I GREW UP IN A TOWN OF LESS THAN 15,000 PEOPLE. IT DIDN’T HAVE A HIGH SCHOOL. BUT IT WAS THE ICE FISHING CAPITAL OF CANADA!
As the summer quickly approaches it feels strange not having a flight booked to go home to Canada. For the last 10 years I have made the 8 hour flight home to spend time on the lakes with friends and family. Covid-19 means that I won’t get to make the trip home this summer, I won’t be able to see my family and I won’t be able to meet my new nephew.
My mind has been drifting to my childhood home the last few weeks. This is a place I was desperate to leave as soon as I could. I moved out when I was 18 never to fully return. When I close my eyes I can see myself cycling down the streets in the humid air of the summer, walking through the dew covered grass in the early morning with my dogs and going out in the boat watching the turtles dive into the water as we pass.
Keswick, Ontario, is where I grew up. It was a small town an hour away from Toronto, nestled beside Lake Simcoe and had a population of less than 15,000. I never really properly said goodbye to my hometown or my family home. My parents sold and moved away while I was in the U.K. and I haven't ever been back. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.
I am grateful for the years of small town living as it has shaped very much of who I am today.
WHAT IT TAUGHT ME
1. Don’t rush things
When you’ve grown up in a small town you are forced to wait for the natural rhythms of life rather than rushing them along in a bigger city environment. Your days activities are formed around the environment you live in. Without the lake properly frozen you can’t skate or play hockey, without the rains to clear the sand off the roads you can’t skateboard, without a friend who has their driver’s license and access to a car you are stuck at home.
If you rush trying to play games on the lake you simply fall in and trust me...no one enjoys falling through ice into dreadfully cold water. You learn quickly to respect nature and the pace of life it hands you.
2. Never give up the desire to explore
I always knew I would travel, I would explore, I would discover so much more than what was happening in Keswick. I never questioned my thirst for exploration and travel. There was so much to see and do. When I started teaching in London and asked my students where they wanted to explore they looked at me with blank stares. They grew up in London, a busy bustling city. They had no desire or need to travel, widen their horizons or explore. When you live in a city with as many opportunities as London, the incentive to look elsewhere is much lower than when you’re from a town with a population of around 10,000.
I grew up in a small town, I was constantly thinking about the day I would move on to bigger and better things. It's a sort of youthful idealism that stays with you, even after you’ve transitioned to big city life .
3. Comfort in Familiarity
I first left Keswick for a slightly bigger city where I attended university. I then decided to backpack New Zealand and attend University in Australia. I then moved to London and lived in many different areas of the city. I loved traveling and living in these new and exciting cities. All the while I was having the best time, I still looked forward to the day I would get to come home. I longed for a place where everybody knew my name and I could be unashamedly myself without trying.
When you move away, you experience the culture shock of being a small fish in a big pond, which can be both rewarding and overwhelming. However, when you go home to visit and run into an old boss, teacher or family friend at the grocery store and you get questions like ‘How’s your mom doing?’ or ‘Are you still playing the guitar?’ it gives you a warm feeling of comfort because no one knows you like that anymore.
Confidence that comes from inside
When I first moved to bigger cities I realised something really interesting about running errands or going to the gym. It was that people in bigger places look incredible ALL the time.
When you grown up in a small town, especially a town like Keswick, you grow up knowing that it is perfectly acceptable to enter a public domain without makeup and just wearing your joggers and a ponytail.
I still have friends that can’t face leaving the house without makeup or touching it up between drinks at the pub. I definitely think more about the way I look at times and would probably cringe at some of the small town ensembles that walk around today BUT I can happily go out in public sans makeup and with messy hair. My small-town upbringing taught me that there’s more to life than trying to impress others and you can find a swagger from a confidence within and not from the height of your heels.
Being bored breeds creativity
When there’s no mall, no fancy restaurant or bowling alley within walking distance or a short drive, you're kind of forced to get creative when it comes to how you spend your time.
We spent our time:
driving around in our cars, with no destination and chatting endlessly
singing Alanis on repeat
holding our first skateboard competition
attaching wakeboard ropes to the back of the snowmobile and snowboarding on the ice
learning the Napoleon Dynamite dance in your friends basement and performing it while rolling around on the floor in fits of laughter
My high school friends and I spent many a weekend coming up with alternative ways to have fun. And, I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.
When it comes to gossip, you get a thick skin
When you grow up in a place where everyone knows everyone, you’re bound to experience some gossip, be at the end of an untrue tale or experience bullying. There are only so many kids so one day it’s going to be your turn.
I was bullied at the start of high school by a group of girls and was made to feel pretty terrible. I wasn’t ever the pretty girl, but many of my friends were. I went through lots of stages trying to figure myself out, sometimes these looks and phases were appreciated and at other times I had cruel words said about me.
You have to learn to create armour to this kind of attention as there is no where to hide. As I grew older I gained more confidence in myself and my self worth. I didn’t put up with this behaviour in the workplace or from others because of what I had experienced in the past. It's never a fun lesson to learn and one that I wouldn't wish on anyone but it is part of my story and part of me.
While there are plenty of great things about living in a big city or traveling to numerous countries, I’ll forever be grateful for the tiny hick town I grew up in. Even though I sometimes I’ve hated to admit it when I was younger...it will always be the place I call home and will forever hold some of my most fond memories.