Thursday, January 15, 2015

Country Mouse, City Mouse

There were lights as far as I could see, stretching out into the blackness of the night below me as the flight attendants prepared the plane for arrival at Chicago O'Hare airport. I stretched and yawned. It was right around midnight just before the day of Christmas Eve. The three hour flight from Salt Lake City had been uneventful once we finally got all of the delayed take-offs out of the way. Now here I was, the proverbial country mouse, gathering my belongings, getting ready to start a new life in the big city.

The picture of the city lights I posted to my Facebook timeline with these words: "City lights that stretch forever. The girl from Chicago is home."                                                                                                                                                  
Who does this? I thought. Who flies to destinations unknown at Christmas? Who leaves the only life she's ever known to make a new one without having ever been in the new place? Who strikes up a conversation with a stranger that leads to serious plans for meeting across the country just days after introducing herself? Who, for that matter, agrees to marry that man after only being with him for less than a week?  
Um, that would be me. (I know, Ms. Ponton. That should read, "That would be I." Who TALKS like that anyway? Not I.) I'm the woman responsible for this seemingly wild, unpredictable behavior. I'm the one who is living in the moment, following her heart (and her brain and her spirit) to points unknown to live the life of which she's only dreamed with the man who has captured her heart.

During an earlier conversation, this man we now know as Chuck, mentioned he lived in a small town. It had already been established he lived near Chicago, so I asked him to "define small."

"Oh, I don't know, the population of Saint Charles is right around 30,000," he guessed. He's pretty good with numbers. (33,264, according to the last census. ) "What about where you live? How many people live in Joseph?"

"You're from a SMALL town?" I laughed incredulously. "There are about 300 people in my town. JOSEPH is a small town." (344 in 2013, 346 if you count us, my son and me, adding two to the population in 2014. And on a further note, according to my research, Joseph is 0% urban, 100% rural. You don't say...)

Joseph is so small, there isn't a church or school in town. We don't even have our own post office. We DO have the Flying U convenience market, which is great when a girl just has to have a Diet Dr. Pepper or a few pieces of penny candy. Let's be clear; I am from a small town. Chuck is from a thriving metropolis.

From the first time I saw the glow of Chicago, I felt much like Dorothy must have felt when she landed in Oz. I have said to myself on more than one occasion, "Toto, we're not in Utah any more." It is so different here, which isn't a bad thing, in my book. I guess I was ready for different.

Yes, this country mouse was moving to the big city to begin a new life with her city mouse. I was trading the desert and mountains of rural Utah for the western suburbs of Chicago.

When my seventeen-year-old toured Chicago with us during the holidays, his head was perpetually craned upward, taking in all of the skyscrapers and the cityscape around us. He called the city streets lined with tall buildings "urban canyons." I love the way he thinks.

One of our first introductions to local cuisine was Giordano's deep dish Chicago-style pizza. It was everything pizza is supposed to be: hot, cheesy, gooey deliciousness.

When Chuck handed me the box, he said, "Check this out. Feel how heavy it is." My arms were not ready for the weight of that cardboard box that held pounds of cheese and pizza toppings. Utah isn't exactly known for its pizza; Chicago is. Not long after that, I tried my first Chicago-style hotdog. Not bad. The food here is pretty tempting.

My older son Dylan, who lives in Saint George, Utah, had heard the tales of Giordano's pizza, and had been so enamored by the idea of this Chicago-style iconic perfection, he nearly gave in to the temptation of ordering a frozen pizza from them to be delivered on dry ice via overnight delivery. The $80 price tag had brought him back to reality. When we sent him pictures via text, he told us he had "just chipped [his] tooth...trying to eat [his] phone." Yeah, it's that good.

Giordano's. Is your mouth watering yet?
In rural Utah, every time we need to "go to town," it takes at least 15 minutes, not because of traffic, but because we live about 13 miles from the nearest town with a Walmart, Richfield. If I want a gourmet coffee or soda, I go to Richfield. If I want to go shopping in the big city, it's a two hour drive to Provo and about three hours to Salt Lake City. The bookmobile brings books to our small town, but I could never remember the schedule, and it wasn't convenient to my work schedule.

Here in Saint Charles, anything I need is within 5-10 minutes of home, and I can walk right into downtown, a mere eight blocks away, and go shopping at darling boutiques, grab a hot drink at Starbucks, check out a book at the library, and walk around the city parks.

In Utah, neighbors are anyone in a five mile vicinity. Here, there are thousands of people in each square mile. There, my photography focused on mountains and canyons, wild turkeys and birds of prey, mule deer and farm implements. Here in Illinois, I can shoot urban landscapes, sculptures, and farmland. We do have wildlife in our backyard: squirrels and raccoons, chickadees and cardinals.

Cardinals? Oh, my heck. (A colloquial saying from Utah only, apparently.) My heart strings are pulled at the sight of those regal red birds. They are the state bird of Illinois, my birthplace, and Virginia, where I grew up. My mom loves cardinals, and she passed that on to me. My first sighting of a cardinal was in the park behind our house. The first time I had my camera available when I saw them, I was able to capture two males having a standoff in our backyard.

Today, I'm meeting a fellow writing friend I met through our Facebook writing group. This will be our first face to face meeting, and I find that very exciting. We're going to Town House Books in Saint Charles. The internet has made this world a much smaller world, and I'm so grateful for these experiences that are mine.

Life here in the city is very exciting to this girl from the country. Every day is an adventure, if I want it to be. This is my year of discovery, and I am discovering that I live in a very charming corner of the world. This country mouse may just become a city mouse yet!

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