I sent an email with the title of this post as the subject line to all my colleagues when I found out the reason all the public schools were closed here the Monday after Thanksgiving (which, incidentally, garnered more responses from my colleagues than any other email I've ever sent). Silly me: it seemed odd to me that schools would be closed right after the Thanksgiving holiday, a holiday in which, traditionally, kids get two days off from school, Thursday and Black Friday, but wait till I tell you why. I should have known. It just verifies my feeling that I'm living in a somewhat foreign land, and not only because I see adults and children commuting by vehicles that are a combination bicycle and scooter or by horse and buggy.
When I first announced I was moving to Pennsylvania, a friend of mine who lives in Colorado (and really shouldn't be talking) told me that he had a friend who once lived in Pittsburgh. His friend had informed him that in Pennsylvania we have Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and in between is Alabama. I've since heard people around here say that in between is Arkansas, and I say Kansas, but you get the gist. Make no mistake about it: I'm beginning to find out exactly who's going to be voting for the likes of Huckabee next year.
Actually, it's kind of encouraging. Having lived in Connecticut and New York for the past twenty years, every election year I was absolutely convinced that the Democratic candidate was going to win the Presidential election, because I hardly knew anyone who didn't support him, and those I knew who didn't were the ones who were constantly having to defend themselves against all our teasing and ragging. Maybe during the next election, I'll be convinced Guiliani is going to win and will be pleasantly surprised when he loses.
One wouldn't think I'd be so surprised by what I've encountered thus far living here. After all, I grew up in North Carolina, during the era when Jesse Helms rose to power and then reigned supreme. My siblings, friends, and I spent our youth identifying rednecks and steering clear of (and I'm ashamed to say, making fun of) them. I was one of three children in my class whose parents voted for McGovern not Nixon during the first election I can remember. You would think living in a place like this would be a piece of cake for someone with that kind of background, but it's not. And I think I'm beginning to realize the reason it's not. Winston-Salem, N.C., as much as I might want to complain about it, is a city full of people who've moved there from all over the country (and even the world). Those people travel. They think nothing of driving to Raleigh, say, two hours away. They have family members they visit all over the country. They may not get to New York City or Washington, D.C., or Boston very often, but they get there, and their children move there.
Now where am I? It's truly rural America. I may live on a busy highway, and there may be huge outlet shopping centers five miles up that highway, but on my morning and evening walks, behind my house, I see nothing but farms and the animals who live on them. These are family-owned-and-run farms. My town's population is 1500. People don't really move away. Grandparents, parents, and siblings all live relatively close. Our church is full of adult brothers and sisters (and one very prominent family who all own a farm together. Bob and I joke now with everyone we meet: "You're a B., aren't you?). People aren't exposed to all that much, except what they see on TV or read in the local paper (The New York Times it ain't). We live only about two hours from New York City, but no one ever goes there. We are what in Connecticut would be considered a normal commuting distance from Philadelphia; yet to talk to people around here about Philly, you'd think we were talking about San Francisco. I haven't met a soul who works in Philadelphia. So, yes, this has been a bit of an adjustment.
I thought maybe the best way to prove to you that I really am a stranger in a strange land would be to give you a little quiz. (And I'm trusting you not to cheat. I know you can easily look up most of the answers online.)
1. Schools here are closed the Monday after Thanksgiving, because:
a. It's an Amish religious holiday
b. It's opening day of the deer hunting season
c. Black Monday rather than Black Friday is the big pre-Christmas shopping day
d. It's the big cow race festival
2. Lawmakers in the state of Pennsylvania recently defeated a bill that would have:
a. Limited handgun purchases to one per month
b. Required a waiting period before buying a gun
c. Required background checks on those buying guns
d. Required handgun buyers to complete safety training
3. Which one of the following is not the name of a town in Pennsylvania?
b. Blue Ball
d. Yellow Cat
4. Which of the following is not a sign I've seen along the side of the road?
a. Fill for sale
b. Free eggs
c. Deer antlers for sale
d. Water for horses
5. What is a mud sale?
a. A time to buy cheap fencing for your pigs
b. What others in the country might call a garage sale
c. A spring auction event
d. A bad deal on hay
6. Which of the following is not something one eats in Pennsylvania?
a. Whoopie Pie
b. Shoo-fly Pie
Answers and my reactions to them to follow in my next post.