On our first date, a blind date mind you, Braden was very blunt, but honest. He said, “If you don’t plan on living in the Spring Lake Bottoms and farming for the rest of your life, this is our first and only date.”
At the time, I didn’t know what to say. My first thoughts were, “Rude! I am about to start the next chapter of my life. I am going to the University of Illinois to major in Agriculture Communications, live at 4-H house and become the next Colleen Callahan – marriage is definitely not in my 3-5 year plan.”
Little did I know that 5 years later, I would marry that up-front and honest farmer. And the plan he shared with me on our first date? It hasn’t been all that bad.
One of the perks to dating and marrying someone who is tied to a particular zip code is the support system you inherit. I grew up in the small town of Delavan that sits 25 miles east of Manito. So, when I started dating Braden, except for members of my family who live here, I didn’t know anyone. That in itself can be intimidating in a new relationship.
Manito is truly a community where everybody knows your name and your pickup truck. I still don’t know everyone around town, but they know me. I’m Braden’s wife. And, if you are driving Braden’s truck around Mason County, you are going to get waved at, honked at or flashed (by headlights of course).
Luckily for me, Braden’s family and friends don’t suffer from what I call “Small Town Syndrome” (STS). I feel like for the most part, I have been accepted and adopted into the Manito community. We are blessed to have a great group of friends and family that are only a phone call away if needed. However, as I meet new friends through Farm Bureau Young Leaders and other activities, I have learned others aren’t as fortunate when it comes to preventing this virulent epidemic.
Every small, rural community from coast to coast suffers from various strains of STS such as cliques, drama and small-minded gossip. If you weren’t born and raised in the zip code, it’s hard not to feel like an outsider. It can be challenging to break the ice when you’re “the new girl,” especially if you are not an outgoing person. It’s even harder when you live in the middle of nowhere, know no one and your husband (the only person you know and who knows you) works 12-18 hours a day. It is lonely and downright depressing.
From talking about operating lines, weather scares and grain marketing to busy season recipes, poison ivy remedies and more, having friends and family that understand farm life is essential for any farm wife. The women I have met are incredibly kind and caring in their own way. They also have their own unique story. Some grew up here in Mason County, some in other parts of the state, others are from out of state or even out of the country! We all have a few things in common; we fell in love, relocated and all want to feel accepted as we establish roots.
There is no vaccination. But, there are a few things you can do to help prevent the spread of STS in your own community.
- Let Your Freak Flag Fly: Don’t be afraid to be yourself. When I first started dating Braden, all I wanted to do was fit in with his friends. Who doesn’t? I found myself trying to change to fit in. In some instances I tried too hard. I still sometimes struggle with this one. Please pardon the expression but there is truth to the saying, “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one and most of them stink.” I have learned that by just being myself and trying to not care what other people think, I am happier and have learned who my true friends are.
- Love yourself: Not everyone is going to like you, accept you or want to be your friend and that’s okay! Again, a lesson I learned the hard way. If you accept who you are, flaws and all, no one can use them against you. It’s their loss if they can’t accept who you are.
- Live by the Golden Rule: I absolutely hate feeling left-out which is why I always try to go above and beyond to make sure people feel included, accepted and loved. I might not see or talk to my friends from High School, College or even our community for that matter all the time, but I hope they know I am always a phone call away if they need me. Treating people with kindness, sincerity and respect will get you further in life than being a tacky, snarky snob.
- Don’t hibernate: Also something I struggle with. If it’s an event where I know there are going to be a lot of people I don’t know, I tend to get anxious and want to stay home in my comfort zone. Don’t do it! Get out there, meet new people and make memories. Life is too short to stay at home, in your sweatpants, watching the Hallmark channel eating Schwan’s sherbet out of the carton (not that I speak from experience or anything but the Passion Punch flavor is to die for)!
- Don’t become infected! If you know of someone who is new to your community, don’t hesitate to reach out in your own way. Take them a dish, invite them over for dinner, invite them to church or a community function. There is a cure to Small Town Syndrome. It’s this little thing we call love.