Part 1 of the Series, Small Town America
I have very mixed feelings about small town America.
On one hand I have always lived in small American towns, and this is where I have always felt most comfortable. These small towns have always been the places I have chosen to live.
On the other hand, small towns in America are getting a lot of bad press right now: many small towns are economically failing, poverty is on the rise, jobs are drying up, and life is heading to the edge of desperation in many (but not all) small towns. And then there is the fact that small town America basically elected Donald Trump, and it is very hard to argue that this is good for anyone who lives in small town America, or, for that fact, for anyone who lives anywhere in America. So I’m feeling that perhaps populism and anger and resentment and maybe even violence are not far from the surface in many small, American towns.
But, that feels to me like something of a cliche, especially since I know a lot of very intelligent and successful and wonderful people who live in small town America. And I don’t think I have ever come across much in the way of anger, or resentment or violence in any of my small American towns. However, I have to say that in some of my small towns, there has been more than a little poverty. But in some of my other small towns, poverty has been almost nonexistent. Already, I’m beginning to see that this is not a simple topic I have taken on. I’m already beginning to see that all small towns are different in many ways. And even though small towns are all different, I’m seeing that they do fall into various categories.
It is my plan to write a short essay on each of the small American small towns I have spent my life living in. And since I did live in most of these towns for considerable amounts of time, the essays will also be about me, about that part of my life I spent in these towns. I am thinking that my life in these towns is, in some small way, a partial description of what these small towns were all about at the time I lived in them. It is my hope that describing my life in these towns will also be revelatory of the towns themselves and therefore of similar towns all over America.
And so, part of what this series of essays is about is making sense of my contradictory feelings of life in small town America.
So, here are the small towns I have lived in.
- My small town 1: Hancock MI
- My small town 2: Casper Wyoming
- My small town 3: Giessen Germany
- My small town 4: Laramie WY
- My small town 5: Stevens Point, WI
- My small town 6: Albuquerque, NM
- My small town 7: Corrales NM
- My small town 8: Howard, CO
- My small town 9: Salida, CO
- My small town 10: Placitas, NM
- My small town 11: Sanford, ME
- My small town 12: Jackson, Wyoming
All of the towns, except the last two, Sanford and Jackson, are listed in the chronological order in which I lived in them.
A couple of these small towns need an explanatory note. These notes follow:
I lived in Handcock, MI when I was a small boy; I left at age seven. So my impressions of the town are those of a small boy.
I lived in Giessen, Germany for two years when I was in the army. And so those years were colored greatly by the fact that I was a young American soldier living in a foreign city, an occupied city in a way. This is the only one of my small towns that is not in America.
I lived in Albuquerque, NM in the early 1970’s and Albuquerque is not exactly a small town in most estimations. At the time it had a population of about 400,000. But at the same time, Albuquerque had many small town characteristics and it still does. It still feels in many ways infinitely more provincial than say Denver, Co which is not all that much bigger.
I never actually lived in Salida, CO, but I did live in Howard CO which is a very small mountain community fifteen miles from Howard. When we wanted to “go to town” to do anything from buying groceries or going to a movie or going out to dinner or shipping parcels, we went to Salida. So, we did kind of live in Salida. Salida was as much our town as Howard, where our house was.
And I never lived in Sanford, ME. My son Jeff and his family live in Sanford. But over the last fifteen or so years they have lived there, my wife and I have spent quite a bit of time in that town. We were there once for 6 months and another time for two months and other times for a week or two or three at a time. So, we know that town pretty well. And we also met a lot of people there through our son’s family. After the Sanford section, I also include an essay I wrote about the old abandoned fabric mill that is in Sanford.
Jackson, Wyoming is another small town that I never really lived in. However, I did live for several years in nearby Colter Bay, which is a small tourist village in Teton National Park which is only a few miles from the town of Jackson. I lived in Colter Bay for several summers where I worked as a fishing guide during the season. In addition, since my parents loved the Tetons, I visited Jackson for the first time when I was 8 years old and then revisited it almost every year for the rest of my life. Over the years I have had a lot of friends who lived in the Jackson area, and thus Jackson has always been an important part of my life. The town of Jackson is a very interesting town as it is both a rich tourist town and the quintessential American small town, most of whose inhabitants are very far from being wealthy.
The first of the “My Small Town” essays will be about the first town I lived in, Hancock, MI. I lived here from 1941 to 1947. The Hancock essay directly follows this essay. Or, use the link to go directly to the Hancock, MI essay.
This post was written by Fred Hanselmann