Saturday, June 02, 2007

Town and Country

[Inspired by Sunday Scribblings]

My dad was born and raised in Borough Park, a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City. He attended school there, and went to college and medical school within that southeast corner of New York State.

It wasn't that he never left the city - he went to a summer camp in rural New Hampshire. And when he was in college, he took ski trains that went to Vermont, where they parked on a siding, and the skiers climbed up the hills in order to slide down them. And to further his medical experience, he was able to take a trip (via boat) to Puerto Rico to study tropical diseases.

Then World War II interrupted. He spent years in the South Pacific as a medic.

When he got back from the war, he needed to apply for medical residency programs. He and his friend (who had also been in the Army) decided that the next time there was a war, it was likely that New York City would be bombed. They didn't want to be there for that. They had also been reading Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi" and, inspired by that book, they applied to programs in St. Louis, Missouri.

So that is how my city-born and city-bred father came to the middle of the country.

He was always something of a modern-day Renaissance Man, studying everything and able to talk to anybody. He was always learning and inspiring others to learn. I don't know what he had been reading or studying when he completed his medical training. But whatever the inspiration, he had visions of becoming a "gentleman farmer."

And that was what brought him to the small town in the middle of the midwest nowhere, where he eventually met my mom.

My mom was born and raised in that small midwest town. That town of about 5500 people, surrounded by even smaller towns and lots and lots of farmland. Her family had been farmers, some were still farmers then. She knew how hard farming was. She thought my dad didn't really understand what was involved with farming. She encouraged him to start with a garden.

As it turns out, a garden was a good compromise. Eventually it was a very large garden, providing a lot of food for the family and friends, not because we needed it, but because he had fun with it and it all tasted so good.

So you see, I grew up in a small town, child of a mixed marriage of sorts. I received different gifts from each of my parents.

From my mom, I grew up to appreciate trees and space. From her I learned what it is like to live in a place where everyone knows you. And I learned from her relatives how hard it is to run a farm, and that although they are nice places to visit, I am much too lazy to survive on one. I learned that some small town and country folks are very intimidated by the city.

From my dad, I grew to appreciate the search for more. I learned to experiment with other cultures, to read, explore, and travel. To see out art and literature. I learned how to walk in the city without looking like a target. And from his relatives I learned that even in the 1960's some city folks still believed that Cowboys and Indians still battled it out on the plains of the midwest. (seriously!)

I now live in the 'burbs. I work in a city, but I come home to see woods behind my house and pond behind the neighbor's house. And I vacation in the middle of the woods, out of cell phone range. I try to appreciate both my country-heritage and my city-heritage


Clare said...

I really enjoyed reading about your family and how your father came to move to the midwest. Your parents sound like they had really interesting lives. I also enjoyed how you wrote what you grew to appreciate from each of them -- this made me think of my parents and how each of them taught me different things too. You write really well.

gautami tripathy said...

You set me thinking. I too should write a post on my dad's roots. And how he came to delhi after being in various places.

I loved reading about your family.

Stacy said...

I think that your family's story is a very American one. And it would seem they taught you nice lessons.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Interesting to read about your family history.

Molly said...

It seems, these days, we all come from such mixed backgrounds. I love MA; this is the state of my mother's youth.

Rural Lesbian said...

I really liked this post too! I have the need to get out and travel and learn and go and do. But I also enjoy living in the country. I can be a hermit at times, but can talk to just about anybody about anything. Most of the people I conversate with are in their 60s to late 80s. I like their stories. My folks were nearly the babies of their families, so I had grandparents who were born around 1906-1910. I am getting back into my geneology kick and I really love to talk to the older folks about things and happenings in the past.

Maria said...

I always think it interesting when people talk about wanting to farm the land, etc.

I grew up on a working farm and the work was back breaking, it truly was.

Now, I live in the city and love gardening. It isn't as labor intensive as farming, but there is a great satisfaction in working the land.