We have been living in Kirksville for a long time. I realized recently that in just a few months I'll hit the 15th anniversary of the day I moved here. Though we initially came as students, and decided to stay here to work at the university, in the end we continue to live here even though neither of us is going to or working for Truman anymore. So, basically, we're what the students would call "townies." That seems weird.
This fact seems almost deniable most of the time, but the other day I realized that we're more entrenched in the local culture than I give us credit for. An old college friend was saying on facebook that his first date with his now-wife took place with a group of us at a local diner called the Northtown Cafe. We had gone there as a joke before a sorority date party, a bunch of college kids dressed for a jungle-themed event, dining among the blue-haired regulars in the dirty, smoke-dense restaurant. Several former Truman students commented on the post, remarking about the disgusting nature of that restaurant, and other Kirksville establishments in general.
10 years ago, I might have agreed with them. But now I found myself defending the Northtown Cafe, wanting to explain how it's moved to a new, cleaner building with more light and no smoke. The handwritten menus and mismatched floral plates that seemed lowbrow in college seem pretty charming now. Rosie's Northtown Cafe serves the best, cheapest breakfast in town, and people who live here know you can eat there without wading through throngs of hungover college students looking down their noses at you.
But what got me thinking about this whole thing was that I bought some dog food yesterday. When we originally got our dogs, we figured out that the cheapest place to buy good dog food was the local feed store instead of a supermarket or other chain store. The feed store has changed owners and locations several times in the years since, but we've continued to follow it around because going there makes me feel happy.
First off, the slogan of the Kirksville Feed & More, displayed in the front window, is "if it eats we feed it." How can I NOT like a place that's as to-the-point as that? Secondly, the owners are friendly. They never make me feel like I don't belong there, even though I'm the only one wearing loafers instead of coveralls or boots. They carry the giant bag of dog food to my car for me and always thank me profusely for my business. Farmers I pass in the parking lot always greet me, and comment on the weather or one of my kids. The best thing, though, is that there are usually a few guys standing around in the shop discussing things like which wild animal is overpopulated this season and creating a nuisance to their herds. They all seem to know each other and each others' business, and say things like "how's that sick calf o' yours?" I don't know the first thing about farming, except that it takes an amount of work I cannot comprehend. I will never be a local in the sense that these men are, but for just a moment I feel like one. And this is a strangely good feeling.
Though I sometimes yearn for proximity to things like Target and Starbucks, there is something cold and corporate about those places that doesn't give me the feeling I get at Rosie's or the Kirksville Feed & More. We like to say that living in a small town is good because we avoid rush-hour traffic and crime, but it's also good because of the feeling of belonging, and of investment that comes from buying from people you know.
So I'll admit it. I am a townie. But we really prefer to be called locals.