I grew up!

jo(e) said...

Wolfangel: I don't think you sounded dismissive at all. I thought it was a good question. Sometime I do struggle with living in the conservative small-town community I grew up in. Once when my photo was in the paper with a story that identified me as a "feminist poet," neighbors were horrified. One neighbor said to me, "Don't worry, we know you aren't a feminist poet."

But I am close enough to a fairly good-sized city (Snowstorm City) and that enables me to have an academic job and circles of friends who are more progressive than some of my neighbors.

I do think it's funny how we carry maps inside our head with all these layers. When I give directions, I have a habit of saying things like, "Take a left where the red barn used to be ...." If I am giving directions to someone new to the area, that drives them crazy.

peripateticpolarbear said...

I get lost in the town where I grew up. There are now 5 times the number of people living there. But I do miss the first town I lived in after seminary. There, I did know everyone in the grocery store, and there was a certain comfort in that....especially since I hate grocery shopping.

ccw said...

I think it is wonderful that you live in your hometown and love being there. So many people feel like they are "stuck" being in their hometown.

We left our home area because there are not any good jobs, but I often miss being able to drive without directions and seeing a friendly face everywhere I go.

kyra said...

The grass is always greener... I've always been fascinated and envious of people who grew up in a hometown and knew everybody, let alone still live there. It sounds strange and wonderful. I grew up as a military kid so I don't have a hometown. Some people think my life was exciting, but I am envious of the stability and familiarity of theirs!

jo(e) said...

One of the real advantages of living in my hometown is that my kids know their cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. Living close to extended family has made raising kids much, much easier.

Friday Mom said...

Jo(e)- has the decision to stay in your hometown been intentional? I've been away from mine for 22 years now. We are considering the possibility of a move back there. AM is from a small town about two hours away. There's a lot about the possibility that I find attractive, but there's a lot that I think will be hard after being gone for so long. I'm definitely not the same person I was when I lived there. I just wonder how much pull there will be from old friends to be what I used to be.

halloweenlover said...

I imagine that being near family would FAR outweight any negatives of living in the same town for virtually your entire life. It sometimes makes me so sad to think that my family is spread all over the place and there really isn't much hope for getting everyone to live near each other. I think it sounds fabulous.

jo(e) said...

Friday Mom: Yes, the decison to stay in my hometown was intentional. I never really considered living anywhere else. I think my spouse would have liked to move somewhere else -- even though he is from here as well -- but I was never willing to do so. Both family and landscape have kept me here. We are only about 100 miles from the camp I have written about. And only about 100 miles from the mountains I have written about. All four of my siblings have stayed in the state -- and my husband's two siblings as well.

I am sure you will have some old friends who want you to be who you used to be -- and those will be the friends you only end up seeing at big occasions. Sometimes I think I get along best with the kids of my old friends .... that generation is more accepting of who I am.

Staying in the same place your whole life can be both wonderful and difficult at the same time.

Rev. Dr. Mom said...

I've never lived any place longer than 8 years in my whole life. So I think I would be as amazed as your colleague.

When someone asks where I am from, I generally answer the last place I lived, but my accent (mostly Southern) no longer matches the geography (New England mostly) so that confuses people.

Sometimes I long for the roots and connections that people who've always lived one place have....but I have lived a lot of cool interesting places and that has stretched me in ways that living in one place wouldn't. So I guess either way has advantages....

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I think you touched a nerve!

The town I live in now -- the town where my husband and even his mother was born -- saw population grow 120% in just the last 10 years. People are *shocked* when they learn that my son will likely go to the same gradeschool as his grandma. I love it. I'm glad to be able to give that to my kids ... like you said, the closeness with extended family and also the closeness with the landscape. When I climb in the mountains with my kids I'm very aware that their great-grandpa climbed there, too -- and I think about my great-grandchildren climbing there decades hence. It makes me feel hopeful about the future.

But I wonder sometimes if I appreciate it so much because *I* did not grow up here! I never run into people I humilated/humiliated me in high school...

Julie said...

We're raising our kids in the town we both grew up in, too. In fact, our kids are actually 3rd-generation townies because my husband's parents grew up here too. We have one grandma right next door, and the other set across town, not very far. I probably wouldn't like it here if I hadn't gone out of state for a few years, including college. As it is, I couldn't be happier here.