I count my blessings daily. Multiple times a day, actually. At least now I do.
Growing up in a town of approximately five thousand people was something I considered a curse as a teenager. It is a quaint town that belongs in a Hallmark movie where a gorgeous main street speckled with locally owned businesses serves as the backdrop to Saturday football games at the local field followed by everyone waiting a half-hour in line at the ice cream shop. It is a community of people who set up meal trains for their fellow neighbor and make sure to keep dollars on hand for children selling chocolate door to door. It’s a town where crime does happen, but anything larger than a parking ticket elicits gasps from residents. My town belongs on a postcard and I’m sure one of the countless photos of the fall foliage I take would serve as the perfect photo to adorn it.
I’ve lived in this town my entire life. I graduated from the school district. I went away to college and came back here. My son currently goes to the elementary school. My husband is a police officer on the local police force. I wrote for the local newspaper after I graduated college. While I wrote for the paper, I was also a volunteer with a prestigious community club. I’m as invested in this town as much as I possibly can be. I’ve been a member of it through various stages of life: child, teenager, college, then adult. Each stage offers a wide variety of pros and cons that come along with it.
As a child, being from a small town is magical. There is always some kind of planned event. A fall festival, a fishing derby, fireworks. It is all fun, exciting things. School might be out for summer, but everyone will see their friends again in June at the carnival that is set up on school grounds. There isn’t enough room to write all about the church picnics. Every church within our parish has a fun summer event. They are actually commonly used as a mile marker around here. “St. Benedict’s is next week, which means summer is almost over.” Another example is, you will know when we have officially hit summer because your weekends will be taken up by a multitude of church picnics.
Perception changes as you grow older and the places you had loved going to your entire life are somehow different now that you're older. As a teenager I hated all of this. I’ve touched on this before, but I was bullied pretty severely growing up so bringing me to a place where I know I’ll see everyone who tormented me sounded like prison to me. But that didn’t matter. You could not run an errand without someone someone, anyone, you know. Church picnics and fireworks events were fun, but I spent the entire time anxious. Who would I see? What would they say? Does this outfit look ok because the last thing I need is to give them more ammunition to make fun of me. I spent those years trying to fly under the radar. Float off into a sea of oblivion that I somehow always failed at doing successfully.
To speak further on the teeenager perspective, being surrounded by my family on every side was something that annoyed me. Birthday calls to make. Anniversary calls to make. Holidays to celebrate. My gosh, the amount of time we spent celebrating holidays and the countless holiday visits seemed obscene. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family. We are close. At that age literally all I wanted was to be home enjoying my winter break where I could play with the things I was gifted for Christmas,
Coming home on breaks during college, or on Tuesdays senior year when I was too homesick to make it to the weekend, was quiet compared to the non-stop noise the town offered from my teenage perspective. I would see a few acquaintances here and there, people who were working while they attended a local college. People who skipped the college path and followed the admirable path of taking over the family business. This was a quiet period on the timeline for me.
Once I graduated from college, the small town I loved and grew up in, unlocked a completely new world for me. I had the best of everything in this world. It was a world that afforded me the different perspectives on everything. Fireworks displays brought me back to my youth and made me feel safe. Church picnics were always one of my favorite parts of a small town, but at least now if I ran into a person who used to make my life miserable, chances are she would have matured and we could have an open and genuine conversation about how each other is doing.
One thing that was a constant throughout every stage of my life was my family. They stayed the same, but my feelings towards them evolved.
When I was younger it was always me pouting and arguing about not going to yet another family get together. Now, we all do everything together. A roving gang of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, spouses, and siblings who prefer slumber parties at my aunt’s house opposed to putting a few hours of face time in and leaving to go home. We are not the type of family to say, “Hey! Great Christmas dinner. I'll see you next year to do it again.” We are more, “Hey! Great Christmas dinner. The pasta we picked up together last week really goes well with this sauce. I can grab more bread for leftovers for tomorrow. I know about a pasta salad that would go with this perfectly. Anyone up for a road trip to go get some of it next week?”
That is the way we are on my dad’s side. Those aren’t just made up examples, they are things that happen frequently. We camp together every summer, all 30 of us. 30 might seem like a lot, but to us, it’s nothing. When we all get together we take on the mentality of it takes a village to raise a child. No matter where I go or what I do, I know my son will be watched after. These people, these members of my family, my love and adoration for them goes beyond the titles of aunt and godmother. They are my friends. They are my confidantes. They are the people I’ll jump into a car with for an adventure before they even tell me where we are going. These bonds took a long time to form, and they continue to grow beautifully.
On my mom’s side, they are forever wanting to help in any way they can. They offer to watch my child. My aunt and uncle offer me to sleepover at their house in the summer since they have air conditioning and the heat causes debilitating migraines for me.
Currently, the help is helping me set up in my new home. A new home is scary and expensive. Never once did Christmas decorations pop into my head. I felt nauseous. With Christmas coming up and housing expenses I didn’t stop to think about the fact we would need actual Christmas decorations. I didn’t have to worry much longer after the thought because my beautiful aunt said she was going through her holiday stockpile and had some pieces for me. She had pieces set aside for me!
Little bit of background on my aunt: she is beautiful and bubbly, kind and generous, and on top of all of that she has a heck of an eye for interior design and decorating. I always saying walking around her house during the holidays is like being shrunk down and put into candy cane forest. It is fun, light, and impeccably done. Having her decorations displayed in my living room is a point of pride, and I hope she knows how much the simple act meant to me.
While my mother-in-law and sister-in-law have only been in my life for ten years, we have already stacked up countless cookouts, holidays, and spur of the moment pizza parties together. Sit down meals are great and all, but sometimes a random phone call from my mother-in-law asking us to stop by for pizza and to hang out is the exact boost of love we need when we are in the in-between holiday lull of Christmas to Easter or Easter to Thanksgiving. My son especially loves it because my awesome sister-in-law always makes sure to have his two favorite snacks on hand: soda and chips.
Growing up I could not wait to go to college, graduate, and finally leave this small town. Now at 32, I can’t imagine ever leaving. The very things I detested as a child are the things that mean the most to me now. Now instead of being annoyed when it seems like everyone knows everything about us, I’m honored. Even when my son and I go into our local chocolate shop they ask us how we are, how is our dog, how is my son liking school. When we run into the grocery store all the cashiers know him and come over to get hugs. This is the beauty of a small town. This is the beauty in building and fostering relationships inside and outside of a family and home. This place, these people, this life. This is where I want to stay forever.