Column: Somewhere Between a City Boy and a Country Bumpkin

Opinion editor Aidan Cahill writes about the internal conflict that comes with being from a small town and living in Chicago

Unless they already know me, I’ve yet to talk to anyone at Loyola who can tell me anything about Littlestown, Pennsylvania — a small town of less than 5,000 people on the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland. 

The town has everything you would expect from a town with “little” in the name — two stop lights, a volunteer fire company, and a high school that dominates the culture and lives of residents. Most aren’t college educated and the average commute to get to work is over 30 minutes, according to the Census Bureau

It’s also where I grew up. 

My family was an outlier in many ways. Unlike many local folks, we weren’t from Adams County or even Pennsylvania. Initially from upstate New York, my parents moved to Maryland when my dad was stationed there and moved to Pennsylvania for more space right around when I was born. 

We didn’t have any family in the area and initially struggled to find community in the small, close-knit town. Unlike most of the kids in the area, my sibling and I went to Catholic school growing up so many of the friends we did make were miles away.  

When I transferred to public school during my sophomore year of high school, I was an outsider. I was miserable, and my goal — like many kids I knew — was to get out and leave the small town behind. 

But moving to Chicago didn’t solve anything. Instead of feeling like everything was falling into place, I feel more conflicted than ever. 

Coming to Loyola was a bit of a culture shock but not for the reasons one might think. I was used to the scale of major cities — my dad worked in northern Virginia and many of my doctors were in either Washington, D.C. or Baltimore. Instead, I was shocked by how different my experience was growing up in a more rural and less affluent area than some of my peers. 

Prior to coming to Loyola, I had never heard of brands like Zara or Anthropologie, and the first time I saw someone wearing camo pants and Vans together, my brain seemingly short circuited. While I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen a Tesla and Porsche back home, here I see them pulling out of the parking garage practically everyday.

Hearing the stories of how different people’s upbringings were and opportunities they were afforded because they grew up in the Chicagoland area made me realize how seemingly small and isolated Littlestown was. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

There’s a lot of things I miss about living in the middle of nowhere. I loved cutting down dead trees in the summer and hauling those logs inside to heat the home in the winter. I loved camping with my family and walking outside at night to hear nothing but wildlife. It was so picturesque to look out the window and see deer tracks whenever there was fresh snow. 

I also developed a deep respect for the people of the region. I admired their work ethic and envied their ability to work with their hands to provide for themselves.

At the same time, some of my Littlestown neighbors’ political beliefs taught me to be careful to watch what I said, and I saw firsthand the hate some of my friends experienced for their sexuality.

Despite any nostalgia, I love Chicago. I love the amazing food, the beautiful coastline, the vibrant culture and the tough-yet-friendly people. One of my favorite things in the world to do is hop on my bike and explore shops I could only find in this city. Coming to Chicago turned out to be a really great choice. I’ve learned so much just by working in the city and the friendships I’ve made are irreplaceable. 

At this point, I can say I’m way too much of a city boy to fully embrace a life of manual labor required to fit in back home. At the same time, I still have a good bit of country still in me from the place I grew up. It doesn’t help that my family has since left Littlestown entirely, moving back to upstate New York in 2022.

This dual identity has left me torn. While part of me wants to live in a major metro area and travel the world for work, I’ll always hear a faint voice telling me to return to my rural roots.

While I don’t know which path I’ll end up going down, I’ll always hold a special place in my heart for Littlestown and Chicago. 

Feature image by Hunter Minné / The Phoenix

Aidan Cahill

Aidan Cahill