Small towns and dreamers

Amal Chatterjee
9 min readSep 10, 2017
Source : Google photo of a working student

Synopsis: We all come from somewhere but the ones who come from small towns face more difficulties in their lives than the most and have a harder time to overcome them. The blogs explores the possibilities of improving their lives if only they have the courage.

Where a person is born and grows up is really not up to him but it may have profound effect on his education, development of his personality and his perspective in life in just about everything.

He may have been born in Mosul and saw as a child the horrors of war, the death of his family and the destitution they suffered and continue to suffer. A child does not understand why such things happen and how long it may last. He only understands that his loved ones on whom he depends are helpless and are searching for safety and food where they can find it.

He may have been born in Somalia or Ethiopia in a village that was once peaceful and green with enough food for everybody and does not understand why there is famine and war that had destroyed their once peaceful life.

He may have been born in the beautiful city of Hue in Vietnam that he saw as a child being destroyed by the fighting and could not understand why people were fighting and why there were dead bodies in every street corner.

Or he could have been born in Bam in Iran or Port au Prince in Haiti that all of a sudden was destroyed by terrible earthquakes where people were buried under the rubble. A child may understand the power of nature like famine and earthquake but he does not understand why there are manmade calamities like war and flooding due to massive deforestation.

As a child his needs are simple. He needs food and shelter and someone who looks after the needs. He is quick to understand that food and shelter may be in short supply due to the calamities so he learns to share what he has with his siblings and does not demand what he sees his parents unable to provide.

It is heartwarming to see a child feeding his siblings and trying to protect them from harm as best as he can. A teen age girl sells herself to get a few coins to feed her siblings who have been orphaned by war like herself. It makes them grow up fast in order to learn to cope with such situations.

Now let us see the child who grows up in a lush countryside in the loving care of his prosperous parents who shield him from all the unpleasantness of this world so he never learns how others fare in other parts of the world. The small towns make him grow in a cocoon that makes the outer world irrelevant to him. He may watch the news and learn what is happening elsewhere but he develops no empathy for the suffering of others. Not all children are thus privileged.

The movie Deer hunter shows the life in a small town in the United States where the young people work in the only steel mill in town that provides them employment at low wages and a mundane routine and hum drum life where nothing exciting ever happens . They get used to such life and do the best they can to amuse themselves which may be drinking or going out to hunt deers or dancing during a wedding or in a bar playing the jukebox.. It is the life of a small town where everyone knows everyone and where they resign themselves to work in the mill at low wages that barely keep them out of poverty.

It is the life in a small town that keeps people from dreaming big and try to break out of their vicious life and do something like going to college and getting a higher paying job to live in a big city suburb in a nice house and live the life of middle class.

I had a friend who had seen the world and lived in many countries who once told me that his home town in Texas was really small. People there were more preoccupied with the current soap opera on TV or the bingo games than anything else in the world. Only when a body returned in a coffin of someone they knew who had died in a war somewhere reminded these people that there was an outer world where people were fighting and dying.

They were not concerned unless someone they knew had died there and came back in a body bag. You could see the parade on the 4th of July when old veterans came out in their fading uniforms and their caps full of forgotten medals earned in some forgotten war fought long ago.

Women were more concerned about the latest hair color and the gossip and fretted about who will bake the pumpkin pie for the church next Sunday. I feel sorry for the pastors of these small towns who have to deal with endless pumpkin pies. Their aspirations, their dreams and their struggles to better themselves had died a long time ago so they lived from day to day worrying about pumpkin pies and hair colors.

Most small town people live barely above poverty line so they can’t travel the world and see the Eiffel tower or the Taj Mahal. They have little education that limits their understanding of the world and perception. Those who break out of their small town and join the Peace Corps or the Foreign Service get the opportunity to travel and see the world find it very difficult to go back to their small towns where no one is interested in their stories and travel photos.

Those who join the army and are sent to fight in other countries come back with horrible memories of the violence and the PTSD problems. They often return home to find their wives gone and living with someone else or other such issues that they can’t cope with and take to drinking. Those with debilitating injuries find it even harder to live in their small towns where there are no opportunities for a decent living wage for a healthy person let alone someone with disabilities.

When they grow old, they too parade in their faded uniforms and pin the cheap medals they earned to their caps and then go to a bar to celebrate their pitiful life by binge drinking.

Their women once pretty become un pretty with bulging flesh and many medical issues that come from eating poorly unhealthy food all their lives. In their younger days they may have been the beauty queens in their high school class and may even have earned a few medals and plaques but it loses its relevance later and collects dust on their old piano.

I call it the curse of small towns anywhere that kills the dreams of a child who feels that he is different and has the power to unlock his potentials if given the chance. Who then provides him or her chance to go out to the world and make a name for himself if not the parents?

If he comes from poverty as most small town people who depend on the steel mill or coal mine jobs do then his chances of going to a good college and learning skills needed to get a good job somewhere is rather limited.

If the parents can’t afford to send the kid to college somewhere then the kid finds a job after high school or even before just like his father and grandfather and becomes the resident of the small town community where he may marry his high school sweetheart and settle down.

The women fare worse in small towns where at first they get jobs as waitresses in a diner or hamburger stand and later may graduate to a super market checking the groceries. It earns them a living but barely so they too resign to their fates, marry and raise children who in turn become like their parents.

This is the story of small town everywhere. Only the degree of mediocrity varies. I do not denigrate small towns and the people who live there. They try to cope with their situation the best way they know how. It is not their fault that their town is small, that their only employer is the mill that does not pay well and does not require high level of education, that their life revolves around the church or the bar, that their children are also like them although they want them to be different.

It is just the grinding viciousness of poverty breeding more poverty that they do not seem to overcome and one day lay dead with nothing to show for except their ramshackle wooden house and a beat up jalopy. Most of the small towns in the world are that way where people just barely live and get by.

But once in a while a dreamer is born there who refuses to believe that he is going to spend the rest of his life just like his father or grandfather in the small town and eventually marry a country girl who only thinks of her hair color and nail polish and who later graduates to become the avid church goer with a pumpkin pie in hand. He is a dreamer who wants to dream big and break out of the boundaries of his small town and make something out of his life.

How can he do it? Here is a story that might throw some light on this subject.

There was once a vegetable seller who also sold fruits and other things pushing his cart day in and day out and made a simple living. He had no education worth mention but he dreamed big that one day he will no longer sell fruits and vegetables and become rich.

So he started copying popular movie songs and sold the cassettes in the sidewalk for a small price. Soon he realized that he could not supply the demand so hired his brother to go to Hong Kong and buy tape copying machines there. Even then he could not cope with the demand so he set up a studio with sound proof state of the art modern recording facility where for a few thousand Rupees he recorded the popular songs sung by teen age boys and girls who had a good voice.

This way he sold cassettes everywhere that made him very rich. He then moved into cassette making itself and had his own brand which later developed into the manufacture of audio equipment to play the cassettes.

He was a religious man so he started feeding the poor by thousands and never forgot how poor he once was. He was later killed by the mafia that he would not pay bribe to so his life ended one day but he left his legacy in the empire he built that his relatives now run. This was a man who dreamed big and had the audacity to try his luck.

So I have hit on the word audacity here. Let me now expand on the meaning of this word audacity and how it can change your life if you happen to live in a small town and dream big. It is one thing if Barack Obama talks of audacity because he had grown up with some privileges and he was very smart.

But what if you are not very smart like Obama and still dream big? What if your parents are too poor to pay for your college education? This is where audacity plays a role. Audacity simply means daring and not taking no for an answer.

I knew a Chinese girl from Hong Kong who washed dishes in our college cafeteria who one day said to me that her supervisor was an old but very mean woman who gave her a hard time. I told her that she was a princess in the making and one day her hard work will pay off when she graduates, gets a very good job and will become a successful person. This is the boot camp when a lowly sergeant makes life difficult for you but one day you will become the officer whom everyone will salute. The lowly uneducated woman who gives you a hard time will be left behind biting dust while you will forge ahead in life so just hang on.

So there are ways when any person with audacity and strong determination can succeed. Such a person can overcome all his difficulties and succeed against all odds as that beautiful Chinese girl did.

There are many schools and colleges that offer full scholarship to those who are smart or half scholarship to those who can find odd jobs to support themselves. It gets better once you get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject that holds a bright future that opens up many possibilities and doors. There are universities that offer full scholarships for Master’s or Ph.D. level studies and are constantly looking for qualified candidates.

What you need is a fire in your belly that can’t be put out. It will push you on to achieve great things in life but you have to take certain risks like becoming a self-supporting student and take any job that can support you and your studies.

Such people are audacious and have a guardian angel watching over them all the time. He will come to your help in the disguise of a kind professor who sees your potential and will recommend you for a scholarship somewhere for further studies.

I know it from my own experience but I am not here to write about myself.