On the one year anniversary of our move to Albuquerque, I spent the weekend at my parents’ to attend my high school reunion. After my mom picked me up from the airport, we talked so continuously through dinner that my voice was hoarse. I had not made a solo trip home without my spouse or kids in over a decade. I think it allowed my mother and me to revert back to the days when we talked constantly and the miles made no difference in knowing the minute details of each other’s everyday. It also made me the teenager whose parents woke her up in the mornings, made sure she ate breakfast and waited up for her to get home at night. My Dad told our close friends at dinner, “She’s always my little girl.”
Our overall turnout was small, but I truly enjoyed every moment. Most of the people who came I had not seen or talked to since graduation twenty years ago. We talked about memories that made us laugh as though they had happened yesterday. We caught up to one another’s present situations. Sometimes people wonder if they have anything in common with classmates besides old shared memories. We do. We have the connection of humanity. We can lament with the woes of aging parents. We can share in the joys of our children’s accomplishments. We can laugh at the silly habits of our partners. We can throw football with strangers because they are with those dear partners. We can allow the deafening train whistle take us all back to our common context: the beauties of a small town childhood where we had the privilege of witnessing one another grow up from kindergarten to adulthood.
Ironically, the majority of the attendees were from out of town. They drove in from Florida, Kansas, Virginia, and Tennessee. They rode down from Columbus and Louisville. Perhaps it is not so ironic that most of the locals did not come though a handful did. Those of us who have left South Point and the general area may have a stronger desire to return to the place that grounded us. It is not often that so many fond memories will flood my mind of the idyllic childhood where it really was a village that raised me. My friends’ parents were my surrogate parents and mine were theirs. When I stopped with Ellen to the house where her parents still live, I was again flooded with visions of the past. I wanted to go back to her old bedroom and make up a dance routine or sing “Paul Revere” (which I still think I could recite verbatim) on our older brothers’ Beastie Boys cassette tapes. We cherished those times when we could ride bikes all day all across town with our slush puppies from Super America and not a care in the world.
Years later the small town looks even smaller. The buildings where I spent my entire pre-collegiate education are either gone or used differently. It is surreal in some ways that I lived there. What brought Korean immigrants to a little village by the Ohio River that had never known Koreans before we arrived? Good fortune and God’s grace allowed me this place that laid the humble foundation upon which I could build successfully. Every beloved friend, precious teacher, parents of others, and the close community at large laid a brick. It took years to build. Being in a city that has only been home to us for one year now, I can appreciate even more these deep origins. Compared to the freshly sprouted strings here, there is something solidly reassuring about the far-reaching roots that have stretched deep and wide to support a broad trunk. The multiple rings on that trunk come to a father’s funeral or to support a friend with cancer. Yes, they also may pain you with gossip or needless drama, but they never leave you alone in your grief or need. They know the best and worst of you and still claim you as one of their own. They are part of the comforts of home.
No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be
– John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town”