Some of us leave, and some of us stay. I think it would be fair to say that all of us, at one time or another, imagine ourselves in different, flashier places than the hometown we grew up in. It’s easy to think about all the things you are missing, and miss out on the things you actually have.
I remember not too long after I had my driver’s license, I was somewhere I should never have been. When I stepped back into my house, my mom already knew. To this day, I still don’t know how she found out but someone in our small town had seen me and called her to let her know. She knew I was somewhere I was not supposed to be, and in my childishness I was angry that she knew. The truth, that I have never told anyone and definitely didn’t tell her then, was that I was scared that night. I found myself in a really, really bad situation that I literally got out of as fast as I could. I still can’t believe I made such an awful decision, a series of them actually, which is usually how those things go.
Being in a small town means that others care for you too, not just your parents. When you are a teenager, this feels like a burden. When you are an adult, this feels like a blessing. When I think back to some anonymous person “tattling on me” I am thankful. I am thankful that they cared enough to call. I am thankful that my mom cared enough to confront me. And now, I am thankful that I am living in the same small town to raise my daughters.
My small town may not glitter and sparkle like city lights, but I’ve been to see those too and I always choose to return. I’ve had incredible adventures in my life so far. The first 36 years have afforded me more than I could have ever imagined or asked for. From ice skating in the Eiffel Tower, eating tapas in Spain, picking mangos from the trees and watching monkeys play on the beach in Costa Rica, sitting in Anne Hathaway’s cottage in England, shopping in tucked away hillside stores in Scotland, exploring the rain forest in Puerto Rico, snorkeling in Belize, standing in awe at the Grand Canyon, finding that Hollywood sign in California, exploring Times Square and seeing the Stature of Liberty in New York, staring in awe at scenes too picturesque to be real in Ireland, and walking the Great Wall of China, just to name a few, I have seen many places. I love to travel, but I also love to come home.
Small towns may not have as much shopping, shine, or as many restaurant choices as big cities, but you don’t have to look far to find someone with a smile, someone who loves you, someone who knows your parents or your grandparents, someone who knows your history and your hopes and dreams, someone who would stop to help you in a time of trouble. In the end, those things are significant. Those are the things that matter and ground us in the places we call home. Small towns mean we come together for both the celebration and the sadness we face in this life.
Small towns aren’t perfect and we all know that. We all know there is gossip, sometimes disguised as prayer requests, but most people mean well. You can’t go to Food Lion without spending a long time in conversations, but where else can you see a friend, coworker, student, or relative down every aisle?
It’s amazing how much perspective can change in just a few years. A space that once felt too small, and occasionally claustrophobic, begins to feel comforting and calming. The same river, the same streets, the same fields and farms, the same ice cream from the pharmacy, the same schools, you now show to your children and think about why you stayed in the same place you grew up. The world is so big. You could have settled anywhere, but a small town and the people in it had your heart.
Small towns are redemptive. You can always come back home. The small towns that I know are rocking chairs on porches, cold sweet tea, making friends out of strangers, love for family, hard work, Sunday service, curvy roads, beautiful waterways, and most of all, hard to leave behind.