Country meets city

Battery Park buildings, complete with rooftop garden.

When I packed up a U-Haul truck and moved from Broadway in NYC to my newly-purchased farm in Old DeKalb near the Canadian border, I left an apartment building in which I barely knew  the faces of other tenants and was friends with none of them. Arriving in the North Country, the first bit of culture shock was the loss of anonymity and then the discovery that everyone seemed to know or know of everyone else, and could tell you maiden names, first cousins, in-laws and great uncles for all of them.

I found this familiarity with others a bit disconcerting at first. Now, I treasure it as one of the positive qualities of living in an area where people know their small town neighbors or all the other families on their rural road.

Apparently, city and suburban dwellers are yearning for that community connection, too. A new website helps people living in the same neighborhood connect with each other. Funny, as I read the article, it reminded me of something… oh, yes,…and, of course, the on-the-ground neighborliness and sense of connectedness that is part of our daily lives in the North Country. On the other hand, I do think there’s a real movement afoot in many cities–to find community, through shared rooftop or vacant lot gardens, through food coops and neighborhood clean up efforts, and other shared activities.

A standard of rural community: the potluck supper.

One other note–on the rural/urban difference: on Saturday’s edition of American Routes, country singer Marty Stuart said, paraphrasing here, “It’s harder to grow up in a city and adapt to and master what you need to know to live in the country than it is to grow up in the country and learn what you need to know to live in a city.” I grew up in NYC, and I agree. It took a long time to acquire skills that North Country natives take for granted–from gardening and canning, to getting around in bad weather conditions, to maintaining a house (vs. living in an apartment) and using tools. Heck, I didn’t even learn how to drive a car until I was 25.

But, you may disagree. Weigh in here. Easier to adapt to the country or city–if you were raised in the other environment?

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4 Comments on “Country meets city”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Don’t be fooled. Even in a small community you don’t “Know” everyone and everyone does not know you.
    In many ways it is just like the big city, only different.

  2. Michael Greer says:

    Ah! but by contrast, my son in Brooklyn seems to know everyone, everywhere he goes. Admittedly, he’s a creature of habit, and goes to get his coffee every morning at the same place, rides the same subway train, and gets his pastry at the same shop almost every day….but when we walk in and folks say “Hi Ryan, is this your dad?” I begin to see that your own small town can exist even in a very large city.

  3. Ken Hall says:

    Ellen, Back in 1968 I experienced the reverse of which you speak. I was a brandy new brown bar in the USAF, subsequent to 4 years enlisted, and my brother was going to law school at Columbia living in Manhattan. We had grown up in the North Country and he had emigrated to the City with an older MGB which he was forced to move daily or risk having it impounded. I was on leave visiting my parents, near Potsdam, prior to travel to my next duty duty station near Sacramento, CA; so I offered to buy the MG and tow it to CA with me.

    He lived 15-20 floors up in a high rise between Central Park and the Hudson river. On my very first visit to NYC I arrived with my trusty 100# Doberman, Siege, and took the elevator up to his apartment with same. As you might imagine we usually had the elevator to ourselves as people would start to get on, see Siege sitting beside me, and in near cartoon stop action jump smartly back. Interestingly when people did get on the elevator with me they invariably stood mute until I started talking to them. I found that almost to a woman/man they would respond when I talked to them but they appeared fearful of initiating conversation. I recall being astounded by one older man, I reckon he would appear younger to me now, who told me he had never traveled farther than a few blocks from where we were talking.

    Apparently my brother had slipped right into that keep to yourself mentality because in the week I spent there I knew the names of a number of his neighbors of whom he knew none yet he had been living there for a couple of years.

    I kept an eye on the NYC police cruisers that glided slowly past me as I removed the front bumper from the MG, modified my home brew tow bar, and attached it. Never once did a policeman ask me what I was doing or if the car I was about to tow off belonged to me.

    To say I was not enamored with NYC would be an understatement. During the nearly 30 years he lived there I doubt that I visited him more than a handful of times until he moved out to Westchester County.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    Sorry for your less than great experience in NYC.
    If I had the money to blow, I would continue to live up here but keep an apartment in the city.
    Not once did I ever feel afraid in the city. In the 60’s I lived in what is called the East Village, down around 10th Street between Ave. B & C. Back then I had an apartment (a dive I guess) for $40 per month – but I loved it.
    Now when I go down, it’s usually to stay and visit at my wife’s sister’s place in the Bronx. When I sit on the steps, people walking by always say hello and sometimes stop to chat.

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