Twelve years ago "small town mentality" had a different meaning for me. Before I left in 1998, I poorly judged Cody's small-town effect. Everyone knew and was in each other's business. You couldn't drive down the street without seeing the same people you saw at the grocery store the night before, feeling like the whole town knew everything from what brand of tampons you used to when you had your last oil change.
I felt bad for people who lived here, including myself. It was a place where no one could "get out," as if they were held prisoners in the tiny town that offered nothing but bars and tourist trap main street shops. Despite the miles upon miles upon miles of nothingness surrounding Cody, I felt suffocated. A person couldn't go anywhere because nothing was close. Billings held the closest mall, even though I didn't really give a damn about malls because I never cared to go shopping in the first place. But it was one of those things that marked Cody as a small pathetic hick of a town. Not even a frickin mall.
The thought of moving back made me cry. When the kids and I first made the decision to relocate I stood in the shower, muted my face with my hands, and sobbed. I was voluntarily heading back in the wrong direction. Everything I had done in my life to shake the Cody dirt off me was going to be for naught, and I was dragging my kids to the very existence I couldn't wait to discard over a decade ago.
Then we arrived and it hit me hard... I wasn't coming back as Kim Bieske, the newly married 23-year-old whose only option in life was to wait tables in the summer and scrounge for a second job in the winter, never having any medical benefits and making very little money. I wasn't that young, skinny, long-haired girl whose worth and value lay solely in being a wife. I wasn't the girl who did not know herself, who may as well have been twelve for the life experiences she had.
I arrived as Kim Bieske, single mother of two children, a job that paid good money (well, good for Cody anyway) and had full benefits. I came back with more wrinkles, graying hair, a backbone, and some edge. Not long after moving back I cut my hair again, nice and short, something I would have never done when I lived here before. Twelve years and two kids took away my chubby cheeks and I learned that good cheekbones look great with a short 'do.
In short, I grew up. A lot.
Now the small town-ness of Cody is what I love the most. There is human connection here - people stand at the end of the register or in the middle of an aisle at Wal Mart and talk. For all I know they're talking about the morning's bowel movements, but it's amazing how intimately connected everyone is.
The community gathers and everyone shows support, no matter what's going on. We were driving home one day and noticed a parade - a parade! In the middle of September! So we stopped of course, and watched as the homecoming parade made its way down Main Street. And for such a "meaningless" parade, the streets were lined with the people of the town, showing support for the Cody schools.
Since Halloween was on a Sunday this year, the Main Street businesses held their trick-or-treating on Friday. I expected to see a decent turnout of kids going from store to store asking for candy, but when we arrived I was blown away. Several blocks of the street were closed off, and all along downtown was a huge mass of costumed babies, adults, children, and animals. People were literally waiting in lines to get to a store and ask for candy.
It's not suffocating any more. The endless miles of nothingness that surround me are what make me free. Within five minutes I can be out in the middle of nowhere, breathing in the cool mountain air, appreciating the space that will forever be untouched. The people who have lived in Cody for years know what I'm just now learning... that Cody is a small mountain paradise. It is a haven that wakes the soul and enriches the spirit. I have never been happier, felt more alive.
I can't think of a better place to raise the kids, and I will do my best to help them understand what a privilege it is to live here. So far so good, as they are shining as well.