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The intersection of small town and psychology

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.Edgerton-sign-resized

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

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A small miracle needed in a big way

I’ve done a lot of grumbling lately. The weather has been lousy for four months. My work load has been heavy. My mom and I haven’t had the time we had last year to market our newest book, Wretched Fate. My dad can no longer drive which means many hours figuring out how to get my parents back and forth to doctor’s appointments and the grocery store. None of which compares to the real heartache: Mom and I, and the rest of my wonderful family are dealing with: Dad’s Alzheimer’s.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

So when a tiny piece of sunshine breaks through, it feels like a miracle. But then, maybe it is.

For about a month and a half, my daddy cheerfully utters the same phrase whenever we get into the car: “You’ll let me know if you see any deer, won’t you?” As long as we are driving where there are trees, he says the phrase several times. There’s a reason he repeats the request: In the largely rural areas of Ohio and Michigan where we grew up and lived many years, we spent hours driving around and trying to spot deer. It was a family tradition that all of us remember from vacations or Sunday drives. And even though none but my oldest sister lives in a rural area, I think we all still search the tree lines when we’re driving in the country.

It’s a bit disconcerting, however, when you live in an urban area like Washington, D.C. and you’re just on your way from point A to point B and happen to be on a tree-lined street. But we always smile at Dad’s “joke,” and we nod and reassure him that we’ll be on the lookout.

Recently, Mom, Dad and I were on our way back from a doctor’s appointment that didn’t take as long as we all expected, so we decided to take a ride through a local park. It was the first pleasant, spring-like day in many weeks, and we were all in a good mood. I cranked up the music, and Dad responded almost immediately. He may not have remembered my name half an hour earlier, but give my Dad a melody, and he will sing along. He usually knows the melody, and he often knows most the words.

We took a winding road that led into the park, and on the way in, Mom and I heard “Let me know if you see any deer, won’t you?” All three of us chuckled. Then we rounded a bend and there before us, was a long stretch of land with seven deer munching happily on grass. I slowed way down, but they barely batted their beautiful eyes. They were young and didn’t know enough to be afraid (park season hasn’t started). Or maybe they just sensed that we were a car of people in awe.

The deer were so close to the road, we were afraid to roll down the window and make any noise that would scare them away. So we glided slowly by, as silently as we could, all of us appreciating the moment. Then we turned around and came back and appreciated their beauty again. They never stirred. Just lifted their heads and stared back as if to say, “Yea, we see you. But we are not about to move.”

In a municipal park that is packed later in spring and summer, to see seven deer out in the open is truly wondrous. It dispersed the drabness that can easily surround everyday life. And it gave my housebound daddy, who is dealing with a horrible disease that keeps him inside his apartment far too much, a few minutes of pure pleasure.

Genilee Swope Parente

 

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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