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My friend Earnan enjoys the sun and horseplay with his nieces and nephew at a country barbeque

From reading this blog, you probably get the impression that I am a city girl through and through. After all I’m always going on about the differences between the place from where I came (Los Angeles) and where I landed (Drogheda, Ireland). It’s not always the cultural dissimilarities that shock and confuse; it’s the stark contrast between city life and small town country living that often leaves my head spinning.

So you may be a tad surprised by the confession I am about to make: I haven’t always been an urban city dweller. Sure, I was born in Tokyo and spent my formative years in Los Angeles and went to college in San Francisco. But there was a short period of my life where I lived out in the country, and when I say “country” I’m talkin’ authentic, down-home sticksville. When I was five years old, my family moved from Tokyo, Japan to Cherokee Village, Arkansas. Of course you’ve never heard of the place, and why would you? It’s tiny. It’s country. It’s the sticks.

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The unofficial country hat club of Collon

We were only there two years before we moved to Los Angeles, but I have wonderful recollections of the place. My childhood there was similar in many ways to that of my friend Sinead, who grew up in Collon (about a 15 minute drive from my apartment in Drogheda). There was plenty of room to play, and I have vivid memories of running around fields of green chasing friends, collecting kindling for the fire and swinging from a tire that hung from a huge tree in our yard. Winters brought many feet of snow, the sticky kind that clung to my knitted mittens; Spring saw perfect blue skies and a constant crisp breeze; the sweltering summer nights shone with lightning bugs; and Autumn brought the most vibrant shades of red and gold I’d ever seen. My sister and I used to capture caterpillars and put them jars so we could watch them grow cocoons. Some would turn black and rot away but a good few transformed into butterflies. That’s the kind of stuff kids do to pass time in the country.

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My friends’ kids love the fresh air and greenery of the Irish countryside

One of the benefits or drawbacks – depending on your perspective – of living out in the sticks is that you are far away from the modern comforts of civilization: grocery stores, clothing shops, restaurants, etc. You have to be prepared when you live out in the middle of nowhere. Make sure your pantry is well-stocked at all times, especially during the winter; you never know when you’ll be snowed in for a few weeks. Keep an eye on the car’s gas gauge because if you run out on the side of the road somewhere, there’s a good chance you’ll walk several hours to the nearest petrol station. You learn to be resourceful out in the country. Once, we accidentally hit a deer that sprang out onto a dark road near our house. My dad tied it to the roof of the car and we took it to our local butcher. We ate venison steaks and sausages for months.

Sinead has her “culchie” childhood stories too and there’s one tale in particular that I can especially relate to. When she was about 11 years old, she was carrying her sister piggyback style when she tripped over the dog and broke her nose on the side of a coffee table. For most city folk, this unfortunate incident would be followed by a quick car ride to the hospital. But for Sinead, this meant having to wait – indefinitely – to get it checked out. She was probably given a bag of ice and a few reassuring words for her troubles. Though she can’t recall exactly what caused the delay, it most likely had to do with the proximity of the hospital to her house and/or the weather (maybe too much snow). By the time she made it to a doctor her nose had already healed – crooked, but healed nonetheless.

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Me, in a Highland Elementary School dance production in Cherokee Village, Arkansas

My country injury incident didn’t leave any lasting scars but it’s just as dramatic. It was winter and I was sledding with my sister and a few friends. On one of the downhill runs, I was seated in the front of the sled and my friend was in the back, which meant she controlled the brakes. As we flew down the snowy slope at a ridiculous rate of speed, I realized we were heading directly for an enormous tree. Though I was screaming “GET THE BRAKES!” over and over, we crashed smack-dab into the lower trunk of the tree. My friend, cushioned by my body, was fine. I, on the other hand, stood up and then immediately fell stiffly back into the snow, the way someone trying to make a clean snow angel would, and my ankle was throbbing. To add insult to literal injury, I peed in my pants from the shock of it all. Not an unusual reaction for a frightened 6-year-old but humiliating nonetheless, especially when my sister yelled out, “Clare just peed herself!” to the whole group.

That night, as I watched my ankle turn five different shades of purple and balloon to double its normal size, I assumed my parents would take me to the hospital. I had visions of a clean, white cast that my friends would decorate with squiggly signatures and bubble hearts. I was dismayed when my dad brought over a Ziploc bag full of snow and his hiking stick from his climb of Mt. Fuji. The way my parents saw it, it was too snowy and the hospital too far and the only thing the doctors would do was tell me to take it easy – nothing they couldn’t tell me themselves.

At the time, I was furious at their seeming lack of concern for what I thought could have been a broken ankle, but in retrospect I completely understand. When you live out in the country, you just have to learn to roll with the punches. Not a bad life lesson if you ask me.