"The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck
Causes of loneliness in the Ruralhood (for me growing up) were:
Lack of new experiences
No public transportation
As child I didn’t feel lonely, but as a teenager I felt lonely –many times. Adults went to the local stores and post offices to chat or they would stop by a neighbor’s home to talk. I remember seeing farmers on their tractors in the middle of a field stop just to talk to another neighbor driving by.
Siblings were a good source of company for children.
Some of the women in my community did not know how to drive. I felt very proud that my mother could and did drive. Her mother did not drive and depended on others to get her where she needed to be. I don’t remember her ever having a problem getting anywhere. However, the lack of the driving skill limited women on where and when they shopped and visited. This also limited their independence.
Church and school activities helped with rural socialization and perhaps lessened the feeling of loneliness. Personally, I looked forward to attending school. I loved learning, but what I most desired was to see my friends. People need interaction with other people. Rural people too.
The party line (definition in sidebar) in our home was a big inconvenience for a teenage girl. Often times, I felt I had very important information to contribute to and extract from-my friends. However, the phone line always seemed to be busy with four or five families sharing it. The people that seemed to be using it the most were the women. I was very careful and quiet in testing the line to see if it was free often covering the mouthpiece with my hand. Many times I couldn’t resist in listening to the matrons of my community rag on another. But before I whined about the injustice, I would remember that my paternal grandparents could not get a telephone in the area in which they where they lived- at all.
A dangerous aspect of seclusion in any culture is domestic violence. It happened in my community. Rural people tried to keep their own secrets, but, children will tell. It wasn’t until I volunteered with a domestic violence organization that I realized how the rural location (even today) is a prime location for violence against women.
Today’s rural person has many opportunities to seek companionship through land lines (no party lines please), cell phones, texting, vehicles, email and social networking. What might be suffering is the one-on-one interaction of my childhood between people face-to-face. My question might be: Are we less lonely today with so much technology at our fingertips? Or have we moved loneliness to another level?
If today’s child was told that his or her day included going to a freshly plowed field to hunt for arrowheads that child might be confused. In my Ruralhood life, walking a plowed field was a familiar occurrence-one that I took for granted and now cherish as a memory.
Most of the time my dad would go on his own, but other times he would load up his family and we would walk the fields in search of arrowheads. Often called Missouri Jones (as in Indiana) by his cousin, my dad was very interested in relics of the past. He loved exploring caves in our area, climbing the cliffs and hiking along the rivers. It was an interesting childhood living with my dad.
On one such field outing, we went to a family member’s plowed field. Once we had climbed out of the car and walked to the field, I would watch my dad. He seemed to have a method. He would walk up and down the rows, eyes rarely leaving the ground. My eagle-eyed mother (it seemed) usually found the first treasure of the day.
During those days of discovery, I learned respect for the earth, for those precious artifacts and family. I also learned that what seems disturbed and tossed about is actually an opportunity to grow.
There are times when recollection is quite vivid because of an emotion or experience that has occurred, thereby, making an imprint on the memory. One of those times happened on one of those field days. I don’t remember there being many rules in the open fields that were close to family farms, but I am sure I was told to not wander. Those seem like familiar words. That day, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of my parents. I looked at them and they weren’t watching so I walked away. I wanted to see how far I could travel in that seemingly endless field. So I started off on my own and was hoping I would find something very special to show my folks upon return.
Photo: I found this arrowhead nearly 30 years ago on the road outside my house when it was a gravel road.
I walked for what seemed like hours on my skinny little legs until I got to the end where the turned earth met the untouched grass then brush. The earth smelled crisp and bit my nose with its musty aroma. It was a wonderful aroma–raw disturbed earth. When I finally got to the end of my adventure, I felt triumphant- proud of myself. I turned to look at my family and they appeared far away and tiny against the dark earth and cloudless blue sky. At that moment I felt little and vulnerable. Then something in the thick brush stirred. This was my moment of truth. I was out of the protection area of my parents. There would be no saving me from the bear that I could hear coming and I was certain wanted to eat my little child body .
I sprinted away from that noise with more speed than a small child should possess. I tripped only once on one of the many clots of earth that I was trying to hop over to be with my family again.
I don’t know if they ever noticed that I had wandered off. More than likely, they had and wanted to give me a chance to correct my own behavior.
Of course, there was no bear in the bush.
Entertainment changes as fast as the seasons of the earth. What my grandparents did as children for play (if they indeed had time for playing) was certainly not what I did for entertainment. My father tells that his imagination was his toy. My mother loved playing sports. My children’s play was linked to technology that I didn’t have as a child. And of course there were toys. Toys for early generations were made from every day things. Most of my toys weren’t homemade, but purchased. My children also had purchased toys and games.
What was the significance of entertainment in my Ruralhood? The most noteworthy thing about it was family togetherness with simple activities that grew forever memories.
Gathering places were incredibly important to rural areas when I was a child growing up. Whether it was in the smaller country towns or in the larger towns, places to congregate was a part of the Ruralhood. Gathering places meant different things to me at different ages.
When I was a small child my favorite gathering place was my maternal grandmother's farm because there were many cousins to play with every Sunday after church. I don't remember one Sunday when there wasn't family gathered at my grandma's home.
The country stores in my small town were also places to gather. (The photo is one of the stores as it stands today.) Since I lived across the gravel road and a state highway from both stores, I could watch the people of the community come and go. People would gather in those stores or outside to talk about prices, who got married, who died, and who ran off with the milkman. It was an exciting place to visit. It was an exciting place to watch. It was an exciting place to live.
The river was also a gathering place for adults as well as children. It was a great way to cool down in the summer and probably a good way to tire out the energetic children. It was also a great way to gather with family and neighbors to swim or wade. An occasional farm dog also helped himself to the swimming holes. Swimming holes, however, were dangerous. On occasion people were killed by the undertow of the river's current.
Churches were a normal gathering place not only for the typical church service, but also for revivals, church socials and singing Sundays. I have often said that I have been inside nearly every church in our county because of my grandma. Every time a church door opened she seemed to be there in attendance- and not only at her own church. And she couldn't drive. She was a faithful example to me. In my small country town was a community building. People gathered there for town meetings, family reunions, pie suppers and clubs. The public restroom was an outhouse- out back.
The school in my rural community was also a place where the community could gather to watch their children play sports, attend carnivals (photo is of me and my co-candidate in the carnival- first grade) or see each other at parent/teacher conferences. Children (mostly) liked going to school to learn, make friends and to have social activities apart from their family.
The significance of gathering places to this rural child was the sense of familiarity. All children need and want familiar places where faces mean security and where love abounds. My rural culture fed me my pride with knowing the people of my community where everyone did know your name or at least to what family you belonged.