When people ask me who I am―not as in “what’s your name” or even “what do you do for living”―but more like: what is the essence of Genilee? I often say, “a small town gal.” That generates a lot of raised eyebrows and scratched heads. Although half the population of the U.S. lives in a municipal unit of less than 25,000, people from cities as big as where I live now—the DC area―do not understand what I mean. This is partly because many of those “units” in this area of the country are suburbs.
But I was raised in what is traditionally thought of as Small Town USA complete with a main street, a gazebo and railroad tracks. The biggest controversy to hit my town (Edgerton, Ohio) when I was a newspaper reporter there was the moving of the town’s statue from the intersection of two busy state roads to the park.
I am proud of coming from the village of Edgerton, where I graduated in 1972 with a record whopping 70-plus classmates. And I offer condolences to those who did not have this upbringing. This is because one of the things I’ve decided is that small towns can be good for the psyche. How did I learn this wondrous fact? By having two best friends who decided to go into psychology.
Going through life with two friends in this field has presented some interesting challenges and discussion. These are two of the people I love the most—strong women with strong opinions, dedication to their field. But to have friends that have made psychology their passion requires getting past the point of feeling like you’re being analyzed. I did. And I listened as they discussed fascinating concepts and experts they’d studied and shared real-life stories about people with issues. All of these talks have showed me how very un-crazy I am, and I credit at least part of that sanity to a simple upbringing.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are plenty of people with psychological problems that live in small towns. But the few I remember from growing up in my area of the world were taken care of by their neighbors. The main difference I see in people who are city-raised as opposed to village-raised is tolerance. There’s a give and take to small towns that I don’t see in city people. I suspect this has to do with the simple reality that when you have fewer people surrounding you each day, it’s harder to just ignore someone who rubs you the wrong way. You learn better and quicker how to adjust. When you grow up amid thousands of people in a city, you can insult someone to their face, then never see them again. When the number of people in your school and your town is limited, I think you become more accountable for everyday actions and how they’ll affect your relationships going forward.
I know this is an idealistic view and that there are many other factors that affect my mental health, but when it comes to my hometown, I will fully admit to wearing rose-colored glasses. And if those glasses are not fashionable, I don’t care, and I know the people back home in Edgerton won’t care. They’ll accept me anyway.
Genilee Swope Parente