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Where Did You Grow Up?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2021

My friend Joanna Goddard runs a website called Cup of Jo. She started it as a personal blog and has turned it into a site for women with a diverse and interesting group of contributors. However, the truly marvelous thing about Cup of Jo is the comments. That’s right, the comments. They are always good, often great, and occasionally sublime. Years and even decades after most websites have removed their comment sections for being toxic and unwieldy, Cup of Jo readers are in there delivering on the original promise of the web as a way to connect humans with one another by providing advice, reflections, stories, and support to each other.

One of the site’s best uses of the comments section are on posts that ask a simple question, like Where Did You Grow Up? (See also What Unexpected Relationships Have You Formed During the Pandemic?) I pulled out a few of my favorite comments from this post and shared them below.

My dad is a physicist and biomedical researcher, so we made a few big moves when I was growing up. From Long Island, to Chicago, and then to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (central Canada). I went to tiny town Oklahoma for college before coming back to Sask. It is wild up here, where winter days are often -40 degrees Fahrenheit. In my youth I was torn in half between my longing for city excitement and the call of the wild. These days, I am proud to be raising a 4 year old that knows the rules of camping, and how to act around critters like bears and moose. His first concert was an Inuit band who throat sang in Inuk. We danced as a storm opened up and poured rain on us, the natural light show illuminating the fractal jack pine tree tops. All three of us slept like babies that night in our tent with the storm pounding the forest in the background. The city was fun, but I wouldn’t trade my quality of life for anything. I know how to thank the Great Spirit for the grandfather trees of the forest, and how to step lightly where wood frogs lie. I know the feeling of the air changing to autumn or spring on my cheeks, before a single leaf falls or prairie crocus blooms. The knowledge of this place is etched into the fabric of my body, as it will be for my stepson.

I grew up in a North Dallas trailer park backed up to a state highway and a freeway with my older brother and young widowed mom. We lived off social security and hotdogs. I thought anyone whose mobile home vinyl siding wasn’t peppered with holes from a weed whacker was fancy.

After hours, I played in the construction materials depot next door with my brother and our little band of trailer park buddies. We got a lot of shit for being “trailer trash kids” but we all grew up to become hella cool and kindhearted: amazing parents, teachers, nurses, artists, writers, musicians, therapists, political shit-stirrers, philosophers, world travelers.

We used to catch opossums with rusty cat traps and sneak them into our bathtubs where we would feed them scraps and get hissed at. I recall chasing an armadillo down a hill with a BB gun in the blazing Texas sunshine and thinking no funner game had ever been invented.

We would dismantle the breaks from our second-hand banana-seat bikes and then race each other down the “big hill” and jump into the grass kamikaze-style at the screaming last minute where we would lay in a banged-up heap laughing hysterically in the face of death.

My brother once shot a dove off a telephone wire from our front porch and proceeded to cook it for my first-day-of-high-school breakfast, ironically, because he wanted me to be able to tell that trailer-trash story to my kids someday. I do, and they don’t believe me. I’ve raised my two kiddos in Toronto, The Netherlands, and now Colorado. They think trailers are something you take into the mountains for a glamping vacation. They are also hella cool and kindhearted. I marvel at them.

I grew up in a small town in South Alabama. I am from the land of yes ma’ams, covered dish suppers at church, and pulling over for funeral processions. I was raised on a steady diet of collard greens, pimento cheese, grits, pear salad (google it), boiled peanuts, and fried hand pies. To this day there is nothing more delicious - figuratively and literally - than the memory of homemade vanilla ice cream in an old ice cream maker with my dad cutting and dropping slices of peaches picked from our tree. I didn’t know enough to be concerned that he was cutting them with his pocket knife. I miss living somewhere that included mac n cheese on a salad bar. I have vivid memories of hearing my grandmother tell stories involving her childhood friend, Nell Lee (known to most of us as Harper Lee). One summer, I rode my horse into town almost every day and got an ice cream cone at the shop owned by my friend’s family. My dad was the high school principal and my mother was the deputy sheriff. I was the high school mascot and to this day, I highly recommend any job where the dumber you act, the more successful you are. High school adventures included bonfires in someone’s field, hot days at the creek, and constantly driving around the town square. There was one restaurant in town and it opened up late each Friday night to serve a full fried chicken meal to the returning high school football team, band, and cheerleaders after every away game. There was a wrong and a right side of the tracks. It was simultaneously both the most loving community I have known and the most discriminatory.

I grew up in Houston on a street full of kids. Houston was playing kickball on a dead-end street and “hide from cars” on summer nights when we were allowed to stay out after dark. Everyone lived in their front yards and garages. A dad only had to prop up the hood of his car, and every man on the block came over and started consulting. This led to impromptu pizza or burger parties. Every Halloween, my dad and our preacher staged a spookhouse in our garage that ALL the kids visited. Our neighborhood was swarmed with kids trick or treating and our group, ranging from 3 years old to 10, roamed for blocks, completely safe, until the year The Candyman ruined trick or treating forever. Every Christmas Eve, we girlfriends swam in Sam’s pool, then went caroling on our street with bare feet and wet hair. We thought that was very funny. We rode our banana-seat bikes to stores near us until we graduated to 10-speeds. We went to glossy, over-air-conditioned shopping malls. We had a lot of freedom because things were so accessible.

I grew up in Encinitas, CA (north of San Diego) when it was a sleepy, little beach town. I miss all “my” beach spots, friends, and that coastal air. It was one of those places where even if we didn’t know everyone, everyone was treated with consideration. It wasn’t always idyllic but it was a pretty lucky place to be raised. You could count on anyone being willing to help you. One time my dad’s Oldsmobile broke down on a random street. He had no problem walking up to a door, knocking on it and asking to use the phone (hello 1989!). The surfers were still zonked on the couches, but one let my dad in and let him call a friend. He told my dad to leave the car and come back for it whenever he could get a tow truck for the car. No one was mad at being woken up at 7am, they just rolled with it.

You can read the post and the rest of the comments here. I grew up in northern Wisconsin on a farm and then in a small nearby town. We rode our bikes everywhere as kids and our parents had no idea where we were most of the time. The music options were country or heavy metal — I didn’t care for either. The nearest movie theater was in a town 10 miles away and I still remember the excitement of standing in line for Ghostbusters on a sweltering June evening. As a teen, I would go around to all of the vending machines in town (there were only three or four of them) and check the coin returns for money — any quarters I found would go right into the Ms. Pac-Man machine at Erickson’s grocery store. A few people I knew had a vacation house on the lake but we couldn’t afford one. School was terrible and cliquey and I never felt like I belonged. I left after high school and aside from summers and a short stint after dropping out of grad school, I never went back. I haven’t been for a visit in nearly 20 years and only recently have I been curious about seeing it through adult eyes and revisiting old haunts.

See also this classic NY Times dialect quiz (which I took the other day and it nailed my childhood location within 90 miles) and using only food, where did you grow up? (my answer: hotdish, fried smelt, colby cheese, and summer sausage).