Saturday, 1 March 2014

Where Your Last Name Matters

Growing up in a small town has been probably the highlight of my life. It’s unexplainable what it means to be part of a family with a plethora of last names. There was so many valuable lessons and lifelong morals that grew with me and it will be deep rooted in the system of my mind, my body, for a very long time. It’s amazing just how much traumatic loss has been blown in our faces and how, even though most of the time we were defeated, we were able to overcome them and be stronger than ever. The benefits are almost limitless to what a person takes with them as they grow up in a community in one such as I did. I am very proud of where I grew up and who I’ve become because of it.

But I won’t be going back – not to stay anyways.

To make it clear, I have nothing against my town or the businesses or the people or the stray cats. Well, maybe the cats but the point is, none of that is going to be the focal point of this post. Let’s draw that line in our minds right now so I’m able to continue writing what I have to say without creating a horrible status for myself for when I see the faces of my small town the next time I come visit. Deal?

Now picture this. The small town where you last name really DOES matter. It matters because that’s the status you’re given since the first day you’re brought into the community. Whether you’re 2 weeks old and part of a family ancestry in the town, or you’re part of a family that just moved there. You are being judged by your past, your family’s past, and every single decision you decide to make. And if nobody knows your past, they will make one up for you. Guaranteed.

You’re friends are already set up for you. Families can’t be friends with this family because X occurred 30 years ago or be seen hanging out with that family because they practice Y belief and that’s a bit weird. It’s not something we can blame on our parents for doing because it’s what their parents did, and so on, and even what the neighbours still do. It almost can be seen as a tradition – a “Family Act” handed to you at birth.

Highschool is an experience that you will hate more than what you will love. Sports teams are almost like a cult - one that’s hard to fit in with and yet hard to leave. Perhaps not for everybody. Perhaps for some is helps save them for going crazy on the pin-dropping ka-boom nights. But if you aren’t part of one you are almost seen as part of nothing. And everybody knows your grades despite the fake confidentiality rule that nobody will know or ever find out. And even though they will tell you it’s a non-judging, non-competitive thing, it’s a lie. Comparing grades with your status is pretty well like a black market. It exists and everybody knows it and everybody takes part in it more times than not at all. And if you’re the type that makes it clear that you do not care what kind of grade you get and what that means to your status of an individual, you know that other people will care for you – despite if they are you arch enemy or best friend.

Gossip is bigger than celebrity smut that gets blown up on CTV for fifteen minutes after the local news has been casted. He slept with who? She left him because? Who’s a money grabbin’ man eater? Which family just applied for welfare? She was married before? They just divorced!? Who just bought a new house with their parents’ money?

And we make assumptions. And hatred for one another. “He’s broke because he smokes too much.” “She doesn’t volunteer for anything because she doesn’t like living here.” “She got pregnant because of how her parents raised her.” And these things circle and they murmur and they leak through the walls of all of our houses, whispering one hundred million things because there hasn’t been anything new in town in what seems like when the train rails was first laid. And it lives with us until we leave, or die, and even longer after.
Small towns are also full of heartache. No matter how hard you try, no matter how much money you fundraise, it’s impossible to run away from losses. Recreation facility losses, business loss, and relationships too. It’s so easy to lose hope when despite every atom of energy you put in the belief that you’re school will NOT be closed because we are going to fight for it in every way possible to keep it open – you’ll be defeated. Despite conferences, interviews, and media, the district will be forced to reduce it’s health center’s hours to less and less to the point where it becomes risky for our seniors to live here. Each closure is seen as a loss. Next, it will be the bank. And then even the post office. And yet, our voices are muted. Our concerns, thoughts, and feelings do not matter because, in their minds, words on paper has explained our losses enough in the sympathetic letters that begin with “your concerns are being addressed but at this time we are forced to make some hard choices”… -- and if you’re still friends with the people you spent your whole life imagining you would spend your life with, then you should buy a lottery ticket. Because if you haven’t changed – they did. And you haven’t heard from them since you don’t even know when.
Everybody knows your income, you’re familiy’s medical history, and what kind of brand of milk you buy. Perhaps some even know how many hours you dedicated to volunteering at community events or how many pies you donated and judge you simply by crunching the numbers. Because it truly does matter to keep the community going. But shouldn’t privacy and consensus exist as well?

Perhaps people judge, gossip, and keep track because they get tired of dealing with all the dirty work. It’s being constantly thrown in our faces by both internal and external factors on questions like “is the pool even going to be open this year?” “young people these days never want to do anything”. So there’s always a sense of obligation and pressure and stress dangling in the back of our minds that it’s just easier to talk about then keep hidden behind a curtain.

Am I innocent in all this? Absolutely not.

But I think I’ve known quite some time now that I don't want my last name to matter anymore.


Harm said...

Wow you always have a way of saying what everyone else wants to ..

AALLEN said...

I like it! Good blog again!

Diane H said...

Haley I just saw your blog today and I am so impressed with your writing, ideas and insight!!! Keep up the GREAT writing and I look forward to reading more!