Pride and prejudice: Geography as destiny

In the heartland of this great nation, we’ve apparently all entered the Witness Protection Program. Our exact locations must remain a closely guarded secret.
I’ve never found good reason to be vague about where I live, but I consistently observe it in people from rural America.
I live in an intensely rural region, cosseted by a series of small towns. I am amazed at the lengths folks will go to qualify themselves as somehow bigger fish than all this, small pond notwithstanding.
It seems to stem from a perceived hierarchy of social credibility linked to the size and familiarity of one’s hometown, and, on a larger scale, one’s home state.
Basically, to be from New York City = cool. To be from South Succotash, Iowa = just shoot yourself now.
In denial. Rural denial comes from people fearing they might be pegged low in the so-called food chain of cultural intuitiveness. As if, perhaps, the smaller their old stomping ground, the less they have to offer as a person of importance.
You’ll never hear someone from Chicago hesitate to admit they’re from Chicago. That’s because Chicago is a universally recognizable city, therefore giving it high rank. Basically, everyone knows someone who might have at the very least visited there once.
On the other hand, some kid from Turkey Hollow, Vt., might tell you he’s from the “New England area,” assuming you would either be unfamiliar with his hometown’s location and/or consider him an incurable rube for not hailing from a hip, metropolitan oasis.
The same is true for the plethora of small town folk who routinely insist they hail from “just outside Pittsburgh,” or “near Cincinnati.”
Whenever I hear someone utter “near” when explaining their geographic home base, it seems to be said in a guarded tone, a voice begging me not to ask.
Why can’t we be more specific? Maybe I’ve stopped for coffee or barely escaped a speed trap there.
Someone recently asked me where I’m from “originally.” Without hesitating, I told the truth: a mid-size university town in northeastern Ohio: Kent, Ohio.
“Oh, I wouldn’t have guessed that at all!” she replied, somewhat astonished.
Translation: “You seem sort of with it, but your hometown isn’t one of the more recognizable on the map. How in the world did you learn to speak English?”
Reality check. Here’s a crash course in reality: Ohio, like much of the Midwest, is a predominantly rural state. Culturally, we are more Olive Garden than Tavern on the Green.
As for the arts? Well, even the musicians inducted into Cleveland’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame won’t actually come to Cleveland for the ceremony.
Sure, we boast an enviable number of orange barrels, but the only thing Mr. and Ms. Average American ever associates with this chunk of the Heartland are the Cleveland Indians and some dubious claim to have been home to more U.S. Presidents than any other state.
It’s silly beyond comprehension to be ashamed (or pompous) about where you’re from. Even if where you are from is what the East and West Coast crowds derisively refer to as “fly over country.”
(Translation: that vast middle part of the United States that prevents New York and Los Angeles from crowding each other, but otherwise remains uncharted by the celebrities except as they jet across the nation by air.)
Perspective. Nonetheless, the resultant insecurity of hailing from “the sticks” can lead to some bizarre hazing. Whenever some kid from say, Columbus, implies that someone from, say Millersburg, is an uncultured hick – citing Ohio State football as the source of credibility – I can’t help but imagine how profusely the average New Yorker would laugh themselves into a hernia if eavesdropping on the conversation.
It’s like the goldfish poking fun at the guppy. Sure, the goldfish might be marginally bigger and flashier, but when it comes the bigger fish in the pond, he’s still pretty much lunch.
We’d all be better off simply embracing the charm of living in “fly over country” and stand proud to be from the little spots of “nowhere” that are someplace special to each of us.
Take it from me, someone proud to be living sort of near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line.
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is proud to be a Buckeye (whatever that might be). She welcomes comments c/o http://userweb.epohi.com/~kseabolt; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460 or online at http://dragnet.epohi.com/~kseabolt.)

About the Author

Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless. More Stories by Kymberly Foster Seabolt

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