I've been looking at how towns are laid out for a project I'm working on. In doing so, I went back to look at the layouts for some of the towns I lived in over the years. I have lived in some great communities. Most of my early years were spent in very small towns in Iowa until I moved to the Omaha area in 1984.
One thing that struck me as I looked at these layouts was how finite they were. There are only a few streets in these little towns. But, they seemed infinite and immense to a little girl. My world was pretty small in those days. I could walk to a friend's house and all of the activity for us seemed to center around the church, which was often right next door. It was usually only a couple of blocks to school and I could land at anyone's house between there and home and they would know who I was.
There may have only been a few streets in town, but I never felt like my world was small. There were so many interesting people and so many things to do within the limitations set by a map. A creek, a tree stump, the dog behind the fence, the strange old lady who stared at everyone from her porch and never spoke, the elderly woman who lived next door and invited me in to look at her immense collection of salt and pepper shakers, the banker who lived down the street and was the only person in town with color television, the woman with way too many cats, the old guy with mowers on his front lawn.
The older I got, the bigger my world became. I could walk farther or maybe even ride my bicycle. This opened up any number of possibilities to me. I could get to friends who were a little further away and I found parks and abandoned buildings; I spent more time with interesting people who lived in the community: Old Doc Hensley who raised chickens, another woman who lived in a very small home, but probably had more money than nearly anyone else in town, there was always someone saying hello to me because they knew my family, I was never alone.
There was always something going on, something to see, something to do, something to experience. I took it all in and I grew up.
By the time I graduated from high school, I was itching to get out of the small town. Finally, I felt the limitations of those few numbers of streets. I was tired of everyone watching me and being able to tell my parents where I was all the time. I wanted more anonymity than that. I wanted to be able to live in a place where there were limitless streets. I went to college and Mom & Dad moved again. The town wasn't much bigger, but it was close enough to a small city that I didn't care. I had room to expand my horizons. I moved out and into a community that was bigger than anything I'd ever lived in. I didn't know anyone. I met my neighbors, but since I didn't go to school with them and they didn't attend my church, I never really knew them. My world got bigger and smaller all at the same time.
Then, we moved to Omaha. I had access to everything. I could go for days without running into someone I knew. There were still a million things to explore, but now those things were all found in buildings. I could go to the museum or the zoo, I could go shopping or out to eat, there was always somewhere to go and something to do or see. I could fly out of Omaha and go to New York City or San Francisco. I could drive to Kansas City or Minneapolis. There seemed to be no limits to what I could do. The city streets went on for miles and miles. A person could get lost in Omaha trying to find their way from one point to another. My life had gotten immense!
Or so I thought.
I didn't know my neighbors ... at all. I knew the people I worked with and the people from church. That was it. I didn't know their connections to other people in the community or who their families were or how they had grown up or why they were in the business they were in. I didn't know what made them happy or about the enormous sadness they carried because they might have lost a child. I had no relationship with these people other than the very tenuous connections we built in limited conversations. I dug in with a few people here and there and we became close enough for me to know about their lives and I am thankful for that, but it occurs to me that as immense as my life seemed to be, it really had more limitations than ever before.
I couldn't walk to see my friends or even ride a bicycle to their homes; I had to get in a car and fly past all of the interesting things I might have seen along the way. The woman who spends every waking moment of her day working with the plants around her home - I don't know her. The man who walks everywhere - I don't know where he is going. The wealthy man who lives several blocks from me - I'll never be in his home. I will never wander through Omaha and know for sure that 3 doors down lives someone who cares for me simply because I'm alive.
Those few streets in the towns in which I grew up may look small on a map, but they are filled with treasures I can never find anywhere else. It's taken me 30 years to recognize that my world never really got bigger when I left them.