Upon first glance, working class suburbia would seem a place devoid of an authentic culture. After all, my childhood hometown was, and continues to be, a place that is overwhelming white, filled with small ranch houses, older capes, and a main thoroughfare that is packed with strip malls and small office buildings. However, if I were to define my culture based on this shallow exterior, I would be doing it an injustice.
Both my parents grew up in two different small cities just outside of a larger city in the Northeast. Like all young couples that married in the late 1950’s, they were drawn toward dreams of homeowner-ship. Within seven months of my birth, they left their small apartment behind and moved to the town that my brother and I were to grow up in.
I have come to realize over the years- through stories that my mother told me and through example-the great sacrifices that my folks made in order to offer us a better life. Early on, my father needed to work two full-time jobs so that he could support his family. Back then, of course, it was nearly unheard of that women worked outside the home once the children were born. But for many working class households, it was an absolute necessity to have a second income. Frankly, I have always wondered why this past phenomenon isn’t part of a larger public discussion today. These days we always talk about the need for both parents to work. In my day (gosh don’t I sound old!), the money was needed for food and the mortgage for the small ranch house- not for lavish vacations and other material items. Please don’t get me wrong- I know that the need for two incomes just to feed your family still exists today. But I also see the pursuit of more tangible things in my generation- a great shift in the overall culture to be sure.
But I digress. The better life that I am speaking of included endless times of running around in the woods with the neighborhood kids, swimming in the pool and long bike rides to lakes and the coast. And along with the traditional culture of 1960’s and 70’s suburban childhood, came a more subtle change-one that broadened my family’s horizons. Since the work my father did was closely associated with a university and since he also was becoming a dedicated runner, our family crossed paths with people from all generations and ethnic backgrounds who enjoyed the sport as well. Our home became a haven for hungry graduate students and other idealistic youth as well as people old enough to be my parents’ parents! Because my brother and I met so many different kinds of people, we learned compassion for, and an understanding of, others who existed beyond the borders of our little town.
These changes set the stage for a newer definition of culture and its accompanying values for my family as well as myself.
So, as I was growing up, running became our focus for family time as well as our social network. It was especially exciting to be a female runner in those days! Women were just beginning to become more visible in the sport and I can say for certain that running gave me strong self-confidence and leadership skills in other areas of my life. Moreover, I witnessed my father sacrifice his own running career in order to provide increased opportunities for my brother and I. Additionally, both my parents helped to support various youth in the neighborhood and town in their running endeavors.
My parents taught me that culture is not just about your ethnic heritage and where you live but how you live.
Therein lies the “groove”!
Certainly, too much of the 21st century’s “busy and distracted” and selfish culture creeps into our lives today and attempts to throw us off track. But even if it has, it doesn’t mean that we’ve lost our groove! Sometimes it just gets put in a pile of someone else’s agenda for a while.
The trick is that you have to learn to create a way of life that fits you and those you love. It means staying grounded and resolute in that idea. What is it that you value? How do you want to live your life?
When I think of how I grew up, it can be summed up in two words: Building Relationships. Now, I cannot say the my life thus far is an exact replica of my parents’ . That is impossible. I can only say for sure that I wanted that life and tried darn hard to bring in some of the same experiences. In truth, it has only been in the last five years that I can say my life fits into this mold. And guess what? It came from letting go of all that I had known in my adult life. The life that I once lived was shallow and not what it appeared to be. I had a hand in making sure that it looked perfect because I was too afraid to face the fact that I thought I had been a failure.
But good gosh! It wasn’t failure; I had lost my groove. I wanted it back- not just for myself but for my kids. They deserved to enjoy a legacy where they had an opportunity to understand that life is about relationships with others. They needed to know that Community-, whether it is a faith-based, family-based ( in any incarnation), school- based, town- based, athletically- based (or all of the above)- was where it’s at.
Sometimes finding your cultural groove means risking the end of relationships that are detrimental to how you want to live. If it is harming you, then it will harm those you love in the long run ( no pun intended). Pick it out of that pile and make it your own again my friend!
I have come to understand that you have to ride the rough waves at times -and for a lot longer than you want to- in order to find that spot on the shore that allows you to live more honestly and freely.
And yes, it is absolutely worth it. I guess you could say that I’ve reclaimed my spot on the beach. Boy, it feels good to sink my feet in the sand!