O, Suburbia!


When it came time for us to buy rather than rent,  it was clear that my ex-husband and I  couldn’t afford city prices.  With our small down payment and nonprofit incomes, we had a lot more options in the ‘burbs.  Having lived in Harvard Square for six years, though, the spectre of suburban blandness and uniformity made me a little uneasy.  So, on the eve of our move to this small town,  I warned my ex, “Just don’t think I’m spending Saturday nights at the mall!”

Actually, I grew up in the suburbs. A small town, to be more accurate, where I learned to fish and build a lean-to by the time I was seven. 

I was utterly unprepared for my family’s move to the city when I was ten.  I secretly grieved for my simpler life climbing the Brown’s apple tree or picking low-bush blueberries to put in my morning cereal.

It took me years to learn to navigate my way in a tougher, hipper, faster world.  But by the time I got through college and grad school,  I’d acquired a certain grittiness and sophistication.  Living outside Harvard Square, I saw all the latest indie and foreign films, frequented bookstores and cafes, and splurged on season tickets to the symphony and theatre. 

To be honest, I was actually relieved when we decided to look for a home outside the city. By that time, the noise, crime and congestion had become tiresome, and I wanted to be part of a community. 

I know, the suburbs suffer from a bad reputation. Like most generalizations, though, it’s based as much on misinformed prejudice as it is on actual experience or fact.  We suburbanites are not a homogeneous group who speak with one voice. We have soul.

Here are some things I’ve found in my 18 years of living in the ‘burbs:  

  • Many creative, artistic and yes – enlightened individuals live in the suburbs.  They teach, learn, and show their work in local arts venues and community centers.
  • Not all suburbanites like to shop at the mall. A lot of us prefer to support local businesses along ‘Main Street.’
  • We get to see deer, foxes, cormorants and herons up close.  Skunks, too, but still…
  • Our neighbors exchange cupcakes and power tools, help out with cat-sitting and resume-writing.
  • Some of us – shh! – even leave our doors unlocked during the daytime.

 Okay, here’s my gross generalization: city folks can take themselves a little too seriously.   I know; I’ve heard the comments, or more accurately, the tone. In certain circles, living in either the city or the country are the only authentic choices.  To suggest that you are considering a move to the suburbs  implies that you have pretty much given up on life. 

Hence my fear of turning into a Stepford-type wife as we prepared to leave Cambridge.  As it turns out, I am probably more authentic than ever, here in the Land of Ash.  I collect my mail from the mailbox in my bare feet and pick blueberries for my cereal.  I meet with a savvy and informed group of suburban women to discuss literature, politics, and life.  I still drive into the city to catch an art exhibit or share a meal with friends during Restaurant Week. 

Although I don’t spend Saturday nights at the mall,  I’ve been to Home Depot a couple of times. Far as I know, my soul is intact.  

To the old story of the Country Mouse and the Town Mouse I’d like to add a third cousin, the Suburban Mouse. She doesn’t have to choose, but gets the best of all worlds. And at a more reasonable price.

Here’s a gallery of some local images from this summer.

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