City, neighborhood, family and friends all create an environment that shapes the way you are whether you realize it or not.
Pop? Soda? Sauna? Sauna? Despite the various places that I have lived over the last many years, I still have an affinity to the town that I was born and raised in. I have lived in the Upper Peninsula for eight years now and stubbornly refuse to alter the way I speak. I am proud of where I grew up. Many people have tried to get me to speak the way Yoopers speak since I have lived here so long (am actually part Finnish) and don’t imagine leaving any time soon but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’m proud to say that I’m from Niles! It’s who I am. I feel that if I start speaking like the area that I live in, I will be falsely identifying with this area and betraying my family who still live in the area I grew up in. Being from Niles isn’t as distinctive as being from the Upper Peninsula, California, or other places like that. For some strange reason, I enjoy being able to say that I’m from Niles and many people wonder where that’s at. I want to be known for who I am, not where I came from.
Niles, Michigan is a small town in south-western Michigan with a population of about 15,000. Niles is just like many other towns featuring the affluent white area, the middle-class white area and the poor black area. Other than whites and blacks, there isn’t very much diversity. For the first four years of my life I attended an elementary school that was known to be the “best” elementary school out of the five that was in Niles. I was proud to attend that school. I moved the summer before fourth grade and ended up going to a school that was referred to as a lesser school. I was the same person that I was before, my mother made the same amount of money she did before, no other circumstances changed except for my address. When I met up with my old friends and made new friends in junior high I was always embarrassed that I ended up going to the lower school. I had the same education as everyone else, I graduated with honors, was well-known, involved in many extra-curricular activities but still deep down couldn’t shake the stigma that came from the elementary school that I attended. When I moved up to the area I live now I made it a point to find out what school was thought to be better than the others and utilized school of choice so that my children could go there. The main reason I tell people that my children to go that school is because of the diversity and larger population (since they came from a larger school downstate). Deep down, it’s because I don’t want kids that they run into giving them a hard time because they went to “the wrong school”.
Alcohol is something that I was not inundated with in my social environment growing up. Most of my family did not drink. My friends did not drink. We did not keep alcohol in our house. There weren’t very many bars in the town that I grew up in. Very rarely did I ever encounter alcohol and when I did it was always in a negative manner. Watching my mom get pushed out of a car at the end of a date by a drunk boyfriend. Listening to my grandmother condemn her daughter’s boyfriend because of his desire for alcohol. Being aware of the decline and death of my step-uncle at a very young age because of his alcoholism.
I joined the Marine Corps immediately after high school. Once out in the fleet, alcohol was something that all of a sudden permeated my environment. Hundreds of men and woman drinking at the barracks on a daily basis. Results from all of this binge drinking sometimes ended up just fine. Working in the busiest criminal legal department in the Corps, I was privy to the times that a night of drinking ended up very badly.
Presently – I’m very confused. I have never been one to social drink – I don’t know how and honestly, I don’t see the point. If you are going to drink alcohol – you should drink to get drunk! Many of the relationships I’ve had in my life, to include my present relationship with my ex-husband, all include an issue that stems from my confusion and hypocrisy with alcohol. I feel that if I had been brought up around alcohol more, been aware of more of the positive social ways that alcohol can be used I wouldn’t have been married and divorced twice, I wouldn’t be such a snob when it comes to people drinking, I wouldn’t alienate a lot of people that I care about.