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The chic restaurant’s ebony wood work, taupe suede upholstery and smooth jazz soundtrack had hypnotized me into an urban languor that was, not so long ago, a comfortable state of being.
I might have lingered in that happy trance if an ambush of metropolitan snobbery from across the table hadn’t snapped me back to reality. All of a sudden I was defending the honour of my grassy roots and the small town where I’ve lived for the past 10 years.
“He seems like such a bright boy,” the woman said, almost quizzically, in a condescending tone that made me squirm in my Spanx.
“I heard there were a lot of special needs children in your area,” she added, just as my pasta arrived.
That’s when I felt a surge of violence and silently longed for my University days: Oh to be back at Burwash Hall, where starting a food fight was the most efficient means of settling the perennial culture clash of rich vs. poor and town vs. country. There were plenty of those at the good ol’ UofT.
The question was: to eat my tortellini or flick it across the table, using spoon-as-catapult?
Her stealth attack had come on the heels of an awkward “Where is it that you live, again?” conversation during the salad course. I had chewed the bitter ridicchhio, all the while reminding myself that meeting new people is as good for curbing my increasingly taciturn nature as jogging is for my thighs; although both are excruciatingly painful. I rambled off a spiel for Greater Napanee which included: yes, it’s Avril Lavigne’s home town; no it’s not to be confused with Nepean even though the sum total of consonants and vowels is pretty close; and, most importantly, it’s a wonderful place to raise a family.
But “Special needs”? She’d wrapped those two particular words in a whispery hush and shielded her baby from them, perhaps on the off chance that it might be contagious.
How like an uppity city woman to take a perfectly benign social function and go out of her way to pick at the scab of urban-rural relations, perpetuating what author Alan Pistorius once referred to as “The City’s Revenge Myth,” wherein the countryside is depicted as a “boondocks wasteland untouched by culture, un-softened by conversation or manners, home to hayseeds, rubes, and cloddish boors.”
I wasn’t sure which was more upsetting, though, the calling into question of my son’s intellect or casting aspersions on my GPS coordinates. I figured my son had spoken well for himself and thus refused to engage in the pernicious Mommy Bragging Wars where boasting about his PM Benchmark levels would have been the most logical next step. But my town! The woman had insulted my town. I couldn’t let that slide.
I conceded that while there are a lot of people “in my area” who drive trucks and wear camo to the best of my knowledge The Green Belt hadn’t cornered the market on poverty, learning disabilities or any of the other social challenges that are a fact of life for people across this wonderfully diverse country.
I also told her my coffee shop makes a damn fine chai latte and, as concerns the camouflage-set, one older gentleman, so-clad, had bought a white, disco-themed feather boa Christmas wreath at my garage sale a few years back. The moral of that story being: Just when you think you’ve got them pegged, rural people will amaze you. From chainsaws to poetry, they’ve got all the bases covered.
By the end of my diatribe I’d gone well to the other end of Pistorius’ “antithetical myths” about the country, describing it as, “The repository of all virtues—a moral bulwark against the city that breeder of profligacy, luxury, ambition, and corruption.” Of course I know that between the two extremes is the truth—whether rural, urban, or somewhere in between, enlightenment doesn’t have a postal code. But she’d started it, pushing boundaries and all, and loyalty to my adopted homeland obliged me to do the same.
The extent to which I wanted to scrap with this woman, however, made me realize that sometime during the last decade it happened: Napanee had become not just the place where I live, but the place where I’m from. Insofar as home being where the heart is, that phrase has come to mean much more to me than a needlepoint slogan.
It’s a little shy on chic, I’ll give you that. And being downwind of a farmer’s field on a hot summer day is as sobering an experience as you’ll find. But it’s the town that I love... and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Michelle Hauser is a former professional fundraiser turned humorist and freelance writer. She lives in Eastern Ontario (Canada) with her husband Mark and their son Joseph. Please click here to sign up for her monthly Newsletter.