This is the first of a short series of related posts.
When I was very young, one of my favorite books was The Country Mouse and the City Mouse.
I was very much aware of the fact that I was the country mouse in that equation.
There were twenty-nine houses in my zip code growing up. The town used to be bigger, but it was wedged between a state park and a military installation both of which nibbled away at the area. Our village had a church, a post office, and a general store. The general store eventually went out of business.
I climbed trees and I played in the mud, and I knew more about how to deal with horses and barn cats than I did other kids. I could entertain myself with foraging edible plants from the yard, or looking at bugs really close-up.
I was very confused by the lesson in first grade about crossing the street during traffic signals. I didn’t understand why pedestrians should only cross when the light was green for the cars zipping through. I thought that sounded dangerous. I couldn’t comprehend looking at the other traffic signal. It made no sense to me. I was probably eight or nine years old before I had the occasion to be a pedestrian at a light, trying to cross the street. I remember the lightbulb moment as understanding dawned, and I jogged to keep up with my mom in the crosswalk.
There were more of these moments, as the country mouse jogged to keep up with the world.
Even as a little girl, I knew how big the world was. I was entranced by my globe. I understood that people spoke different languages, that there were different cultures. I was rapt at the idea of space exploration.
When you spend a lot of time sprawled in the grass gazing at the sky, you get a pretty good idea of how small you are.
I remember mowing the lawn and weeding gardens, I remember picking pole beans and feeding the rabbits. I remember reading books while dangling from a tree limb. (My favorite climbing tree had 5 sittable limbs. The comfy branch, the high branch, the low branch, the slope branch and the danger branch. I read on the comfy branch or the high branch. No one sat on the danger branch because anytime anyone did, they fell out of the tree.) I remember spending hours playing with imaginary friends in the speckled shade.
Sure, I got bored. Sure, like any kid, I pestered my mom to play with me. I think it was her idea that I paint rocks and sell them as paperweights at a roadside stand. No lemonade for me, boy howdy. I sold rocks. The old slate roof on the building next door would sometimes chip and fall to the ground, we would scavenge those tiles and paint scenes on those – you know – as art. Yup. Art.
I knew that there was a big world – a big universe – that I would get to explore. After I outgrew my astronaut dreams, and just after I drifted away from Marine Biology, I daydreamed about having a tiny apartment in New York, making it at some career all on my own. I envisioned wearing chic suits and riding in taxis. (I rode in my first taxi when I was 17 and it scared the daylights out of me.) I imagined myself being a jet-setting woman of the world.
I read about cities, and I understood them in theory. But I didn’t really experience any of them until my senior year of High School.
(Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next post: “City Mouse”)