When I went to college, I met a beautiful, very bright girl named Bernita*. She was from a small town, Hicksville, in Southwestern Ontario and came from a very conservative, bible-believing family. She and her room-mate wandered around campus together, laughing, teasing, and having a good time.
I never got to know Bernita real well, but we did have a late night chat or two, and I found out that she didnt believe in God. She didnt think the idea of God made any sense. But she didnt tell this to anyone else and she went on with her theology, sociology, history, and introductory psychology courses at this Christian College as if she was a believer.
Bernita had a boyfriend back home. You know what usually happens with those relationships, of course. The girl goes off to college, broadens her horizons, meets a lot of new, bright men, and, before you know, its "Dear Ralph ".
Well, that didnt happen this time. Not exactly. Bernita was interested in this one guy with long hair but it didnt work out. She went home at the end of the second semester unattached. By the end of the summer, Bernita was pregnant. She ran off to British Columbia. Then she returned to Hicksville to face the music. Standard procedure in conservative Christian communities? She married the guy. She never went back to college.
Its twenty years later: she still lives in the same small town, with her five children. She is a stay-at-home mother. She is involved in the PTA and stuff like that. Her oldest child is already in college himself. I dont know if she believes in God now or not, but she goes to church and she sends her children to the Christian school.
So youre eighteen and youre beautiful and youre smart and youre 500 miles away from home, living in one of the great cities of North America, with its blues bars and great restaurants, and the fabulous Art Institute, and Wrigley Field, and the Sears tower. The whole wild and crazy world and a future of untold experiences and insights opens up before you. You're frightened and thrilled. But you go home one weekend for some stupid reason you give in this one time (that part's a mystery to me: why?) And you end up spending your entire life in some wretched little hick town in the middle of Ontarios own Green Acres. My wife says Im too harsh, and that theres nothing wrong with living your entire life in a small rural community. I thought she was right for a while. Whats wrong with Hicksville?
We lived in Hicksville ourselves for about 15 years. The trouble with Hicksville is that after a while you really do forget that there is a broader horizon out there beyond the dusty cornfields and windmills. You forget that people have different experiences of different lives. You think you have made a reasonable judgment about things when you reject certain possible alternatives, and forget that there are possibilities that you havent even imagined.
Hicksville allowed malls to be built on the edge of town, and then, when stores in the downtown area started to lose money and go out of business, demolished the only building with architectural distinction and built another mall right downtown. That finished it off. Now the mall itself is half-empty. Thats Hicksville: yesterdays solutions for the problems we will create tomorrow. The whole debate about this building, the former city hall, featured a lot of ridicule about "preservationists" and their granola-crunching ilk. Meanwhile, towns like Stratford and Oakville were thriving by preserving their old buildings and renewing their city cores. How much do you want to bet that in ten years, when that trend has run its course, Hicksville will just be embarking on it?
Maybe its not fair, but I shed a little tear inside when I think of Bernita. I wish shed finished college and taken a job in Toronto or Vancouver and traveled a little before she got married and settled down and had kids. But I bet that if I asked her now if that would have been a good idea, shed answer, "why?"
* The names have been changed to protect the innocent.