I’m a Baltimore City native, and will always see myself that way.
Born and raised in the heart of the city, in a neighborhood known as Hampden in the Northern-half of Central Baltimore, the majority of my first 40 years was spent there, except for a few years in the early 70’s to join the military (and some bumming around Florida afterwards), then back to the only home I knew.
Point is: I’m a city boy. I grew up knowing how to dodge rats (of all types) and how to read a threat in someone from a distance and basically ignore most everyone else. Baltimore was dirty and growing more violent every year, and I secretly dreamed of snow-capped mountains and spring-fed lakes beside grassy fields.
Today, with all six children grown and gone off to add more grandchildren to Santa’s list, I’m finally living that dream.
We moved to West Virginia in 1999 as a last-ditch effort to keep my youngest from following my juvenile footsteps, a path that rarely ends well…and it worked.
In light of all of my ridiculous misconceptions, West Virginia has turned out to be the biggest surprise of my lifetime, and our time here has only just begun.
Large, beautiful homes set on grassy open lots are the norm here in Martinsburg, which contrasts sharply with my childhood cityboy visions of filthy trailers and unwashed babies playing in a puddle with their only toy, a favorite stick.
Martinsburg has undergone some sudden changes in the last decade or two; First a growth-spurt in housing, and then a sudden influx of strangers from neighboring states who came to snap-up some amazing deals on these new houses. So, while we both deal with our own growing pains, we’re also growing on each other at the same time.
Locals had their own misconceptions, I’m sure; City folks will bring arrogance and violence to their peaceful little towns, making them feel slow and stupid at every opportunity and drive a wedge into their average generation gap that will alienate their children from their small town ideals with promises of city-glitz and fast thrills…and then move on like a plaque of locusts, leaving behind ghettos, gangs, and permanently destroyed property values.
We each, the locals who have grown up here and never so much as peeked outside their own back yards, and the ‘strangers’ who have chosen Martinsburg to be home in the last 10-15 years, have our own way of thinking and of getting things done. We tend to bump heads on occasion, partly because tolerance for the differences of others is not a priority lesson in small towns where everyone knows everyone else, and equally because cities train people to ‘cut through the crowd’ and generally ignore the toes that they step on as we’re getting our way.
We’re both right, and we’re both wrong. Learning to get along is a priority for me, and my hope is that my new neighbors will adopt the same philosophy and help me find that level ground where we can mesh.
Our differences are prominent in local traffic: The locals enjoy the remnants of the “Stop and Smell the Roses” mindset of their grandparents that has sustained the small-town mentality of the region since it was a farming community, when waving or stopping to talk to your neighbors was the norm…and along comes all these ‘city folks’ who want to speed things up, as well as making life more expensive and a lot less friendly.
I’m trying to learn how to slow down, and I freely admit that it feels wonderful to finally begin letting my guards down for the first time in 40 years. Learning to enjoy the journey will take time, but I really do want to at least occasionally smell a rose or two…not really ready to stop for it yet, but slowing down to catch a whiff now and then is a positive first step.
The true enemy here is Evolution, and it’s a naturally-occurring phenomenon that would have caught up to this region no matter if we had stayed in the cities or not…but I don’t mind accepting my share of the blame if that will make the transition easier.