Living in the Country

  • Wednesday, April 4, 2012

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Monday, eight out of 10 Americans are now urbanites. Or, as my daddy used to say, “Country come to town.” I used to be an urbanite. But before that, I grew up in the sticks—miles from the nearest convenience store, let alone grocery. The store—which I now suspect was a speakeasy after dark--had warped shelves stocked with stale bread and expired mustard. The only thing I ever bought there was cigarettes for my father, back when a 12-year-old could walk into a store and buy cigarettes. Anyway, the article on MSNBC said the nation’s urban population grew by 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2010. The Charlotte, N.C. area is growing at the fastest rate; as a native Tar Heel, I believe it. Even 30 years ago, Charlotte and Raleigh were where you went to make it big. I was still a little girl when I vowed never to live in the country again. Yes, I kept a horse in the fenced backyard and no-one cared, but the isolation creeped me out. Dad worked out of town and if Mom had one of her migraines, I might stay at home, except for school, for days on end. Our nearest neighbors were what we now call survivalists: They were suspicious of outsiders (which meant everyone not related by blood), posted NO TRESPASSING signs on every third tree and went armed to the teeth. The wife and daughter often carried shotguns to the mailbox and back. They had a huge garden and the younger kids frequently shot squirrels for supper. I know this because the youngest one mistook me for a squirrel. Twice. I left home at 17 to enroll at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. I could have lived with Mom and Dad and commuted, but freedom beckoned. I got an apartment with friends and entered a new world, one where Kroger was four blocks away and Wrightsville Beach was seven miles from my front door. There were restaurants and malls, bookstores and movie theaters, hair salons and bicycle shops, marinas and museums. “I will never go back to the boondocks,” I promised myself, as dramatic as Scarlett O’Hara declaring, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” Man plans, God laughs. Twenty-five years later I fell in love and wound up back in the country, in a village of fewer than 800 souls, because that’s how life works. Of course. There is much to enjoy about living here: Blooming Confederate jasmine, camellias and huge crepe myrtle trees dripping with lavender blooms. Friendly neighborhood dogs and American flags flown from rocking-chair porches. Curious goats and mules, good running routes (you basically blaze your own trail and hope for the best), a fantastic boarding kennel and lovingly restored Victorian homes. Everyone knows who I am: I am Widdle’s wife. Nobody recognizes Julie R. Smith, but they know she lives in the historic house on Main Street with Widdle, who was born here and has never lived anywhere else. We look out for each other in our little village. Whenever I get frustrated about our burg lacking a dentist or doctor or drugstore, I remember this: If, God forbid, I should flee my house screaming at 2 a.m., lights would flick on and people would come running. That helps. That, and we have lots of squirrels. Julie R. Smith, who found a recipe for sautéed squirrel, can be reached at widdleswife@aol.com.  

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