Don’t mess with my hometown

The Mississippi native was talking about all the things wrong with his home state. He listed the problems and the state’s ranking in various nationwide surveys rapid fire. He knew them well and mocked the state’s poor showing:

  • Ranked 50th in poverty.
  • Ranked 49th in the mortality rate, suicide rate, smoking rate, mental health, infant mortality rate and adult obesity rate of its citizens.
  • Ranked 50th in the quality of Medicare, hospitals, and nursing homes.
  • Ranked 43rd in high school graduation rates, preschool enrollment, standardized test scores in math and reading among eighth graders and college readiness based on SAT and ACT scores.

He continued for a while and then stopped. “I can point out how horrible we are, but an outsider or someone from a larger state? If they know what’s good for them, they better not.”

Rules of engagement

I thought about the rural Central Pennsylvania community where I grew up and still have friends and family. I had to admit that I feel the same way. There were some things I loved about growing up there and some things that I didn’t like, but it was one thing for my friends or I to complain or speak ill of the area, and quite a bit different for an outsider to say it. 

For example, I love the lush, green mountains and valleys and the calm woods that are home to deer, squirrels and rabbits. I love the Pennsylvania Dutch influenced foods like Chicken Corn Soup and Chicken Pot Pie and deserts including Whoopie Pies and Moon Pies. And I love how the people, whether they knew you or not, would give you the shirt off their back to help you with a problem. They believe in the Golden Rule and helping others. They’re what an old farmer who I worked for one summer would call “good people.”

Of course, I have my pet peeves too. I hate that there isn’t much diversity. Most of my friends growing up looked and talked just like me. People tended to follow the same, tried and true path. For example, most of my friends tended to follow the same sports teams from Pittsburgh or Philadelphia. God forbid you have a different allegiance or like something different. Some folks took that to extremes, closing their mind to life outside the region.

I hate too that there aren’t a ton of jobs and many folks seem stuck to a predetermined fate. Their father worked in the local steel mill and they were destined to work in the steel mill too. If they did have a different kind of job, then they drove an hour-plus to another town. I felt limited in my ability to pick myself up and make something of myself. (And I’m not talking about a bank full of money. I’m talking about building a life worth living.)

Finally, I hate that you have to drive to get anywhere. When I was young, I couldn’t afford my own car and we lived a bit further out from the rest of my friends, so it made it challenge sometimes getting a ride.

I have my issues with the area, but overall I still love it. When I graduated college, I returned for a while, but eventually moved away to follow my career and family. Despite now living outside the area longer than I lived there, I still am very protective of it. 

Those are fightin‘ words!

The back of my head still bristles when I hear someone speaking badly about the area. I want to ask what’s so great about their hometown. I usually don’t get much of an answer.

In college, two acquaintances started talking badly about the area. One guy from New York and the other from Northern Virginia joked that the only things in between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were cows and cow manure. I let it go at first. They were drunk and stupid and not worth my time.

But the razzing continued.

I started to stand up, but God took care of them for me. The two stumbled down a busy sidewalk, made a fool of themselves, and caught the attention of two officers patrolling the area. I took the opportunity to remind them that I may be a country hick, but we, at least, knew better than to act like a fool in public (or be cited for public intoxication.)

I hadn’t thought much about the long-ago incident until I heard my Mississippi friend speak. He reminded me that both of our hometowns have their share of problems that need to be overcome, but they’re also full of people with a strong work ethic, morals, and the rest of the world could learn a few things from them.

So yes, I can make fun of my hometown, but, don’t you dare think of messing with my hometown!

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