City Girl, Small Town

(For Dena Dyer’s community writing project on cross-cultural experiences.)

I lived in Israel where pita and bread cost only a few coins, children really did call their dads “Abba,” conversation depth went well below the surface within seconds, the front of a book was with the spine on the right, and no one ate cold cereal for breakfast. Yet this culture shock was nothing compared to my first visit to my then-fiance’s hometown: Montrose, Colorado.

I grew up in Carson, California, in Los Angeles County. I often sum up my L.A. experience in one word: concrete. I went to 232nd Place Elementary School where the baseball diamond was asphalt and the bases, squares of white paint. (No sliding!) In my world then, strangers were dangerous until proven innocent, and real living happened at Del Amo Mall—at the time, the second biggest shopping mall in the world). To me, “Nature” was a television channel.

In the mid-1990s Montrose had a population of about 10,000. It was considered big and is still the second biggest city in Colorado’s Western Slope (the part of Colorado west of the Continental Divide). Charles drove me around town to see all the schools he attended. At one point we stopped at what looked to me like a red country house.

“This was Menoken-Colcreek Elementary School,” Charles explained. That house was his school. This means the man I was about to marry actually went to a red, two-room schoolhouse. I had heard of people like that, but I didn’t know they existed this side of Little House on the Prairie.

Traffic lights hung and swung freely from cables instead of being fixed to a huge metal arm extending over the street. We went to Wal-Mart and parked the car, and Charles left the car door unlocked. Inside the store, we actually ran into someone he knew.

I realized people around here probably borrow a cup of flour from the neighbor now and then. That kind of thing never happened in L.A. When a new neighbor, new to L.A., asked my mother, “Could I borrow some flour?” my mother stood a while at the door, confused. Then she went out to the backyard. My older sister, wondering why mom wasn’t getting the flour, went to the kitchen for it. My sister and mom arrived at the front door around the same time, facing each other. In my sister’s hands was the flour; in my mom’s, a flower in a pot. All three laughed, including the neighbor.

Back to Montrose. I dreaded having to get our marriage license; I anticipated a long wait in crowded lines at the County Courthouse, complicated and expensive parking, and at least half a day spent. Instead, parking was easy, and we were the only ones in line. At the counter I got yet another shock: the clerk said, “Hi, Charles!” She knew him. Not only that, she had known him since he was a boy. They talked pleasantly about our upcoming marriage and his parents while I—city girl in a small town—stood blinking in amazement.

Seventeen years later, I feel I’ve made some good adjustments. I not only smile at strangers but even start conversations with them. Just last week, I asked the librarian about the brace around her hand and wrist. I once gave a gift of homemade soap to a grocery store cashier named Linda, just because we were talking about lye (which my husband needed for a chemistry experiment but they didn’t sell at that store). I don’t fear my neighbors but even knock on their doors with a plate of cookies. And yes, I have borrowed sugar, eggs, and even a cup of flour.

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9 thoughts on “City Girl, Small Town

  1. Monica,

    You’re speaking my language here! Only we don’t have stoplights in Inwood. We do have a few stop signs, though! :-)

    Moving here wasn’t so much of a culture shock, as I grew up in a similar place. But the struggle for me was feeling that I lacked my own identity. For quite a while, I was “Scott’s wife.” That was strange.

    Also, I loved your opening paragraph. Such rich details. I’d love to know more about that experience. Do you have some past posts about your time in Israel? I’d love to read them.

  2. I LOVE the flower/flour segment of your story! That is priceless! You crossed cultures most certainly in your marriage, and it has changed you, softened you, from the hardness a person must develop when growing up with concrete, so a softer and more trusting, giving attitude, like the grass that surrounds you now. :)

    But I admit that I’m with Jennifer–someday I’d love to hear stories about Israel!

  3. Oh, Monica, I identify with you! Although I’ve never lived in an area as big as L.A., I was a city girl, and five years ago we moved to a town of 10,000, 75 miles from the nearest real city. It has been a HUGE adjustment. It has taught me to be a nicer person, though.

  4. Monica, what a sweet story. The flour/flower misunderstanding–priceless! And since I grew up in a small town, I love them. Right now, we’ve gone from being in the town Megan refers to (Megan, this post reminds me of your church ladies story, btw!) to living in a city of over 100,000. It’s an adjustment for me, for sure. I love the access to restaurants, entertainment, and other things, but I miss the intimacy of a smaller place.

    Thanks for linking up with us on the cross-cultural project. It was great to read your post!

  5. So glad I saw a link to this. Living these past 15 years in a small town that I love (but had to adjust to), this resonates. Your first paragraph, especially the “this culture shock was nothing compared to” was great!

  6. Wonderful! Montrose sounds a bit like Kerrville. I moved here and found out that the house we bought is next door to one of my favorite coworkers. My daughter’s art teacher and principal and several other teachers go to our church. The art teacher also went to LLYC growing up (the youth camp program that is partnered with The High Calling).

    Small worlds are great places, I’ve discovered. My community keeps me honest and straight, and I need that.

  7. Monica — I missed this post earlier during the Cross Culture writing project. I’m so glad David featured it and I could get back to it.

    I grew up in a very small town – actually, where I lived wasn’t even in a town. It was just the country. When I lived in down-town Chicago for a couple of years, I had similar culture shock – only the reverse of you. I would smile at strangers and they would quickly look away. I will say that I got asked directions ALL the time, though. I think it was the eye contact!

  8. Just popping back in on this post to say I was so excited to see this featured at The High Calling this month! You’re such a blessing to the HC community! Much love to you…

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