Today marks one week since I’ve been back in my hometown.
It’s been seven days now since my mom and I packed up my car tetris-style, boxes and drawers wedged all the way up to the ceiling. It’s no small wonder that we had to build the Leaning Pile of Luggage; that was nine months’ worth of stuff taking up the back of my car. I was bewildered. Since age six, I had grown up with my eyes glued to Madison’s gleaming capitol dome. I’ve lived the vast majority of my life in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. My family had taken plenty of short-term trips and vacations when I was younger, but until September of last year I hadn’t been away from them for more than a day or two at most.
A couple years ago, I struggled to picture myself on State Street, let alone living across state lines. While UW-Madison was the end goal, it seemed distant and unattainable in more ways than one. I’ll never not love Wisconsin, but I love it for its “Up North,” for its Door County bike rides, its kayak trips and – of course – its dairy. I can probably count the number of Packer games I’ve seen on TV on my fingers, and my first experience with Badger football wasn’t until this year. I wasn’t sure I’d fit into the sea of red at Camp Randall, and on top of that it seemed so far from home.
That is, until I moved even farther away. Turns out, the Leaning Pile of Luggage included one giant tower of cheap, purple t-shirts screaming “Purple Pride!” and implying, “I’m a freshman!” After a series of unlikely events, I had ended up 165 miles away in Illinois, attending Northwestern University and studying journalism. In what was most likely the biggest (riskiest? best?) leap of faith I had ever made, I made the move to the shores of Lake Michigan, where I was immediately a small fry in a massive, demanding ocean. But I loved it.
Maybe I hadn’t felt ready for living on my own, but I took to the freedom like a fish in water (at least I like to think so. A few panicked phone calls home might say differently.) While the city of Evanston is less than a thousand people larger than Oshkosh, it felt newer, fresher, bigger. Plenty of people will tell you, political analyst Gianno Caldwell included, that Evanston most certainly is not Chicago itself, but it does make up part of the Chicagoland suburbs. Living so close to a big city was a major change for me; one that I quickly grew to love. At the same time, though, it forced me to wonder: if I could picture myself living in the city so soon, would this my last summer in the Fox Valley for a while?
The thought spooked me. I don’t feel ready to leave the Dairy State behind, because – after living here most of my life – some of it is still a stranger to me. There is a clear divide between my green and white saltbox house and the farm life that draws its breath just outside the city limits. I want to use this time to get to know this divide now. The “What does the Fox say?” series of blog posts will listen to the voices of the Valley that may go overlooked in larger metropolitan areas: people who work on the farm and still hold nine-to-fives, truckers and horseback riders.
This idea was partially inspired by the change I felt coming home. Shifting gears back from city driving to two-lane highways shouldn’t have been so hard – I couldn’t wait to finish up finals and sleep in my own bed. One of the first things I did once I was back was to check in with work: both my current job and my old boss. I stopped in to catch up, got a coffee to go, and decided to wander Main Street, still dressed in my “please re-hire me, look how professional I am” clothes. For a few minutes, the sun was shining and it felt good to be back.
That changed pretty quickly. I made my way toward Opera House Square, content with coffee in hand. I had set one foot in the crosswalk and begun to stroll across when a car blared its horn at me angrily. My pace of life didn’t match up with the driver’s anymore; I had gotten used to the comfortable “bubble” of Evanston. Embarrassment flashed through me. Had I changed?
Seven days later, I don’t think I have. I do think I am more aware of the rural/urban divide here now more than ever. In high school, it glinted through the cracks in the summer and in the B-wing of Oshkosh West. Kids who lived beyond city limits took to social media to rant about peers at Country USA who had never listened to country music a day in their life. Some people preferred technology & engineering courses or Ms. Rennebohm’s greenhouse to English or algebra. I respected that, and was always curious to learn more, but never had the chance.
It’s now or never: this blog will reach out and explore the center of the Fox Valley’s Venn diagram: where rural meets urban. Up next? Talking to those true CUSA fans who know every lyric by heart and have been tuned in to 101.3FM for as long as they can remember. Stick around for the ride and let’s find out: what does the Fox say?
If someone’s name just sprang to mind, let us know in the comments below! See Laura’s introduction post here.