What a life! I grew up in California, where freeways were already prevalent, crowds were the norm, and traffic in our valley north of LA was already bumper-to-bumper. Yes, I grew up as a valley girl.
My father, however, always dreamed of having a farm of his own, so when I was still too young to have a say in the matter, we packed up and moved to Southwest Missouri, where we lived 1/4 mile from the DIRT road, 1/2 mile from our nearest neighbor, 7 miles–an hour-long bus ride–from a small town school where I eventually graduated, but not before buying my own car to escape the hideous bus ride.
At first, and for years afterward, this transition was a shock to my system. My parents knew about country life. They grew up far from town, knew how to be country folk. All I knew about it I’d learned from them. I discovered that I spoke a different language from my neighbors down the road. For instance, do you know what botten bread is? My new best friend–who grew up in a two-bedroom house with seven brothers and sisters and no indoor plumbing (!!!!)–finally explained to me, very patiently, that botten bread is bread that’s been store-bought instead of homemade. Have you ever had cracklin’ bread? Daddy taught me this one when we (meaning he) butchered our first hog and rendered the fat. Mom took what was left floating in the lard and baked it into muffins, which, if you bit into the wrong one, would break teeth. I won’t even go into the horrors of mountain oysters, and Daddy’s laughter when I found out he was going to cook them for us to eat. At least we did have indoor plumbing, for which I was exceedingly grateful after spending a few nights with my country friends.
We had a smokehouse for smoking meats, a pump house for the well pump–which, if it broke down, meant we had no water–and a barn that caught fire our first year there when we had over a foot of snow. And that was when I discovered the power of community. My parents were shoveling snow onto the fire, frantically trying to rescue animals from that barn, when we heard the put-put of a strange engine coming down the 1/4 mile driveway. Neighbors from a mile down the road had seen the glow in the sky. The snow was too drifted to drive to our house, and there was no fire department, so they hopped onto their John Deere tractor in the freezing cold and drove through the snow to our house with their shovels. Other neighbors followed, and they fought that fire as long as they could in the middle of the night in the freezing snow. With their help, we managed to save two litters of baby pigs, which I got to feed every day. I still love little piglets. Babe is one of my favorite movies
I’m still learning the meaning of community, and since I live amongst those same people who came to our rescue through the snow, I now write about it. There is a power and connection in physical community that transcends email, that shows the gritty part of human character that lives right alongside the nature of a good heart. When we post online, we usually show our best selves. It’s human nature. When we live near each other and see one another’s foibles and learn to accept one another as we truly are, that’s how a powerful community is forged. It’s why I love our small town atmosphere, why I characterize the small towns in my novels with the same kind of community. It’s what works for me.