I bought Montgomery Gentry’s My Town this week because I liked the title track. As a matter of fact, after peeling of the cellaphane and stripping off the numerous security annoyances and inserting the CD into the player, I played the song several times in succession. It raises goosebumps upon me as Eddie and T-Roy celebrate their community. Vicariously, through the joy in their rendition of music and lyrics by Steele/Owens/Bates, I can enjoy a sense of belonging in a community group.
As a member of the current urban/suburban class, I moved around a bit when I was young. Although my splintering family didn’t adhrere to the rigorous Military Family Bivouacking Schedule (MFBS), I managed to spread my youth across six houses in two states by the time I was eighteen. I don’t have a small town from my past to idealize, with its close-knit (sometimes stifling, but sometimes comforting and supportive) social structure.
My current suburban municipality of Casinoport, Missouri, doesn’t qualify. Any town incorporated in the last twenty years to protect a tax base from other municipalities whose names were created by land developers automatically lack a cohesiveness into which new residents can fit. The designation of Casinoport as a town or city is a matter of convenience only. The local government exists to spend the loot from the casino taxes on a set of gestures and residential perks designed to show the world they are a Real Nice Place To Live. The residents go to bed here at night and go to work in Clayton, Creve Couer, or St. Louis during the day and go to Bridgeton, Chesterfield, or maybe even stay here in Casinoport. It doesn’t matter, because these communities are interchangeable, and you can’t really tell where one ends and another begins except for the big signs that say, Now Entering A Different Town That’s As Good As The Rest.
Some municipalities in the St. Louis Metroamalgamation, such as Webster Groves or Kirkwood, were real towns when the boundaries of St. Louis reached them. They have an identity for those who want to participate in the community. They have some institutions born before the Reagan presidency. Granted, even these communities suffer from the same centrigugal transience as the newer suburbs, but at least the homecoming fairs have some of the same faces from decade to decade.
I do tend to romanticize the city of my birth, but as a more abstract entity than a community. I appreciate it, when I am there, more platonically than a community member. Perhaps if I return someday, I can fully My-Town-Grok the community or the neighborhood in which I reside. Given my personal history and latent moods, I doubt it.
I realize I am one of the transients that’s a part of the problem. I’ll spend my requisite seven years in this home and will move onto a bigger home in a different community instead of helping build the traditions and institutions here that others might enjoy in future generations. I prefer to think I am hedging my bets by not wanting to invest in start-up communities, instead preferring to put my capital in something established.
So it’s vicariously that I enjoy the celebration of community in song. I respect, and appreciate, the sentiments even though I do not get to participate directly in them.