Appeared in Empathy 2.1 (Fall/Winter, 1989): 31-32.
© 1989 by Empathy. © 2004 by Louie Crew
Lost in a rural part of the state, I recently discovered a small town almost no one seems to have heard of, called Nurture. Quite by accident I spent two days there, as perhaps their first overnight visitor in more than 50 years.
Nurture nestles near a county road--"off limits" most would say if they even knew about it.
Nurture protects itself against easy access. Nurture does not even advertise. My host told me that a native named William Gofer once tried to start a Nurture Chamber of Commerce. "The other two hundred of us residents," my host said, "just smiled when Bill asked us to join. No one did."
Frustrated, Gofer moved away and established a used car dealership in a more progressive town. "We each brought him a sprig of fern to take to root there, but his nextdoor neighbor said Bill just threw away the 200 snippets even before he left."
Inspectors for outside agencies do not like to inspect Nurture. They have to commute daily, since Nurture provides no hotels or motels. Nurture's citizens seem kind enough, they say, but their independence galls. Nurture's people bend almost any regulation so that they can do things their own way.
Take schools, for instance. Parents worked out a simple formula to give class credit for time spent reading and writing out of school, alone or with the family and neighborhood groups. "Apprentice Credit" they called it. "Apprentice to what?" the examiner up from the Capitol asked. "Apprentice to being whole persons," Nurture's P.T.A. explained.
Nurture has no little league, no football, no basketball, no baseball, no tennis. Instead, Nurture maintains a large park with many open spaces. Children invent their games and learn games which their parents and grandparents invented. Their games seem dull to me: no one wins or loses. Everyone merely enjoys.
Nurture has no radio station, no TV station. No one in town even owns a radio, TV or record player. Every family has its own set of instruments. Each block has at least three different ensembles. Sometimes others listen, but the musicians don't thrive on an audience, any more than the local athletes do. They wonder why you bothered to come. They think you should make your own music, invent your own games.
People in Nurture even look different. A bit drab. They don't wear special costumes, and they do use electricity and other modern conveniencies, like cars and tractors; but they use their equipment for a long time. Their clothes look, how shall I say, "sturdy."
When my car broke down, my host, the local mechanic, had not seen inside a model to come out within the last ten years. He repaired it for free and gave me room and board for two days "in exchange of your letting me learn about these things. I might as well, cause one day someone in Nurture will buy one of these, maybe from Gofer's Used Car Lot down in Capitol."
Nurture's people do not isolate themselves as much as you'd think. Everyone in the town takes a 3-month trip once every three years, as far away as Europe, Asia, or South and Central America. "That's why we have taxes and a mayor and a city commission," my host explained.
"I would never have guessed you have that much sophistication!" I said. "I mean, people here don't look like fashionable world-travelers."
"We're not," he said.
"But you said you spent a summer in Guilin, China, another on the Pueblo reservation in Taos, New Mexico, another with a family in Greenland, all within the last ten years!"
"Yes, but not in `fashionable' travel. I lived in those places. I worked as a mechanic in each." We don't value `fashion' as many people define it. We set our own fashions. As for mechanical things, we like to stick with products that work and to repair them when they break down. We try not to waste. We conserve our resources so that we can fund spiritual and mental adventures, like travel and books. The biggest and best warehouse in our town is the public library. Every citizen has a lounge chair there, and a private desk. Nurture cares most about talent and skill, not about garments or status. Nurture respects individuality."
"What happens in Nurture when someone really different comes along? When someone tests your generosity? When someone doesn't conform?" I asked. I distrusted his calm, self-assurance.
"No one `comes along' to Nurture from outside, except when one of us goes outside to marry. Then the person becomes one of us and is free to be as the person wants to be."
"But suppose one of your own children doesn't conform. Wants to play baseball, for instance?" I knew I would expose him this time.
"Some kids taught my son to play baseball in Greenland. They said he ought to know an American game. When he returned, he taught it to some friends. They did not stick with it though, nor did he. Apparently baseball works best when it has an audience."
"How do you handle a misfit, for example, someone who radically differs from everyone else?"
"Handle them? We try not to `handle' anybody, but instead urge everyone to fulfill herself or himself as thoroughly as possible. That's why we take two days out of each month to reassess our talents and how we use them."
I moved in for the kill. "What would you do if your daughter were a lesbian?"
"Strange you should ask. She is. That concerned my wife and me at first....."
"Aha! This place forces its narrow point of view just as much as the rest of the world you seem to oppose!"
"....concerned my wife and me at first, because we did not know any other lesbians that Mary might meet in Nurture. But Bud Smith, the principal at our school, happens to be gay, and introduced Mary to other lesbians. Mary has several lesbian friends now but says that she won't commit herself to any one person until she has become a veterinarian. `Besides,' she told my wife and me when she visited from the University last weekend, `It will take a special person to live with me in Nurture, so badly have people elsewhere staked out their values.'"
Don't look for Nurture on your map. As I said in the beginning, if they
even knew about it, most people would keep Nurture "off limits."
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