I’ve discovered small town livin’ is the life for me

Sunday, September 23, 2018
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Guest Column

I have been thinking about writing this column for some time - praise for small town life. It wasn’t until I was visiting with my aunt last night telling her how happy I am here, maybe the happiest I’ve ever been, that I decided to make this column a reality.

I attended sixth grade through high school in Grass Range, so I have experienced small-town life, but at the time, I lived on a ranch. I was in the country more than town. Before this, I lived in Roy, Montana, and that too was a happy time. My mom taught science for the school. This was her first teaching job after finishing college at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.

My brother, sister and I thought it was hilarious when we first heard “blink and you’ll miss it.” While, I was born in Montana, we lived in Flagstaff before moving to Roy. Flagstaff is maybe the size of Bozeman, give or take. We brought to Roy some things the kids hadn’t seen yet. I even had purple acid-washed jeans. My brother had a Nintendo, so he was immediately popular. I had a bike and my best friend Levi. We loved exploring around Roy, and my mother could rest easy knowing that we were safe. In Flagstaff, we weren’t even allowed to cross the highway, but Roy opened all new possibilities.

High school in Grass Range was different experience; while kind, welcoming and offering a solid foundation, I started to dream of other places. Two not-sonice seniors in Grass Range willed me, in the Annual “the ability to get off [my] high horse and realize this is Grass Range, not Beverly Hills 90210.” it stung; I did love that show and dreamed of seeing the world.

In many ways I did see the world. I lived in Washington, D.C. for six months in high school, went to college in Missoula, spent a ski season in Red Lodge, worked at Duke University in North Carolina, moved back to Montana and lived in Bozeman for half decade, then spent a few years in Texas and five more years in Omaha before finally coming back to Montana.

During my adult years, I also traveled to Canada, Mexico, France, Colombia, and Chile and other trips to U.S. cities, including Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Boston, New York, Memphis, Las Vegas, San Diego, Palm Springs, Dallas and Austin, and other places I am forgetting. I have been to at least 44 states. To put it simply, I have tried to see the world. I still have more places I dream of visiting, like Machu Picchu, Sweden and Vietnam. But I no longer long to live in a city - no city life for me, no sir.

People don’t always think of Omaha as a city, but it has over 500,000 people and close to a million if you count all of the Greater Omaha Metropolitan Area. It has a great deal to offer, but it also has a host of problems, and a very high and saddening shooting rate. I loved my friends there, adventures in Nebraska, and what the city offered, like poetry readings and theme parties, but living there, and even in a town as big as Livingston, was not as quite as completing as I thought it would be.

When deciding to move to Stanford, I wondered if it would be too small. It turns out it is just right. It makes me think of Goldilocks trying out beds; maybe I was trying out towns and cities. That is not to say I will never travel again or make a trip out of state to see a concert or cultural event, but there is a difference between traveling and where one chooses to live. Maybe all the places I tried on for size were just a long, drawn-out vacation. I know in both D.C. and Omaha, the sounds at night made me uneasy and sometimes kept me up. In Stanford, I sleep very well.

I wish Montana could keep more of its youth. I feel like someone forgot to “pay the piper,” and it is sad so many move. We are attracted to another lifestyle, maybe the promise of a solid financial future, and I do think it is important to see new places, but there is something valuable about small town living. I have neighbors who look out for me and see friendly, smiling faces all day long. I am truly happy, and I think a lot of that is because of the community support and encouragement small towns provide. Everybody is somebody.

I went back to Omaha this May to see my sister and friends. While strolling with my son, he and I both thought it was strange people didn’t stop in their tracks to tell him how precious he is. There are just so many more people coming and going. In a small town, we can pause and say hello. Everyone welcomes you, because you are joining one big family when you decide to live in a small town.

My tale is not quite a cautionary tale, because I have learned and grown through the places I lived and traveled in, but there is something to be said for being born and raised somewhere, and living in a small town does not mean missing out, just the opposite.

Melody Montgomery is the editor of the Judith Basin Press.