Illustrated by: Christian Colton (@christian_colton)
My name is Rick Chernicky and this is a brief story of how I grew up in a small town. You’re probably wondering how this relates to breathing, so just hang tight for a second. I was raised in a ranch style home with ten acres of land, and farms bordering each front of my families’ property. The only noise that came from my town was from road construction, which only happened once every three years if we were lucky. McKean, Pennsylvania never saw much activity, but it was full of life.
If you’ve ever driven through McKean you would likely find yourself trying to pass a tractor moving fifteen miles per-hour. To some extent, driving in McKean is almost lawless because people often use their dirt bikes, ATV’s and snowmobiles to get from one place to another, and road signs with faded speed limits are sort of an afterthought because driving on back roads is pretty lonesome.
As a kid I would make a day out of biking to a friend’s house or pedaling to Rec Park in hopes of stumbling past a pick-up game of football. Sometimes I would get gangs of friends together for long rides, which resulted in no set destination whatsoever. That was okay though, because when you’re eleven pushing twelve it’s not like you need to worry about paying off your credit card debt.
Aside from the elementary school, the gas station saw the most action in my town, seeing how it was the only place with the most traffic. Our gas station functioned as a hotspot for greetings with friends and foes, it’s where kids would go on a hot summer day to catch a breeze of air conditioning.
Our gas station was the type of place you wouldn’t want to visit if you were trying to avoid your mother in law. It was basically the only place to grab a carton of milk if you weren’t interested in driving to Erie, which certainly was a hassle for McKean folks. People don’t consider the etiquette of small town interactions too often, but having one place to get gas in a small town makes things a lot more complex than you might think.
McKean is mostly composed of pastures and cornfields, which led me to spend many days laying in the grass with my hands propped behind my head as I spotted clouds. Sometimes it felt like my hometown lacked a sense of urgency because nothing new ever seemed to happen. Often times I felt like I was watching corn grow, but then again – life moved at its own pace because it could.
Growing up in cow country helped me understand the meaning of sincerity and patience because there was very little influence from the media in my area. Often times I had to entertain myself because one can only watch corn grow for so long.
Part of doing so was fishing, climbing trees, chasing chickens, and reading. I had a lot of time for introspection as a kid, which helped me understand that living in such a peaceful area was an absolution as I grew older.
As I aged, I learned the truth of the world just like any kid. Part of that truth was realizing how the countryside isn’t as peaceful as the rest of the world. I also learned that operating as a functional human being was to be done in peace or else you wouldn’t make it very far in life – an integral part of that peace came from simply breathing.
In my blog I hope to help you understand how life can be taken one cloud at a time, even when you feel like you can’t breathe.