I grew up in a town that most people leave.
It’s in the middle of the North Carolina Triad. But we’re not Winston-Salem, or Greensboro, or even High Point. We’re Wallburg and we got our first stoplight just ten years ago.
My parents built their forever home in an old cornfield. My aunt built to her right and my uncle to her left. I grew up surrounded by cousins, and farmland, and creeks. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better childhood, and I know my siblings would say the same.
The thing is, small towns are great when you’re small.
They’re bite-sized, like you! The church is a mile away, and the only diner is just down the road too. There’s one elementary school and one town hall and one community pool where everyone goes on hot summer afternoons.
I went away for college, to the big state capital of Raleigh. It was enormous by any scale, but especially to my sheltered little heart. Suddenly, I wasn’t just driving down the dirt road between my family’s properties. I was in a really big city with angry drivers and roundabouts and traffic lights every few blocks.
You’d think I’d feel like a fish out of water, but I loved it! I tried sushi for the first time, and saw so many movies and went dancing late at night with my boyfriend. There was so much more to see and do and explore. So much so that, late one night we discussed staying there after we finished school.
First on our minds? The job opportunities. I could get a journalism position and he could pursue business management. We’d be able to actually use our degrees and enter fields where we could do well and make significant money.
We also started entertaining the thought of moving to another metropolis. We looked up the cost of living in Richmond. We started thinking about things like mortgages and auto insurance, and read more about Atlanta rates and even Los Angeles rates to see what we could afford.
It was all so exciting, especially since we were in the midst of talking about getting engaged at the same time.
Then, as it always does, life happened.
His grandpa told him he could use the extra help in the family plumbing business. He was nearing 80 and crawling under houses wasn’t quite what it used to be. My sister entered high school and my brother started middle school and I started to really miss seeing them on a daily basis.
So I began changing my mind – and my plans. I was offered a job at the first technical writing company I interviewed for back home. Things started falling into place, and we decided to go back.
At first, it was really hard. My sweet husband had a bachelor’s degree in business and came home every night covered in mud and grime from other people’s toilets. He had lots of really low nights where he questioned a lot of things. I studied English literature and spent my days creating business proposals for a video teleconferencing company. Not quite the creative writing I was hoping to pursue.
We wondered if we’d made the right decision. Would we be happier back in Raleigh? We’d have more friends around, that’s for sure. No one we knew really came back to our little town. It’s a jumping block to bigger and better things for most. A place they come back to on Thanksgiving, or for weddings and funerals, but then leave as soon as the ceremony’s over.
Why, then, did we pour our meager savings into a fixer-upper cottage two miles from my parents? Why did we find ourselves sitting on the same church pews I sat in as a toddler? Why were we regulars at the diner again, sitting next to farmers and preachers I’d known since I was born?
We didn’t know, but something was keeping us here. We found out five years later.
June was born a little after midnight on a hot summer night. Ford came two years later in the early hours of a crisp May morning.
I took them to the community playground last week, the one beside the Baptist church. There was a little nip of fall in the air and I had my hands around a warm mug of coffee. We played on the swings and slides for a little while, and then went down to the baseball field. The little community rec league one that the church installed a few years ago.
There wasn’t anyone else there. School was in session and people were at work. I let them run around the field and across the bases. I saw them laughing and tumbling and holding onto each other.
Maybe it was the way the early morning sun was cutting across the field. Maybe it was my son in his oversized toboggan or my daughter in her light-up shoes. For any reason, I felt a peace wash over me. I thought to myself, “This is why. This is why we came home.”
So they could grow up beside the same pastures I did, and know the same weathered and kind faces I love to see on Sunday mornings. So we can walk to my parents’ house and eat breakfast for dinner with them on Wednesday nights. So I can give them the same sense of home and family that I was raised on. Of course, they could have gotten all of this (and probably more) in a city, but that wasn’t in the cards for us, and it took me this long to realize that’s quite alright.
They may leave one day. They may get a taste of the big city and set their sights on the west coast. Or, they might follow their husband or wife to another state, or pursue a career that travels them far from their little upstairs bedroom.
And of course, I’ll let them. More than anything in this world, I want them to feel free. I want them to know that they can swim across the Indian Ocean or skydive over the Grand Canyon and they’ll never be farther away from me than a single breath.
Because that’s the thing about home. You can leave it as far behind as possible, but it’s still engrained in you. So set sail sweethearts. Dream the biggest dreams you can and chase them halfway around the world if you need to. But your home will be here waiting if you ever want to rest your head where you used to.
I’ll be here, too.