I spent some time in my old hometown last week, which is always an interesting experience. It is pretty much your standard Midwestern small town, who went through some tough times in the last 20 years or so. The new highway bypassed it. The stores closed. The paper mill which is the economic lifeblood of the place downsized. Too common a story in similar towns across the nation.
A small town, with the requisite number of small-minded citizens, so like most who become aware of a larger existence, I left. But I’ll always have ties to the place, since it’s where I was born and spent the first 18 years of my existence.
That is why I was surprised at the sense of pride I felt as I looked at the place through older eyes and realized it was turning around. It took about 20 years to shake off the hard times, but it’s finally happening. New stores and businesses are going up along the new highway. The hospital added a wing. The paper mill now has the largest paper machine -in the world!
We each have our own destinies. Some of us were meant to graze in distant pastures, some of us to stick it out on the rocky soil of home. I’m glad – and proud – of my classmates, friends and neighbors who stuck it out and are finally seeing some rewards for their efforts. For a long time, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about or even make it worth visiting.
It’s not my town anymore, but it’ll always be my hometown. I guess the lesson here is that sometimes the heritage we preserve for our own reasons ends up helping others reconnect with their heritage as well.