Growing Up Rural | Sarah Wyland

Growing Up Rural

I’ve been reflecting a lot on growing up rural lately. 

I’m a “city girl” these days. I love living in Los Angeles. It’s the biggest city I’ve lived in to date and it seems the bigger the city is, the more I thrive in it. 

Knoxville was my first exposure to city life. I was largely confined to the University of Tennessee bubble, but for the first time, I got to experience what it was like to have food delivered to my door, call a cab (we didn’t have Uber yet), use public transportation, and be ten minutes away from a grocery store or Target. The fact that I didn’t have to leave the house an hour before a movie started to make it there barely on time blew my mind. 

It didn’t take long for me to figure out I liked city life. When I went home for winter break, it was a long two weeks of realizing I couldn’t just walk to McDonald’s if I got a craving for fries. It was even more obvious when I was home for the summer and didn’t leave the mountain I grew up on for days at a time. 

Me, around 18 months or so. This is my dad’s favorite picture of me.

After college, it was off to my beloved Nashville where I really leaned into city life. I loved – and still love – everything about life in Nashville. I loved the occasional night out on Broadway, going to Predators and Titans games, concerts at Bridgestone Arena or even the stadium. I loved all the conveniences, that I never had to drive more than ten or fifteen minutes most of the time. 

I would argue that both Charlottesville and Chapel Hill, my next two places of residence, weren’t really “cities” but big towns. Still, the convenience factor was there and I never felt like I was on an island. They didn’t give me the same buzz Nashville and Los Angeles do, but they did enough. 

And now, here I am, in Los Angeles, living the city girl life while still able to pop down to the beach whenever I feel like it. It truly is the best place for me at this point in my life. 

Grandma Myrtle’s. I spent nearly every Sunday of my Virginia days sitting outside with her, her brother, and his “friend.” I learned so much from those conversations.

But I didn’t grow up a city girl. 

I hesitate to call myself a “country girl” as I never quite embraced the camouflage and four wheelin’ nature of some of my classmates. I never asked to go hunting with my dad, fishing bores me to tears, and thank God my family didn’t have a farm because I would not have done well. Over the holidays, my dad told me if I wanted an egg on my breakfast sandwich, I would need to go out to the chicken coop and get one. I tried. I really did. But I opened the coop door and there were chickens everywhere and I just couldn’t. They are shifty looking creatures…

I’ll admit it. 

My dad got the eggs for me. 

There wasn’t much to do in Nelson County as a highschool student. If we wanted to go shopping or to a movie, we had to plan ahead and drive forty-five minutes or more to Charlottesville or Lynchburg. Most of us didn’t have that kind of gas money, so we made our own fun. We drove around Lovingston, sat in the parking lot of Food Lion or the Chicken Coop, went to the Dairy Isle for mozzarella sticks and soft serve. We had field parties and told our parents we were staying at a friend’s house. 

I got caught every time I tried that one. 

That’s what happens when you grow up in a town where if they don’t know your mom, they know your dad, and if they don’t know him, they know one of your grandparents. I had the added bonus of living across from my Papa and Granny and if I wasn’t home when Papa thought I should be, he made phone calls. It drove me crazy at the time, that he would peek through his blinds and check our driveway for my Toyota Corolla, but now I look back on that with fondness. 

My childhood was spent outside with my cousins. I have 12 first cousins on my mom’s side, seven on my dad’s. I can’t count how many second and third cousins I have. There are a lot of us, which means there is always someone to play with, hang out with, even now. We rolled down hills, went swimming in the river, caught lightning bugs, spent a lot of time making up games to play in the yard. There was the time we balled up an entire ream of printer paper and had a “snowball fight” in the middle of summer (got in a fair amount of trouble for that one…) We played a lot of Power Rangers at Papa and Granny’s, a lot of games of house. I turned the cedar trees at Grandma Myrtle’s into a weather station after I saw Twister. We pilfered a lot of Uncle Donnie’s plumbing supplies to make our own Dorothy and got in a lot of trouble for it weeks later when he found his missing supplies. 

You get the idea. 

Jumping hay bales was a favorite past time.

We got creative in the middle of nowhere.

Growing up rural wasn’t always fun or easy. I had a lot of “I’m so bored!” moments and would get frustrated that I couldn’t take dance classes or gymnastics or play certain sports because they weren’t offered nearby. Realizing you didn’t have a piece of posterboard for a school project or an ingredient for a recipe at seven o’clock at night was stress-inducing. You couldn’t just hop in the car and drive down the street to get what you needed. 

But I wouldn’t change growing up rural. I had a near idyllic childhood in a lot of ways, experiences that I carry with me. I grew up knowing what it’s like to see the stars at night, what it’s like to sit outside at night with nothing but those stars and whatever wildlife is roaming in the woods just out of sight to keep you company. I know what it’s like to watch a summer storm roll in over the mountains, to pick and eat cherries right off the tree, cucumbers fresh off the vine. I know what it’s like to jump hay bales, to ride through the woods on fourwheelers, to hear whippoorwills at night. 

It was a pretty incredible way to grow up. 

While I’m a “city girl” these days, there’s a part of me that will always appreciate those rural childhood memories. Maybe someday I’ll grow tired of city living and find myself in a rural location once more. 

Until then, I’ll hold onto the memories of growing up rural. 

They’re pretty great memories, after all. 

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