Friday, October 1, 2010

David Steven's essay

Every Thanksgiving and most summers, my parents, my sister and I would take the long 9-hour car trip to my grandparent’s house located in the town of Pretty Prairie, Kansas. It sounds like a small town, and is even smaller, with a population that has stayed at about 600 people for what has been most of my life, and as a kid that had grown up in the suburbs of St. Louis, an entire town made up of just 600 people was abnormal. Whenever we went to Pretty Prairie, my family started talking about their memories of growing up in that town; my sister and dad, who did not even grow up in that town had stories and fond memories of it. I found that I had none, though, and the memories I did have weren’t memories that I enjoyed. Pretty Prairie has always been associated with boredom, isolation and being removed from my friends for an extended period of time. For my family, extended and nuclear, Pretty Prairie was a place that had a happy and nostalgic attachment for them, but to me, it could not have more of a negative connotation. It’s a place for me, as well, but not even remotely in the same sense that it is to my family.

Pretty Prairie is a very small town with no stoplights, one gas station, one elementary school, one high school, two churches; one Mennonite and one United Methodist, and a rodeo. That’s the bulk of the town, and there is really nothing else notable about it. The most exciting thing that happens to Pretty Prairie ever year is its rodeo every summer, and while it does attract thousands of people ever year, rodeos have never been my "scene". I am very much the type of person, who needs some sort of excitement, stimulation or something to do. I would feel most at home in a city, or where I currently live, the suburbs of a city, because there is always something to do. Sights, sounds, events and buildings are all something that I enjoy in a town, or city and Pretty Prairie has none of that. My family is made up of small-town people, even my sister, who grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, and they are fine with the quiet, lackadaisical life of Pretty Prairie, but when I don’t have that excitement in a town, I become uninterested and need something more to do. When I think of all the time I have spent in Pretty Prairie, I can only think of the tediousness that I felt during each visit.

The town was made up of farmers, elderly people who had lived there their entire life, and families that had been there for many years, and my grandparents have been there since the 1890’s. Everyone knows each other and if you aren’t recognized by the townspeople, you’re given odd looks and treated with suspicion. Since we came yearly, we knew a few people, and the people in the town recognized us, but I never felt the kind of connection that my mom and eventually my dad and sister did. I suppose it’s because they were in a small town that I had no connection to that I felt no connection to the people, but my family had no problems with it, even though they had not grown up there. Perhaps if I had grown up in the town, like my mom had, or I had connections to the people there and they were my friends, it would be a place that had a more positive connotation, but it never was.

Most of my dislike towards Pretty Prairie comes from childhood, and even on trips where I tend to enjoy myself, I cannot get rid of the feeling of disdain I have towards it. When I was a child, my sister and I did not get along, which is not uncommon amongst brother and sisters at that age, but it gave me a feeling of isolation while I was there. My sister and I did not have much communication, and I certainly did not want to spend a lot of time with my parents or grandparents, because as a child, and even to a certain extent now, I wanted to spend time with people my own age. As a teenager, I was far too rebellious to want to be around them. The one group of friends I did make in that town had been accused of vandalizing someone’s home in the area and stealing from their garage, so I could no longer play with them. So these feelings of boredom and loneliness stemmed from childhood and were only further instilled through more visits.

Another reason I have such a negative emotional attachment to this place is because the few times I have been in Pretty Prairie, it has been because of funerals. My great grandmother and grandfather have died within the past two years and are the reason for my past visits in the last two years, sadly, and as a result, it’s been tough to separate the feelings of those funerals from the town, especially with my grandfather’s funeral. I was closest to him on my mom’s side of the family and always loved seeing him whenever we visited. He was diagnosed with cancer the year before he died, and fought it until the end, but because of my closeness to him and his state whenever I visited before he died, along with his funeral, has caused me to attach another negative association with Pretty Prairie. My family has been back to visit since both funerals to go see the town rodeo, which from what I have been told, are a lot of fun, but since I’ve had work obligations both times, I have been unable to go. Maybe if I had the chance to go with them to the rodeo, I would not have such negative feelings for this town, but since the past two or three visits have been for primarily bad news, it’s difficult to be happy when I think about Pretty Prairie.

Maybe if I had more time in Pretty Prairie, grew up there, or had a better appreciation for small-town life, I would have a better emotional attachment to it, because it’s a beautiful little town, and can be very relaxing, but at this point in my life, I am not looking for relaxing, I want excitement, energy and things to do. I can understand the love and affection my family has towards the town, but it appears that I will never quite have that same appreciation for it, due to the associations I have made with it in childhood and in more recent times. I think that with time, better trips, I will come to enjoy Pretty Prairie, but for now, it remains one of my least favorite places to visit.

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