When I first saw this prompt I balked at it. My hometown? Special? Yeah, okay.
Despite my dismissal the topic kept settling in my mind; putting up photos, adding an accent chair, just making itself obnoxiously at home until I wrote my first draft of this. Except it wasn't this, at all, it was an incoherent rant about the illusion of hometown's mattering about how it's more about the intoxication of nostalgia than actual location, and, yes, there may be a little truth to that, it's not the whole truth.
I wouldn't, I couldn't, be the person I am if my start in life had been somewhere else. If I'd been born in a city instead of rural midwest I may not have such severe driving anxiety or possibly be a little harder to impress. If I'd grown up in an entirely different region of the country and put my same experiences there - the outcomes would be different so the location does matter. So, then, the idea continued to nest in earnest, putting in some hard wood floors as I still remained reluctant to admitting my hometown mattered.
The first knot I unraveled was why am I so reluctant to give value to where I grew up? Part of it was being a bit of an outsider, but I had friends, I really wasn't bullied, and somehow anytime I was picked on, I had friends to weather it with me. Part of my growing up identity was a deep desire to travel, see the world and marvel at it and manifesting with my teenage angst as wanting to be anywhere but there sometimes.
I have no end of joyful memories of sleepovers, imaginative play, reading, the thrill of going to the gas station to get a pop and snack to retire to someone's home to watch movies on a Friday night with the weekend spread out ahead of us -- so, still, I continue to delicately unravel the threads of happiness and heartbreak.
I think the root has a bit to do with that I had quite a few early life traumatic moments and no real access to mental health care until I was in college. Living in frequent states of anxiety, hyperalert, experiencing triggers but calling them mood swings because that was the best language I had, and no idea how to cope, finding balm in friendship, that, understandably, taxed friendships - sometimes to their breaking point. I think my unaddressed, unmanaged, and thereby compounding mental health struggles unfortunately paint my memories of my hometown in a hue of bitterness that I'm finding hard to scrape off.
Recognizing that truth, it turns out, was enough for me to peak into what makes my hometown special, and, truthfully, it's nothing. It's a small rural town; big in comparison to surrounding towns that trek in to get tires and run errands, but small by most measures. There's no feature of it that makes it extraordinary, though some things that make us cringe, like claiming to be the birth place of America despite being landlocked in the middle of the continent, and a giant statue of a Viking that use to reside in a road in town and eventually was moved to a patch of grass so as not to disrupt traffic. There's some common, but bothersome aspects of my hometown, like how not diverse it was, and how racist, homophobic, and unsafe it could be to anyone who wasn't white and straight (I assume, as there were so few people of color and never anyone I knew who was openly gay).
So, what, in all that nothingness, makes my hometown special. Well, the nothingness. If there's very little to just go and do entertainment is left up to the person. That, as it turns out, would be one of the best things about growing up rural. As a child, like a small child, I followed by brother (and only other kid in a 10 mile radius) like his shadow. As the older sibling he dictated the games we played which were often imaginary sagas of good vs evil. Of course we'd be the heroes protecting the earth from space invaders (played by my dad on the riding lawn mower, without his knowledge). When I got a little bit older we would, hand to God, go outside to our reading tree where he and I would sit quietly in a small patch of woods and read near one another.
Moving into ages where I went to friends homes I found all the ways they'd learned to entertain their corner of nothingness; video games, records, producing plays, reading different books, riding bikes, riding horses and learned how many wonderful ways there were to spend time decorating the nothingness of time and space. It's a sweet stillness that was, and remains, a major facet of my personhood.
The most vivid memories of finding and appreciating the beauty of uninterrupted nothingness were the multiple moments of my dad being genuinely in awe of nature and sharing that with me in his quiet gentleness. He would wake me up early to come outside and listen to an owl we couldn't see, gingerly guide me to a window to look at a deer passing through our lawn, and most often share the fall foliage by taking walks and talking. About what I can't recall but the feeling of that time with him developing, at first through him, and then later on my own, a reverence for nature and the calm contentedness that comes from so much time in and around nothing.
The added bonus being how many things would go on to amaze me, the gift of being allowed to experience things for the first time well into adulthood -- things as mundane to some as public transit. I went to London in my early 20s and spent so many hours just riding the tube and marveling at how intricate and incredible of a system it was.
So, what's amazing about my hometown? nothing and, as it turns out, that's where everything special about it was, in the sweet, quiet nothing I shared with all the people I was lucky enough to know and love.