Growing up in a small town had its highs and lows. As a child, I always felt safe. As a teenager, I wished it was easier to hide. As an adult, it’s exactly where I want to be.
One of the best things about living in a small town is the community. As a child that didn’t matter, but I knew if you isolated yourself in an already isolated place, it would’ve been the most boring upbringing ever. In the 1990s, with no texting or social media, I was very happy at public school, church, and even my parents’ bowling league. Growing up with big winters, fishing on the Kenai River, swinging on my buoy swing, and helping my dad sweep his garage were highlights.
My heroes became the kindness from my first grade teacher, the bravery of my best friend’s dad (for being a Democrat), and the gentleness of my Sunday School teacher that made cherry chip cupcakes every week. Everyone made me feel comfortable in my own skin.
Then you grow into a teenager. This feels trickier under the microscope of a small town. Especially in those days if you didn’t sing, dance, debate, play sports, or be active in church, you didn’t fit in. In those days, if you were smart, you had to be the smartest. If you were a church kid, you had to be the holiest. If you were someone’s child, you were a direct reflection of them.
Did anything really bad happen? No. Did I still make great memories? Yes. Did I learn how to treat teenagers in the long run? Absolutely. Self discovery for a teenager is hard enough without everyone else’s input.
“You know how gossip is. It’s the toxic waste of a small town,” wrote Nicholas Sparks. A defining moment for me was letting empty gossip become the truth. If I was going to be branded by lies, I may as well accept them as my new truth. It’s easier to accept that you are no longer a person, but a definition of what people say you are. I was too young to be that exhausted, and too young to know what to do about it.
My art and journalism teachers were open minded and made me feel safe. In turn those creative hobbies became safe. Without even knowing it, they taught me an exit strategy on how to deal with any pressure. It made me notice little things, such as simply breathing in fresh air on the beach became my sanctuary. My new youth leader from church taught me to focus on the beauty of grace and write, write, write about it. I began to admire strong women that were emotional and honest. If I learned anything from that time, it’s to never give up on my daughter. I wish someone had fought fiercely for my well being, but not everyone is a fighter. So I guess I had to become one for myself.
That was probably too deep. Most of my teen years were me just having fun and being goofy. One time I was telling some girls on the basketball team about how much I really liked this cute guy. My basketball coach came in on the tail end of the conversation and said, “Oh yeah. That’s my nephew.”
Wonderful. His entire family knew pretty quickly about my affections and those were the days before technology so that was impressive. Most of them were neighbors too, so I imagine they had a potluck over it. Many years and a couple babies later, here I am washing that nephew’s dirty laundry and letting him know that when his mustache grows too long it pokes my face. Welcome to Paradise.
We lived in Seattle a couple years and moved back to Alaska to get married. We left any shame at the alter and celebrated big. Marrying him made me feel alive again.
Here’s the thing: I love that we got married in the same town were we met. I love that the coffee shop girl had my espresso ready after a long night with my newborn daughter. I love that my aunt had a Cowgirl costume on and held my hand through labor with my son. I love that I’ve grown with my three best friends and now our kids are best friends. I love that everyone knows everyone, because there is a sense of accountability. And always somebody to help you. I love running into the grocery store for milk and hugs. I love when a new small business opens. I love the fresh air.
A small town is not a small life, but a big picture of a community filled with dreamers, achievers, volunteers, people that pray, people that hope, and people that care.
Kasi McClure enjoys being a wife and mother of two in Kenai. She can be reached at email@example.com.