Friday, July 6, 2007

On Becoming a "Local"

Is the place you live the same place as you were raised?

For most of the people that I encounter on a daily basis, here in the in the Washington, DC area, the answer is an emphatic no.

I live in Prince William County, Virginia, approximately 25 miles south of Washington, DC, and until about 25 years ago, Prince William would be considered by many to be a backwater. It hadn't yet been engulfed in the suburban sprawl that is now busy consuming green spaces with Ebola-like speed. The county population was fairly small, as it was mostly rural.

Fast forward to today. Prince William has a large population... I think it is the second most populous county in Virginia, behind our immediate neighbors to the north in Fairfax county... where some of the readers of this blog live.

Northern Virginia, and it's suburban Maryland counterparts, is home to huge numbers of government employees and military personnel, so it should come as no surprise that the majority of the people that you meet are originally from somewhere else.

None of our neighbors are native to the area, and only three of my colleagues can claim to be life-long local residents.

Mrs Gunfighter and I came to the Washington, DC area in the 1980's, and moved into our house in Prince William, when we got married in 1994. Sprawl started even before we moved here, but, even then the differences were palpable. In 1994 we could still go to the grocery store and see blue-haired white women that routinely greeted us with: "Howy'alldoin'?" (yeah, it came out like that) Not so much anymore.

In the past few years, much has changed. I have begun to feel like "a local". I have started to say "old guy" stuff like: "Remember when we moved here, and route 123 (or 234, or Spriggs road)was a winding two-lane road?". I have been wondering about this lately and I have decided that the catalyst between living in this community and being a part of this community is having children.

Soccergirl is our anchor here. We are involved in youth soccer, the church, girl scouts, and her school. Is it any wonder that we can be at the mall/bookstore/supermarket/you-name-it, and we see people we know... everywhere? Mrs G and I are not hugely social... in that we tend to go home and stay home, or do things together as we are busy most of the time, so our social interaction happens at soccer games, girl scout meetings, chatting with the "school moms" during school pick-up times (this is usually me).

Yesterday, I found myself talking, at different times with different parents about summer camps, travel soccer (no thanks!), school events for next year, vacation bible school, swimming lessons, day care and Tae Kwon Do all in the span of two hours. I talked with several parents and discovered that we knew people in common and wind up saying things like: "oh sure, I know her, she drives the green minivan with the Australia sticker on the back" or "Yeah, she goes to our church". Jeez, we even know some of the local politicians for whom streets and parks are named.

This place that we live, this bedroom community of commuters and SUV's (not us, thank you) has become our home. When I do the math, I come up with incontrovertible proof: I have lived here longer than I have lived in any one place in my life; we refer to the house at the corner of our street as "Tom and Arlene's house", even though Tom and Arlene sold that house and moved 10 years ago; we don't socialize with anyone (with the exception of sg's godparents, and them rarely) that we did when we moved here... back then, all our friends were DC friends from work; soccergirl is FROM here.. this area is the only home she has ever known, and will likely grow to adulthood right in this place.

Kind of strange, isn't it?

Adulthood.... suburban parenting... being a local.

1 comment:

Becky said...

The place I live (Boulder, CO) certainly isn't the place I grew up (small city, Ontario), but here in Boulder, I am not an exception. The exception is certainly the person who grew up here in Colorado. I find that only about 5% of the people I talk to are from around here - and it is always a shock to find out that someone is actually FROM Boulder.

Thanks for visiting our blog - it's always nice to see some new folks around. :)