If we met on the street, you’d probably assume I’m a city-dweller. And you’d be right. Over the last 20 years, I’ve lived in Seattle, New York City, and currently, in Los Angeles. I still feel like a country girl, but on the surface, I look the part of urban denizen — it might be my clothes, or my librarian glasses, or the way I talk…who knows?
The truth is, I grew up in a tiny town in Oregon, but I spent my 20s living in overcrowded metropolitan areas, trying not to seem like a small-town girl.
I learned how to set a formal table for 12, I learned to say “soda” instead of “pop.” I stopped dropping my “G”s at the end of words: “I’m goin’ dancin'” became “I’m going dancing.” In LA, I became accustomed to pedicures and traffic jams and seeing celebrities while walking my dog (they’re just like us!). I still sometimes pronounce “both” as if it has an “L” in it… “bolth.”
I ran hard and fast from my roots for most of my adult life, playing down my modest small-town upbringing and trying to look (and sound) like an urbanite. I never really tried to be someone I wasn’t, but I definitely did my best to adopt the customs of the locals and blend in.
In my 30s, I realized my background is an integral part of who I am, and one of the things that makes me unique. When people asked me where I grew up, I stopped saying “Eugene, Oregon” and admitted, “Junction City, Oregon.”
|Junction City, Oregon
(I checked out every single children’s book in that library when I was little. Literally.)
I started enjoying going back to see my family (they now live in Eugene), and begin to feel lucky to have a reason to visit such a beautiful place.
But still, only a year or so ago, when people asked me if I’d ever move back to Oregon, my answer was usually, “God, no. No way.” I thought I needed the city. I wasn’t ready to let to of my adopted “city girl” identity.
Then something shifted in me. On a recent trip to Oregon, I sat by the McKenzie River, late one night and listened to the silence behind the rushing river sounds. I tried to count the seemingly infinite number of stars. I breathed in the cool, clean air. I thought about my family and how even though I’ve spent my life being an absentee sister, daughter, granddaughter and niece, still embrace me and love me as if I never left. During that same trip, I had random encounters with waitresses, service station employees, and store clerks that made me smile — we just exchanged simple good-humored pleasantries, but they made my day brighter nonetheless. When I got stuck in the middle of an intersection on a red light, people smiled and waved me through instead of honking and flipping me off. I ate blueberries off the bush, and walked around barefoot and went on trail runs and bike rides in some of the most beautiful wilderness in the country.
And I knew it was time. Okay, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but this is an important piece of the puzzle. This country girl turned city girl is moving back to the country.
I shed some of those city affectations along the way, and some of the adaptations stuck and are actually part of me too now. I’m so curious about what happens next.
Will I go crazy in a small town in the middle of nowhere? Or will I finally feel at home? Will I be able to find 12 people to invite over for dinner? And will they be weirded out by my salt cellars? (Hey, at least I don’t use finger bowls or have a sorbet “course.”)
In the end, I will always be a little bit city and a little bit country. I suppose my challenge is to be okay with the seemingly opposing sides of myself, even if it makes me a little odd. Maybe being a bit weird is what will keep me sane, engaged and vibrant. Maybe I’ll defy categorization, or maybe I’ll become some cliche… Either way, all I really care about is being authentically me. The older I get, the more I realize other people’s opinions don’t really matter much. What matters most is making peace with the person in the mirror.