What does the term hometown evoke to you? Is it a place that to look upon with nostalgic fondness, a place that you enjoyed as a child but have no intention going back to, except for visits? Is it a place that, like the movies, you left to grow as a person and will one day return to as a triumphant comeback kid or is it the place that shaped you already, and you left under some misguided belief that what is out there is better, and you are more, but really, you are bound to return the same?
As someone who went to school (shout out to Brooklyn Law School!) and currently commutes to work into New York City, I hear of all sorts of hometown concepts. Some people view their hometown as backwards and a place of shame; some view it as a place they outgrew. There are those who came to New York to grow and have more opportunities, but still view their home as a place to go back to when the time is right. There are those from different states, countries, continents who would never return, and those who are using New York as the stepping stone to good fortune that they can share with those back home.
There are people who are using the current epidemic and quarantine as an opportunity to move back to their hometown with a private sigh of relief or a kick in the ass, depending on who you ask. They go back to their family seat, basking in the warmth of childhood: family dinners, walks with dad, hugs from mom. They save money through home cooked meals and have a chance to regroup and make decisions without the threat of a rent payment or social commitment hanging over their heads: Should I stay or should I go? Have I actually gotten what I want out of life, or is this what I’ve been missing this whole time? Some will not return to their “homes away from home” after all of this is over. It is a beautiful luxury, a privilege.
And yet, there are those who can’t go back home, who have found themselves in the awkward position of being where they are and finally realized where they’ve wanted to be the whole time: Home. And wherever they are living just isn’t cutting it.
My hometown is smaller than most and came with it’s own unique set of challenges for someone trying to grow. No opportunity to grow unless you had an “in;” not much of an ability to go to school unless you left the town. The industries were limited, the rules of living were strict, and the community could be extremely divisive based on how you make your living, where you vote, and how you pay your taxes. Like in any small town, there was gossip and heartache, and your business was rarely just your own. The winters were brutal and at times, the isolation from the “rest of the world” was suffocating.
And yet, it was beautiful.
People were tight knit and supportive even when in the midst of a disagreement, family was always a bike ride away, and when in doubt, there was always the beach. We made due and paid dues, and at the end of the day, the community always had your back. When the streets flooded, someone was there with waders for you. When your car got stuck on the beach, someone was there to tow you out. Snow was dug out, soup was made, and doors were open. No one was left hungry. Your problems were never your own, for better or for worse. It was the epitome of community.
The physical home I once knew is gone, family members have moved, but the town lives on. As I sit in a town that I have ended up living in, after nature took its course and decisions were made, I don’t have a single regret, except that I can’t get back home. Not to the home of the now, but to the home of the “then,” the before. My hometown. And it is in times like these, times of strife and hardship, that you really get to realize what you miss most.