LL (over at Seedlings in Stone) and I have decided to real Al Hsu’s The Suburban Christian together, and discuss it on our respective blogs. She has posted her initial thoughts in “Subfused.” These are a few of my thoughts about the intro and chapter 1.
The book starts out with some broad definitions of terms like urban, suburban, exurban, and rural. Though these concepts seem simple enough, and I can imagine places I’ve been that would fit into each category, I have had a difficult time figuring out what to call the area where I live. And for some reason, it seems like an important thing for me to know before I can read much further.
When I consider my home and the surrounding neighborhood, all the single dwelling homes and the SUVs make me think I live in a suburb. And indeed, the appraisal made of my home before I bought it clearly indicates “suburban.” Shouldn’t that settle it?
Some other features of my area, however, like my numbered street, the litter thrown on my lawn, the public bus that runs through the area, and the frequent sirens I hear at night make me feel more urban. I do live within the city limits, afterall.
But then again, the picture above is the view from my backdoor. Were I to snap a photo from my front door, I could easily take one without getting any other houses in the picture. My lot is more than a third of an acre, I am able to compost and grow vegetables, and my house is on a septic system rather than public sewer. But surely this area could not be considered rural?
I began to get a better feel for my status this afternoon as I was mowing my lawn. I think grass might provide a good way to define urban, suburban, and rural for me. And I can start with what I know.
I grew up in a very rural area. And by rural, I don’t mean a small town. In fact, the addresses at every house I lived in through college always began with Rural Route XXX, until the government came through and named all the streets for the new 911 system back in the 90s. Living in a rural area meant we always had gigantic yards and riding lawn mowers. At one house, we had to mow with a tractor because the lawn was so large. In fact, I learned to drive by mowing the lawn on those lawn mowers and tractors. I don’t think I had even heard the words “urban” or “suburban” back then, but with all that grass, I knew I lived in a rural area.
The contrast was all the more striking, then, when I moved to Chicago and lived 5 blocks off Michigan Avenue and the Gold Coast. Not only did I NOT have any grass to call my own, I had to walk a few blocks to find any grass at all. And then, I don’t think it had to be mowed very often because of all the foot traffic. I remembering missing grass when I lived in Chicago. Grass and stars. And to be sure, the lack of grass just rang out “urban” to me.
By default, I understand that my current situation must be suburban because of my grass situation. I have grass — about a fourth of an acre, in fact. But I can mow the whole lawn with a push mower in less than an hour. That’s too much grass to be urban, but nowhere near enough to be rural.
I guess the only thing left for me to come to terms with is this: since I live in a suburb, I need to think of myself as a suburbanite. But somehow I don’t seem to fit the mold.
Growing up in a rural setting has helped shape who I am. I leave my front door open in the summer, I freeze vegetables from the garden and make my own bread, I wave at people I pass on the road. Even when I lived in Chicago, I continued to define myself as a country bumpkin and lived that way, looking people in the eye and saying “hello” as I walked down the street (I made more than a few people uncomfortable doing that!), going to farmers’ markets in the summer, opening the windows rather than turning on the air. Not being from the city didn’t seem like a problem for me. I could define myself by what I was not.
Suburban life is an uncomforable “almost” for me. Should I go ahead and plant tomatoes and green beans in the flower bed along the side of my house, or should I mulch and plant bushes like all the other houses in my area? When I get home at night, should I pull directly into my garage and stay in the house for the rest of the evening, or should I walk over and get to know my neighbors?
I think I’ve known all along that I live in the suburbs, but I’m having a hard time picturing myself as a suburbanite. I don’t have a husband who commutes to work, and I don’t have children who play soccer. My lawn has a few dandelions in it, and I live only two miles from where I work. How can I possibly be a suburbanite?
Rather than conforming to the stereotypes I have of suburbanites, maybe the best way to embrace this place I call home is to bring all my life experiences into the suburbs with me.
My name’s Charity, and I’m a subruralurbanite.