The Thanksgiving Advent Calendar, Day Twenty: Bradford, Ohio
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t want to move to Bradford. It was nothing against Bradford in particular; it was that it was in Ohio, and I didn’t want to move to Ohio. I was happy living in Northern Virginia, where we lived at the time, where I had friends, and work, and a nice house and a comfortable life. But my wife wanted to live near her family, who had moved to the Miami Valley of Ohio, where Krissy’s father was originally from (and where Krissy herself was born). I grew up in Southern California, in the urban milieu of Los Angeles, and the idea of living in the midwest did not appeal to me. I thought I would be clever and say to my wife that I would move if she could find a place with five acres of land, on the idea that I could never afford that much land. Turns out land in rural Ohio is surprisingly inexpensive. Off we went to Ohio, and to Bradford, where my new home would be.
Bradford is the smallest place I have ever lived. It has just around 1,850 residents, which is roughly equivalent in size to the high school I used to live near as a kid. It’s a rural and blue collar community, strongly religious (there are nine churches around town) and like the rest of both Darke and Miami counties, each of which houses half the town, strongly politically conservative. It’s 98% white and less than 1% Hispanic of any sort, that one percent of which includes both my wife and daughter, who have ancestors from Mexico. All the kids, from kindergarten through high school, go to school in the same building. The town is locally famous for its Pumpkin Festival, has no stoplights, has an IGA market and is eleven miles away from the nearest Wal-Mart. When you think about typical small-town America, Bradford or someplace very much like it is what you think about.
I admit when we first moved here all of this disconcerted me. I was an urban and suburban sort of person, lived in areas where not everyone was white and Republican and was used to having fully-kitted shopping centers, complete with fast-food franchises, less than a mile away, near people with college degrees and a preference for alternative music over country. When we moved to Bradford the fastest local Internet provider connected to the Web at 9600 baud. I was fairly certain I was gonna die out there.
It didn’t happen. One, I got satellite Internet (and then DSL). Two, on a day to day basis none of that stuff matters in terms of how people treat each other as neighbors. I’ve lived in Bradford long enough for people to know I’m an agnostic lefty; I don’t really think most people care. I think what they care about is if I’m I good guy and a good neighbor, which are things I try to be.
And as time has gone on I’ve come to appreciate some of the things that used to worry me about rural living. When I moved to Bradford, I was concerned I would be isolated; these days I actually like that I am a little bit isolated. I travel so much and I do so much when I travel that when I’m home, it’s nice to be away from it all. Being in a small town is great for focus when it comes to writing. I’m aware that this may come across as damning with faint praise. I’d like to emphasize the praise is not faint. My job is to write; my personal nature is to be distracted. And beyond that, the feeling I get when I get home from travel is like a happy sigh and a clearing of stress, looking out at my big yard and the fields beyond it. It’s nice to have space and not to have a feeling the rest of the world is impinging upon you.
I like our neighbors; I like the school and the teachers who teach my daughter and the fact the school is small enough that she gets enough attention from the people who educate her. I like that in the life of my town I am able to make a difference, and that’s not necessarily a feeling that I’ve gotten in the other places where I have lived. I am engaged enough in Bradford that it feels like I imagine a hometown is supposed to feel like, rather than a place I just happen to live. I don’t know that I would have known the difference before I moved here; now I do.
As with any place one might live, Bradford isn’t perfect, but then perfection isn’t what one ought to be expecting. It’s nice to live there among good people who by and large seem to be happy we’re there. I didn’t want to move there, but that was eleven years ago now. I’m there now and I like it. I think it’s been an important place for me to be in my life, and for what I do and how I do it. I’m thankful to be there. Or, more accurately, since I am in Toronto at the moment, thankful to be going back there. Not that Toronto isn’t a great city, mind you. But Bradford is home.