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No illusions about country living


cartoon by Barry

I'm wary about the idea, but you never know. President Obama has issued an executive order to "promote economic prosperity in rural America" -- just as I am about to move back to my country home just outside Pittsburgh, which I have rented out for more than a decade.

As it goes, rural America has been struggling for some time. With innovations in farming technology, fewer people are needed to grow and harvest crops. Small towns are shrinking all over.

In our service economy, the few jobs that are available are to be found in large metro areas, where college-educated people continue to flock.

Rural living is cheaper in many ways, but high fuel costs aren't helping. The farther out you live, the more you have to drive to get places.

I am wary of government programs and intervention, but government could assist the development of better roads and broadband lines that could make rural areas more attractive to employers and residents alike.

And if that were to happen, I'd have to warn folks that country living isn't all a bed of roses.

I was born and raised in the suburbs -- smack in the middle between city folk and country folk.

While street-smart city kids were raising their fists, we suburban kids were taking piano lessons.

While country kids were rebuilding truck motors and tending fields, we were doing our algebra.

The only thing we knew was that both city and country kids could beat us up.

When I first moved to my country house in 1995, I dreamt of open fields and quiet. I envisioned myself raising barns with neighbor men, then shooting the bull as the women brought us sandwiches and cold beer.

It didn't work out that way.

My neighbors became suspicious of the writer fellow who worked inside his house.

After all, I never owned a gun. I drove a four-door Japanese sedan, not a 4-by-4 truck -- though, trying to fit in, I did have a gun rack installed in my sedan's rear window. And I hired other people to work on my house, rather than do the work myself.

My country neighbors were convinced I was in the witness protection program.

And while they shunned me, my city and suburban friends didn't like to visit.

One evening, I made dinner on the grill for an attractive lady from the suburbs. I hoped to impress her with the view from my deck.

But as night descended, we were quickly overcome by bugs. During her flight into the kitchen, my guest was hit in the forehead by a large moth.

"It's a bat!" she shouted.

I reassured her it wasn't a bat, but to no avail.

In any event, after renting my country house out for more than a decade, I'm moving back into it.

After living temporarily in Washington D.C. the past eight months, I expect to experience culture shock -- and hope to re-embrace the rugged individualism and self-reliance that is common in rural areas.

I'll soon give driving directions to delivery people that include "make a left at the compost pile, and if you see the septic tank, you've gone too far."

I'll tune my radio to country songs and enjoy their country humor: "My wife ran off with my best friend. I sure miss him."

And I'll keep a lookout for government types, inspired by Obama's latest directive, who knock on my door and greet me with the nightmarish words President Reagan warned us about: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

- Tom Purcell is a columnist for

the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

His columns are distributed

by Cagle Cartoon



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