An ode to living in a small town

It's time to give our small towns the credit they deserve.

As a child, I dreamed of living in New York City. The energy of the city, Broadway, the food, the subway ... I was enamored with it all.

The contrast between the suburban life I had always known and the glamour of the big city was stark, and I couldn’t wait until I could move there.

As a junior in high school I visited New York for the first time on a school band trip, and it did not disappoint. Everything about the city seemed exactly as amazing as I’d imagined, and then some.

Pulling apart the threads between the first taste of the freedom of adulthood as I explored the city with my teenage friends and the impact of that trip is impossible, but I was hooked.

Yet, upon graduation, I chose to go to a small, private university in a small town in Ohio rather than packing my bags for a big city. I didn’t think I could afford to live in a city yet, and I figured best to get my degree close to home, then head that way when it made sense.

Years passed, life happened, and I was married and living in another small town before I knew it, itching for that city life I’d dreamed of.

Then, a couple years into marriage, an opportunity struck. I was offered an internship in Washington, D.C., a city I fell in love with during my mid-20s as I studied for my master’s degree in Northern Virginia. I was able to stay with a friend who lived in one of the D.C. neighborhoods, getting my very first taste of city life. 

The inconvenience and sacrifice of living in a city was a shock. Nothing was a quick errand. Everything was a commute, a huge hassle. Carrying groceries up flights of stairs, navigating late trains and backed-up traffic, not to mention the costs were outrageous -- a cupcake for $4? Parking for $40?

Every time I left the house I needed a shower when I returned, covered in a thin coat of grit and grime. 

When a job offer came from the organization where I was interning in D.C., I was at a crossroads. My husband longed to go back to Ohio, as close to his rural roots as we could muster.

So, after a great deal of consideration, I turned down the job, I retired my dreams of city life, and we held out for an opportunity that would allow us to move closer to home.

Here we are, nearly a decade later, happily settled back in that same small town where I went to college. It’s here in this small town we bought our first home, gave birth to three beautiful daughters, found our community of friends and have grown into our adult selves. 

This morning, I saw an Instagram story from a friend who lives in Brooklyn showcasing the mouthwatering brunch she and her husband were enjoying at an NYC cafe. For a moment I envied her life. When I said yes to small town life, I said no to big-city life.

I don’t have access to the variety of cuisine, the diversity of friends, faiths, genders, cultures and opinions, or to the cutting-edge shopping, arts and culture that my big city friends have. 

But, in a sense, I appreciate each of those things more because the supply is scarce. When a new restaurant opens in our small town, we rejoice, we patronize, we cheer them on and we talk to our friends about the best things to order.

It is much more fun to visit a big city because at long last I can order a bowl of pho or poké, a rarity in a town where 50% of the restaurants are pizza and another 25% are fast food.

But, when I go into those small-town establishments, I’m sure to run into at least a couple of friends and acquaintances or be met with a hug or a high five from the owner, because the longer I’m here, the deeper the roots go. 

In our small town, we can own a four-bedroom house for the cost of a studio apartment, we can run to any one of the four grocery stores in town and be back in 15 minutes, and we can be at work in under five minutes, parking for free when we get there.

We have neighbors who drop cupcakes on our porch when we shovel their driveway and backyards where our kids can safely play with minimal supervision. Whatever we’ve sacrificed, we’ve gained in abundance here, and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

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Colleen Cook works full-time as the Director of Operations at Vinyl Marketing in Ashland, where she resides with her husband Mike and three young daughters. She's an insatiable extrovert who enjoys finding reasons to gather people.