Early in the 20th century, my mother was born in a certain small town in southern New Jersey. At mid-century, she and Dad welcomed me into the same small town. We lived and thrived among generations of family and long time friends. Then, 35 years ago, I left for Colorado while my parents retired to Florida. Now, Mother and I live near one another again, and we often reminisce about our home town back East – the people, the life, the feel of the town.
Even after years away, my home town remains embedded in my self and my soul. I believe in home town. I believe that the customs, the climate, the very taste of the air is my constant, my base of comparison. While I could not, would not, return there to live, my heart still ticks with the rhythm of the place. I know in my bones that Memorial Day means strawberries for breakfast and a solemn parade to the cemetery. I know when soft-shell crabs are being pulled from salt marsh creeks, and which week in August the peaches are prime. I know September means the Atlantic is warm at last and the beach crowds have thinned to nothing. I hear that distinctive South Jersey accent or a home town colloquialism, and I just can’t help but smile.
I embrace and adore my life “out West,” where I met and married the love of my life. Our life is not so different from the way I grew up, but not so fundamentally familiar either. We go to school games and cheer on our team, but it’s not my cousin’s twins on the field, nor my childhood neighbor coaching the kids. We walk to late summer festivals in the park, but I’ve never encountered an old high school chum there. We barbecue with the neighbors, but it’s buffalo burgers and roasted chiles, and no one shares my memories of steamed clams at a beach house.
As the seasons change, my home town senses conjure up what the season should bring. When crabapples bloom crazy pink in Denver and the cottonwood fluff drifts by, I cast a hopeful eye for azaleas and rhododendrons, while I know very well they don’t bloom in our Rocky Mountain soils. Though I’m hundreds of miles from a scrub oak forest, I still smell that waxy crisp fragrance of dry oak leaves and ripe brown acorns.
Throughout my life, I’ve made friends from everywhere, some displaced from their own home towns. Some left by choice, others by circumstance. They’re following dreams, or chased by storms, escaping turmoil or building new lives with new loves. Just as I’ve done, they learn new ways, new tastes, new seasons, but the home town heart holds true. Their reminiscences, too, often begin, “Back where I come from…”
I believe in home town, in the scenes and sensations of my earliest days. Home town sticks, it’s in my heart, my nature, and so it may be in yours.
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