Both my husband and I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everything about everyone. Since getting married we have been living in a big city. It has been challenging to adjust to the changes; however, we have also learned to appreciate the benefits of being more “anonymous.”
I grew up in a small town in Memphis, Tennessee. I was raised in a religious Jewish home. I am the oldest of eight children and both of our parents worked tirelessly to support our large family. The local religious community is extremely tight-knit. Its presence was a central and integral part of my upbringing. I remember a very vivid example of how much our community played a role in my family’s upbringing.
When I was nine years old my mother broke her arm. Normally, a broken arm is not such a big deal; however as a mother of four (at the time) it was a pretty big challenge. My mother didn’t want to tell anyone that she broke her arm because she knew that if she did it would be the talk of the town. However, it was nearly impossible to hide a broken arm from a small community. My mother went to all lengths so that people wouldn’t see her cast. Despite the fact that it was the heat of the summer she began wearing a shawl when she was outdoors. One evening my mother was at the local butcher, wearing her shawl of course, and when she went to pay he noticed the cast. The butcher, who realized that she might be hiding her condition didn’t say a word to her. Despite the fact that he hadn’t said anything to her, it was clear by the next morning that he has spread the word throughout our synagogue. The following morning, at 6:30am, just as my mother’s alarm was going off, her friend Nancy showed up at the front door with six lunch bags.
She had prepared lunch for every member of our family! Twenty minutes later, Carol showed up ready to help get the little once dressed and off to school. At three thirty in the afternoon my mother got a phone call that there would be no need to fetch her kids from school and daycare, because Nancy’s husband was already on his way to get them. Needless to say, dinner was also brought to our door. This support continued for the full six weeks that my mother was in a cast! The most hilarious part of the whole story is that when I look back at it, none of this was a surprise. My mother knew that if anyone would find out about her arm that just this kind of helpful behavior would happen. Of course my family was also involved in helping others when they were in need.
For the most part, I loved growing up in such a tight-knit community. I felt loved and cared for, not only by my family, but by my friend’s families as well. Every wedding was a community event, and no eyes were dry, as everyone had felt that their child was growing up. However, there were times when I wished we had more privacy. For example, I remember when I started dating (in religious communities girls often start dating only when they are ready to get married) everyone was talking about what kind of guy would be good for me. When I broke up with my first serious boyfriend, the whole town knew. I felt like I didn’t have any space to get over the loss of a relationship in private. Additionally, I sometimes felt that the strength of a community weakened the force of the family.
When my husband and I got married (of course, with my entire community present) we decided that we would try living in a city. First of all, for a young couple the conveniences of a city are critical. Additionally, we wanted to develop our relationship in private. We wanted to have the freedom to decide as a couple what kinds of schools would be good for our children, and how much help we wanted after the birth of a baby. Six years later we are still living in the city. We miss many aspects of the community but we are enjoying the feeling of seeing the fruits of our labor.