To my hometown,
Yes, YOU. The one with only three stoplights and one main street. The one with more deer than people. The one where tractors have their own rules of the road. The one where the ‘cool spot to hang out’ is Waffle House after a Friday night football game. The one where, before all of the new restaurants were built, the closest thing to fine dining was the Sunday buffet at the small Italian restaurant by the interstate. The one where one of the only Piggly Wiggly’s left in South Carolina is still standing strong. The one where I knew everyone not just in my grade, or even my high school, but the entire town. The one where camo is considered a color, and lifted trucks are the only acceptable rides to school.
The town where I have lived for the past 16 years. Yeah, that one.
We haven’t always seen eye to eye. If this were a break up, then the problem was definitely YOU, not me. I mean, how could anyone enjoy living in a town that you could drive through in the blink of an eye? Run down buildings on the main street, empty fields divided by one house every couple of miles, chain fast food restaurants lined up to greet you as you get off and on the interstate- this is all there is to see. The only thing I ever knew to do was listen to all of the small town gossip. News travels fast. Sometimes you learn things about yourself before you even knew it. Everyone knows everyone, which means someone is always watching. If that wasn’t bad enough, you gave me my southern accent and the expertise on the difference between country, southern, redneck, and yee-yee.
I spent every hour of my childhood planning how I would leave you. Every conversation about the future started with, “I’m leaving here someday,” and ended with, “I hope I never have to come back.” Your borders seemed so small that I felt as though I was suffocating. Then, before I knew it, I left for college. I am no longer kept awake at night by the sound of four wheelers racing on the abandoned golf course behind my house. I am able to avoid the downtown traffic from the annual Grits Festival, although this means that I also miss out on all of the elephant ears. My favorite sesame chicken and house fried rice combo from the local Chinese restaurant is something I crave rather than a regular take-out option. The welcome sign for “The Town of Friendly People” now only greets me every winter and summer break, not every day. Suddenly, all of the things that I despised about you didn’t seem so unbearable. In fact, I miss them.
There are bigger and better places I could’ve grown up in. I’m not so sure that I would have been happier though. It’s been three years since I’ve officially moved away and I still get excited to come home and eat at my favorite restaurant, hoping to see my old co-workers and regulars. I still consider my high school teachers the reason I am pursuing a career in social work because of the potential they saw in me. My parents’ friends and other community members, some I don’t even remember their names, always go out of their way to check on me when I am home. The suburban setting I live in now has nothing on the big fields and open backyard that allowed me to move freely. My first jobs, as terrible as they were at times, taught me the ins and outs of customer service in a familiar place. The plethora of churches, even if I don’t attend them anymore, have the prettiest stained glass windows that remind me of warmth every time I see them. Hometown, there is just no place quite like you.
Even though I have not changed my mind and I still plan to leave you, I will no longer look back in resentment. You have given me a childhood full of love, support, and way too many pre-soccer game Mcdonald’s trips for my own good. You gave me the small town experience that helped cultivate my sense of longing for a bigger life. Your numbers may be small, but that is why I was able to shine. When I am far away, in another country where nothing is familiar, I will close my eyes and imagine that I’m watching the most beautiful South Carolina sunsets on the top bleacher of the high school football stadium. I will hum the country songs that played on repeat in the local bar, even though I swore that I hated all of them. I will remember the way the air smelled right before it rained, and the itching feeling on my ankles from all of the mosquito bites. Most of all, I will continue to carry with me the memories I share with the people who have raised me and the friends that I have grown up with.
I won’t forget about you, because you weren’t just any old small town; you were my home. And I know you won’t forget about me. That’s what small towns do.
Bless your heart,