I look around my new town and see families -- lots of them -- doing things together and enjoying each other's company. It's a shame that I have to be surprised by this, but it is a delight to witness.
My husband and I just moved from a big city to a smaller city (from San Diego to Bakersfield) and we have noticed many unexpected and wonderful differences: friendly people, less traffic, no lines, home-cooked food, and kids who play outside. But this family closeness thing is the best discovery of all. It has thrown me straight back into "Happy Days."
What are these families doing together? They are going to movies, eating at restaurants, enjoying yogurt, and shopping and talking. And while they are at it, they are sharing, laughing, and relating to each other in comfortable and joyous ways. What the heck is going on? You mean the parents here don't drop off their kids in front of the theater and pick them up two hours later? You mean the kids aren't isolated in their rooms playing video games on a sunny day?
I don't know how to explain the phenomenon of families enjoying each other's company, but that is exactly what they are doing here -- in a controlled and self-disciplined way. I have lived here a month, and I have not yet heard one screaming, out-of-control child -- not in a restaurant, not in a park, and not in a store. These kids are not demanding one form of stimulation or another; instead, they are interacting with their moms and dads.
Where is the closeness, happiness, and self-control coming from? Is there something in the water? Is it coming out of the school system? Could it be related to church attendance? Is it expressed in the country music that the local population loves so much? I can't answer that question, although I do have my theories. All I know for now is that it is a pleasure to have a 10-year-old boy rush to open the door for me at JCPenney. It is a delight to walk into a restaurant and have a younger person stand up and offer me the seat he was occupying in the waiting area. It is a joy to see kids dressed like kids, and gratifying to see parents talking with their children instead of texting their own friends.
Bakersfield's comfortable, family atmosphere has even affected my husband's personal grooming. After walking into a recommended barbershop, he soon discovered that all of the other customers worked for the same employer and knew each other. When the owner asked my husband how he heard about the shop, my spouse answered, "From a co-worker. Her husband, 'Joe Bakersfield,' gets his hair cut here." The guy sitting in the chair next to my husband turned his head and said, "What? I am Joe Bakersfield." That scenario never would have unfolded in a bigger city. First, the customers would not have been talking to each other. Second, your co-worker's spouse would not have been sitting in the next chair.
The list goes on: the Costco cashier who gave us referrals to the best Mexican restaurants in town, the salesperson who gave me 10 percent off because I was new to the area, the produce guy at the grocery who talks with me every week.
Yes, interactive, happy family members who enjoy each other's company produce cheerful, confident, generous and responsible citizens. I am aware I am using too many adjectives, Bakersfield, but you deserve them. You are doing something right!
The change of pace and scenery has been healthful and promising for my husband and me (if only you wouldn't drive so fast). Happy Thanksgiving, Bakersfield! I am grateful to be here.