Calhoun county is a place of idyllic imagery, a place of roller coaster hills, corn and soybean fields grudgingly giving over to sweeping apple and peach orchards. It is a place that seems to have been little touched by the sweep of time. There are no Wal-Marts, no McDonalds, it is a land where the mom and pop chain is still king, where farmers still outnumber businessmen, it is a worst fear or fanciful desire, it is what it is.
I found myself living in Calhoun county on what almost seems like a whim of my mother and step-father, some kind of desperate need to reconnect with the land and the country that they knew growing up and had left behind years before. When in the seventh grade I was torn away from my friends and my school to live in an area that I knew nothing about and that my family had been removed from for two generations. We were not farmers, not country folk of any sort, and a move to such a place was quite a culture shock to a kid who had been hanging out at 7-11 for most of his childhood. The place I found myself moving into was like something out of a Poe story, a large dilapidated looking house, long since abandoned, towered over the one I was to live in. The yard, to my suburban eyes, appeared a jungle with towering oaks, walnuts, and the immense willow which dominated the front yard.
Looking back now I find it hard to believe that I was ever that naïve about the place that I would come to call home. It seems hard to for me to believe now that I had ever so dreaded living in the country. The views I previously held about ruralists, about the inherent inconvenience and discomfort of living away from other people and great events now seem odd and antiquated. “The Country” has become a term that I use more out of convenience than need, in fact if I had my way I would rid it from the language, it and the cultural weight it carries with it. I may not have lived my entire life in a rural area but I have been there long enough to recognize how the inherent beauty of the place I live is besmirched by the associations that have been tied to agrarianism, those outmoded concepts of class, race, sexual orientation, religion and most other societal catalysts that divide us today.
My first experiences with what is was to live a rural life where not far from what I imagined them to be in my paranoid fear of the place I had come to inhabit. This was of course school, and at first it was a waking nightmare. Going from a large middle school in the suburbs of St. Louis to a school in which grades seven through twelve were easily accommodated by a one hallway hulk that was neither attractive nor modern, is the kind of thing that will get to anyone. It was as if all anonymity had been stricken from me and I was on a pedestal for the enjoyment of the school, in a class of less than 20 people I was the outsider, the non-native. It was tough but I adjusting throughout the years, endearing myself to my classmates and coming out of the trauma relatively unscathed. It was through this that I got to know these people, now my people, as individuals instead of the collective “they” that modern culture refers to people from the country as.