Editor’s Column: Do we give a **** about our reputation?

Niki Turner
Channeling a little Joan Jett there, but it’s a question to consider.
Twenty-plus years ago one of my Glenwood friends was in an airplane on her way home from a church convention in Oklahoma. She struck up a conversation with her seat mate. Somehow the conversation came around to the fact that my husband and I were about to start a church in Meeker. She was told, “Oh, that’s a hard place. They eat pastors for lunch up there.” (She only shared that information after we’d relocated and bought a house. So encouraging.)
Years later, post-churching, I had my mouth cranked open in a dentist’s chair in Glenwood. It’s a little weird to have a dentist look at your bite and say, “Is so-and-so your dad?” Apparently I inherited some unique jaw structures from my dad, like the inability to bite all the way through a bologna sandwich. The dentist asked where I was living. I told him I’d been in Meeker. His response? “That’s a clique-y little town. Gotta know someone or have the right last name to be accepted there.”
It’s been a long time since I thought of those conversations, but in the last week I’ve heard some of those same remarks resurface: it’s hard to make friends here, it’s hard to fit in, etc.
That’s not the kind of reputation any community wants to have, but is it accurate? I don’t think so, at least not when you dig under the surface.
Here are some possible explanations for how Meeker gets categorized as a social “hard” place:
1) It’s possible we have an unusually high percentage of reclusive hermits (introverts) in our population. It’s hard to make friends with introverts, because all the typical friending behaviors and activities make introverts uncomfortable. Introverts, contrary to popular belief, are not antisocial, they just need “alone time” to recharge their batteries, whereas extroverts are rejuvenated by social contact. Our rural locale makes us appealing to introverts.
2) Perhaps those who’ve been here for generations are so traumatized by the constant in-and-out traffic associated with our boom-bust cycles they’re wary to make connections with newcomers. I can relate to this, especially as an introvert myself. It’s exceedingly difficult to pour energy into relationships that end abruptly when your “friend” suddenly moves away because of a transfer or a need to find work.
3) Maybe we’re all just painfully set in our ways and too comfortable and content with our lives to open our doors and/or hearts to anyone else (see reasons No. 1 and No. 2.).
You can say “ouch” or “oh me.” Do we deserve a cliquey, hard-to-get-to-know reputation? If we do, is that what we want?
One of the factors we considered in our return to Meeker was the support and spirit of community we found here. For example, when my oldest son turned his elbow upside down and inside out (literally) while snowboarding and required emergency surgery, I had other moms showing up at my door with casseroles, just out of kindness, not because we were close friends or attended the same church, or even because their kids were friends with my kids. They were just being nice, and that kind of thing doesn’t happen everywhere.
Everyone’s experience is different, of course, and our experiences tend to define our reality. But when I’m still hearing people say Meeker is a hard place to make friends, we need to ask ourselves, are we actively welcoming newcomers? Are we making room at the table for folks who don’t have multiple generations of county history? Are we willing to take the risk to make new friends, to welcome new people into our comfortable, established social circles? And newcomers, are you taking steps to reach out and get involved? One of the fastest ways to find yourself included is to put your hand to the plow as a volunteer for a community group or event, of which we have plenty.