When I grew up rural it was equated with being deprived. A country bumpkin less than best, automatically so. How could you be better than those who lived in town? Your bus ride to school included fellow students who didn’t bathe daily, especially in the winter, although their farm chores remained in place. Indoor plumbing was not ubiquitous for the rural community. No one on the bus indicated any issues with the less fortunate ones. However, upon arrival at school comments flew from the city kids, humiliating the rural farm children.

As children, those who live on farms and tend to animals are teased by bumptious townies; as adults, however, they find themselves emulated. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, File

“You smell funny,” one townie said to me. I equated his arrogance with all city dwellers,  automatically so.

While there weren’t many in a farm community, some dwellers were only children. I was one. My friends were the critters scampering in the woods or out of sight in the barn. The farm animals had names and conveyed as much conversation in their postures and movements as any human with whom I might have engaged. You just had to pay attention and listen.

Growing up rural benefits many. The rural life provides opportunities I didn’t realize until years later. My instructions to the staff as a human resources manager included: “Should an applicant mention having been raised on a farm, lived on a farm, worked on a farm … If they mention the word ‘farm’ during the interview … hire the person. They know how to work.” The opportunity to act on this command did not occur often.

My career took me to a very large city with a population in the millions. One day, I encountered the same “townie” who years before had shared with me that I smelled funny to him. Given the length of time and many experiences since that hurtful incident, I preferred to think it a compliment. Surely he meant I was distinctive and had an “air about me.” As we stood facing each other, in my eyes he remained the same arrogant city dweller, yet now I too was living within a city.

It occurred to me he’d prepared me for this environment. Calloused at an early age, I realized my survival had been assisted by this pompous person. We exchanged pleasantries, but I did not present my card and he didn’t have one.

Shortly before I relinquished my membership in the rural life, several new neighbors appeared near our farm. They heaped high praise on the good life they’d found. While I heaped chicken manure, they commuted to jobs in the city. One, an Ivy League college professor, told me we had been discovered. Listening to Greg Brown sing “Boom Town” reminds me it is not just, as Iris DeMent so eloquently wrote, in “My Town.”

Living in the big city I find fellow residents long for the rural life. In today’s pandemic many are going for it. With departures outnumbering arrivals in urban areas, I hope they find the peace they seek. May they learn to appreciate being rural by leaving the city behind to pay attention and listen.

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