I grew up in the town that was too small for me, and spent my time trying to make it bigger. Moore, Oklahoma had been my home since age two. Moore was a suburb of Oklahoma City. Air Force personnel composed a large segment of the population, providing an eclectic demographic; new faces were common. Then when I was 11, my family moved so my father could to go into the family business (selling truck parts) with his father. Our new home was in the country, near Mannford and Cleveland. I noticed a different culture in these small towns. Whereas "Moore" was merely the name of the town in which I lived, "Cleveland" and "Mannford" represented something more important to their residents. Strangers were viewed with suspicion rather than curiosity. Athletic achievement was absurdly overvalued, as were inter-school competitions; Cleveland's athletic competition placed the town's and residents' honor at stake.
Cleveland was actually a transition from childhood to adolescence for me. I developed a prejudice of small, isolated towns. I sought refuge in my Cherokee heritage -- 1/64, actually, but I registered with the BIA to assert my difference from the people around me. I became intensely more curious about places and perspectives with which I was unfamiliar. I began traveling the country on vacations and school breaks. But no matter where I went, my world was too small, because I still returned to Cleveland and the family business.
In an effort to expand my world, I learned to pilot a plane. As a toddler, I had often flown with my grandfather in a company plane that he piloted. I grew up fancying myself an authority on the subject. After all, I knew this control did this, and that control did that. So ...
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...rub bush (the sort of woody bushes that manage to grow above the tree line). My jeans were soaking wet from having gone through snow and dew-covered plants. Every noise I heard was a bear coming to prove the nature show narrator wrong about bears not eating people, or attacking them for no reason. Fortunately, the narrator was right, and I lived to walk down the mountain in the morning.
I learned two important things in Alaska. I learned that a small town in Alaska was less parochial than many larger places. Parochialism wasn't in the size of the town; it is in how people accept differences. I also learned how parochial my own experience was in the grand scheme of things. The world is as big -- or as small -- as I let it be. I hope that as I continue through life, I will also continue to challenge myself so that my world will become ever larger.
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