Like most teenagers, I grew up hating my hometown. While not quite Buffy’s Hell Mouth, it was a town with no Shopping Malls, Movie Theatres or Fast Food restaurants. So Hell-like, if not Hell itself.
In the 13 years since living there, I have struggled with a love-hate relationship with my town. Having been the butt of many of jokes after graduating and moving away, I quickly adjusted to life ‘away’. I learned to say Slurpee instead of Slush for example. (We did not have a 7-11) Shockingly, a McChicken meal with Chocolate Shake was not considered a treat to anybody. They could have it anytime, any day. I learned this after 5 McDonalds meals in one week and limited myself there after to only eating it after a night of college binging. Four nights a week then, was my standard.
After gaining my Freshman Fifteen (or 20 or 30…) and meeting my more active boyfriend, I took him back home and discovered unimaginable beauty in the form of hiking trails, boat trips and a provincial park filled with waterfalls, lakes and mountains. We hiked in alpine meadows and under surging waterfalls. We canoed amongst lily flowers and birds. We sat lakeside, around the fire at our campsite and marveled at our surroundings.
Not everyone is outdoorsy however. While living in Seoul, South Korea, my fallback entertaining conversation piece was the fact that my town did not have one single traffic light. Coming from a city of 11 million people, it was incomprehensible to most people I told and the facial expressions alone provided me with countless opportunities of laughter.
After one and a half years in Korea, I returned home with a new passion: travel. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends and family back home about what I had seen and what I had done. Unfortunately, after my first outing to the Grocery Store (where you are always guaranteed running into at least one person who will stop and gossip), I realized that people seemed more interested in what I was eating for dinner tonight (ham and potatoes) and could care less about the stories I wanted to regale them with. (Such as the live squid, followed by a quick shot of soju, that I had wrestled down my throat in Korea) Unless they had been there, done that, they simply did not care.
So for many years of travel and living in various cities, I avoided my town. I would go back and visit my Mom and Grandparents, but either stayed housebound or went out to the parks. I did not socialize. I did not stay in touch.
Until the day my Gramma died.
My brother and I were called home to say our goodbyes to our Gramma who lie sick in the hospital and was not expected to make it. Immediately upon entering the hospital, I was struck by the stark difference of what I was seeing in the news. Enormous wait times, not enough beds and mass chaos were the headlines of the day. My gramma, however, was in a private room with a huge bay window looking out to the woods and mountains. The nurses were attentive to both her and her family. The support staff brought coffee, tea and cookies as comfort to our very saddened family. After everybody had made it and said their goodbyes, my Gramma passed away peacefully with her husband, sister and daughter at her side.
I was unprepared for the outpouring that would soon follow. My Gramma had lived here for 38 years in a seemingly quiet life. But the outpouring of love and support our family received after her passing spoke volumes about both her life, and the community she chose to make her home. For days, people in the community stopped by to give inordinate amounts of food, flowers and hugs. I thought neighbors stopping by, armed with casseroles and veggie platters, was something that only happened in movies. I was wrong.
Not only did we have a service to plan for, but Christmas was only one week away. We made it through with countless hugs, a packed Legion hall to help us say goodbye, and a gift of celery.
Shopping last minute for turkey dinner, the grocery store was out of celery. On any given day, I can do without celery entirely. But, for any self-respecting stuffing, celery is a must! My mom bought bok-choy as a substitute. Bok-Choy? Fortunately, before my mom had even made it home and told us of the celery debacle, a knock on the door by a complete stranger armed with celery arrived. My brother stared at her incredulously as she passed it over saying “I heard your Mom needed celery.” Then she was gone. Stuffing saved.
So it was, that on Christmas Eve, I wrote in my journal about the greater appreciation I have for my hometown then ever before. I wrote about the outstanding beauty of the land and the people all around me. Looking at the pages and pages of writing on majestic sceneries and lovey-dovey peoples, I realize now that I may have been ever so slightly intoxicated that night.
Even so, I wasn’t near as inebriated as the drunken carolers who came by that night. Sitting in an open trailer, filled with festive lights and pulled by a pick up truck, they wailed away “We wish you a Merry Christmas” while at the same time jumping out to run in the bushes and pee. This is Christmas at home!
While I will never again live in my hometown, it will always feel like home. Its small town quirks no longer feel like hell. (Although the teenagers in town may beg to differ) With age, or maybe even wisdom, it becomes easier to appreciate both the natural beauty and compassionate people that make my hometown a home. And that, in turn, will always bring me back.
Well that, along with the chance to play ‘Spot the Redneck Objects’ as we drive into town.