Here’s what I hear when my hometown is mentioned.
The one from Roger and Me?
Is it really as bad as they say?
Good for you for getting out!
I get it. It’s warranted, really. It’s known around the country as the archtype of the de-industrialized factory town. Population decreasing rapidly since the 60s, urban decay, attempts at renewal, all of it. It’s known as Murdertown, USA, for Chrissakes. There are things to legitimately be scared of while there, it’s true. There are big swaths of my town that feel like they are out of The Road, and not just because I am prone to theatrics. Abandoned-looking streets, boarded up houses, gangs of feral dogs whose late night barking is one of the eeriest sounds I have ever heard. I can’t argue that these things don’t exist.
You know what else I think of when I think of my town? I think of the people who stay there, and love that place, and try to make it better, and do great things. Like, truly great things. I think of the fact that many of the most amazing people I have ever known come from there. They are warm, uncynical, hopeful people. I think about my parents’ house, which is, to me, the most beautiful place there is. I think about how much of the me in my me-ness comes as a direct result of that city, and hi, have you met me? I am pretty cool. At least I think so. The way I feel about my town is the way some folks feel about complicated parents: I love it with all my heart, and I know that it made me, and I feel intense loyalty to it despite everything, but in the end it couldn’t give me what I needed so I had to go, but that still makes me wistful.
My hometown. It’s a messy, resilient, depressing, strong-willed, tough, big-hearted, jacked up, inspiring place. I could write about it for pages and pages and still never pin it down.
This is my childhood library, which used to have an awesome mural of the Hungry Caterpillar in the front window. I used to read Beatrix Potter books in there when I was 4 years old. I loved that place. It was struggling along, until this year when it finally closed. Kind of broke my heart when we drove by. The liquor store next door was still going strong, if that tells you anything.
This is the lot where my middle school used to stand. It was knocked down a few years ago and has stood empty ever since. That little row of white building you see in the background is a weekly-rate motel. Some of my middle school teachers used to live there. If that doesn’t prove to you that teachers are not gravy-soaking freeloaders, I don’t know what will.
This building used to house my family’s favorite pizza joint. The family who owned the place lived in my neighborhood- the dad’s name was Dave. Every year at the local pool we would have a sleepover (a sleepover at a POOL, how cool is that?) and Dave would be a chaperone, and one of the things he would do every year was project “The Yellow Submarine” movie onto the pool wall for us to watch.
Since the recession started, people sometimes ask me: how is your hometown doing? Is it weathering things ok? This is a hard question for me to answer, because no, it’s not weathering it ok, but on the other hand, we had troubles long before this latest boom-and-bust so it just seems like more of the same. It’s not like we were riding high before the recession hit. Then again, I see so many cool things cropping up out of the dust, I am always amazed at the pockets of awesome I see when I go there, and how hard people are trying. So I just don’t know. I don’t know how you answer that question.