STS – SMALL TOWN SYNDROME
I grew up in Rosetown, SK. And although I’m not a proponent of saying the SK is flat, Rosetown, in its square-on-square shape sits on a flat piece of prairie. If you wanted something exciting to do you had to drive at least 50 minutes in any direction. The nearest thing to nature we had was a low set of hills along one edge of Eagle Creek (which held only a trickle of water for as long as I lived there).
We were the Thrasher kids, privileged, popular, vigilantly protected from town gossip by our guard dog father and conflict avoiding mother. However, we couldn’t escape the labels, expectation and rampant gossip that goes along with small town life. It is a given that if you live in a small town, you are entitled to be apprised of everything that happens to your neighbours. With a high-profile father, and community involved mother, the Thrasher kids were fodder for gossip.
As a child I can remember making a lot of exciting moments for family and friends. A three-year-old, I fell between the side of a bed and a small space on the wall and slept soundly through a town search that went on through the night. At five I played hookey from kindergarten and defecated under the steps of the Presbyterian church when I couldn’t go home to use the bathroom. At seven instead of walking to school I hid behind a set of skis in the back yard and watched my mom hang laundry on the line. As I look back now and see a theme building, I guess I didn’t much like the rules. Even then I bucked the system.
In grade four they discovered I needed STRONGG glasses and finally my family had an explanation why the town labelled me stuck-up. With my blurred vision I couldn’t recognize anyone on the street, so I walked past without acknowledging them, too embarrassed to guess. To this day I am oblivious to much that goes on around me – taught in my early years to avoid rather than observe.
The Thrasher kids created conflict of every type between themselves, but Lord help anyone who went after one of us. Suddenly we were a united unit, fiercely aggressive in our defense of a sibling. The fight for fairness and burning loyalty still fire my gut today
We were raised with upper middle-class standards. Our dining table every evening became a classroom in proper etiquette and edifying conversation. My parents hosted many adult guests for Dad’s business and pleasure, and we were expected to entertain them with courtesy.
Our strict parenting meant we were often isolated from our peers. I couldn’t be out the same hours as my friends, go to movies they were allowed to see, sleep in on Saturday morning, miss church on Sunday for a skating party or hockey game. We were expected to give to the community. So, I entered my adolescence with a lot of rebellion. When I wanted to be with my friends, I was expected to babysit a neighbour’s kids. If I wanted to go to a party with my boyfriend my curfew was so early the party had barely started before I was expected home. Our after-school hours were filled with dancing lessons, music lessons, skating practice, extra curricular activities, helping mom, doing chores and as soon as we were old enough a job to teach us the lessons of good work ethics and budgeting our money. No time to get into mischief or learn bad habits. Regardless of my parent’s hopes I accumulated many!
I had a paper route from age 14 on, and this again exposed me to the censorious attention of many townspeople. I could be labelled that lovely Thrasher girl who always gets the paper here on time, or just as quickly the idiot Thrasher kid who got her bike stuck in the mud of the back lane. And faster than the spin cycle on a load of crap word spread through the town.
How does this affect me still? You may have guessed foremost I have an antipathy against small towns. I resent labels, spent the first fifty years of my life fighting to gain control instead of letting others control me. Since, I continue a constant battle for autonomy. I may not shave my head, cover myself in tattoos or piercings, but my mind and heart are those of a born rebel. Don’t tell me I can’t do something. Don’t expect me to do something just because you think I should. And whatever you do don’t back me into a corner, because I’ll come out as mean as a badger poked with a stick.
Living in Rosetown also influenced me positively. Because it was so blah, square streets, flat land, rigid controls, and spying eyes everywhere, my imagination became my greatest friend, weapon and savior. For several years many people thought I’d be sent to school in Texas. I told them that when they asked where I got my strange accent. They bought it and pinned it to the gossip clothesline faster than Pinterest works today. The truth is we had a German nanny at the time I was learning to talk. As my father worked most the time and my mother was hospitalized with a back injury a German accent crept into my speech, then was later diluted by an Irish caregiver, then a country girl who helped mom into my teens. I call it my Mickey Mouse voice.
My imagination and creativity also made me extremely sought after. I had three sets of girl friends and could join any group from the popular to the losers – yes small-town labels! The boys hung around because they liked my grit, adventurous spirit and willingness to take on any “I double dare you’s”. Part of this spun off from being a middle child and the constant fight for attention. Whichever group I took part in expected – yes there is that word again – me to come up with something exciting to do, something new, and of course fun, and just short of breaking the limits – my limits – because my friends’ generally exceeded them.
Like the title of a Clint Eastwood duster, small town life was for me the good the bad and the ugly. I am adamantly opposed to living in one again, and decry STS with passion. It has taken me 70 plus years to shake the labels of snob, spoiled, ferocious, soft-touch etc. “out of my hair” as Mitzi Gaynor sang in South Pacific – a song to which I related. The one label I claim with pride is rebel. It got me to where I am today, and that’s a mighty fine place.