Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small communities
I have a complicated relationship with my hometown. Anyone who knows me would easily confirm this. I am not sure if everyone has similar complications with the places from which their roots emanate, though I suspect that fewer and fewer people actually have places that they feel rooted in. Or at least that is how the world feels to me these days.
But not me. In spite of all my best efforts to make it not so, I have a hometown.
Educated in a small town
Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another boring romantic that’s me
This relationship was not always so complicated. For a long time I was wholly committed to total disdain for my hometown. I think a lot of kids just want to get out of wherever they are at some point, but I was sophomorically certain that I was never coming back. Not ever. Because this small town was simply not ever going to be big enough for the likes of me. And I left, like most of us did at some point. Most, but not all.And I kept going… further and wider with little thought as to why, it just seemed like my destiny.
As is often the case, something changed.
I think the first thing that I noticed was that my hometown somehow along the way became a place people wanted to be. Like people were really busting a move to try to get there. It got hip. Or something. Suddenly, the little hick town was a destination.
But something more substantial about my relationship with my hometown was revealing itself to me with more and more strength the further away I got from home (in time and space). As I met more and more people and saw more and more things, and observed the relationships that all these other people had with their people and places, I began to see that the foundation – the roots – from which I came gave me not only a healthy perspective from which to engage with all these people, but actually was the entire reason I could do the things I was doing. I had a safety net: my hometown. No matter what happened to me, or the choices I would make (wisely or not so), I had a place I could return to.
Regardless of the severity of the road or cliff I teetered off and away from, Petaluma was there. Contrary to Robert Frost’s sentiment, in many ways it is not the road but the point of origin which has made all the difference for me.
I have people from my hometown I have known a lifetime who remain steadfast in their commitment to each other – and me. Although I didn’t always see it, in my own way I was there for them, too. And we are unique in our connection to each other, to our families, to our memories, to our town. The world, and our experience in it, being ever-changing and dynamic, means the intricacies of the relationship I have with this place and the people in it continue to change, but our foundation allows for these changes to feel like stretching, not severing or breaking.
But I’ve seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town
When I go back to visit now, it feels very different. It is so much bigger and “cooler” than I will ever know how to work with, but some little bits of it stay the same. There are still the ever familiar family names, the small town gossip, the drama, the expectations… even if I don’t know a single person I see downtown.
Which is not entirely true either – I do know these people. And I no longer recoil when greeted with the same questions every time I see the same folks: “Not married? No kids?” These days, even though I still fall right back into my adolescent awkwardness, I can embrace it a little more fully and just say, “Nope, not yet.”
I mean really, shared roots or not, I have always been a little bit of an oddball.
I am hugely grateful that I can go back to Petaluma and be reminded that there are people who really know me deep down and even in non-acceptance, they accept me. I am so grateful that my parents have facilitated this chance to see my hometown in this way later in my life. And my goodness I am grateful for my friends who, all differences included, feel so much more like family than just friends after all this time.
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
You can thank me for this amazingly coiffed John Cougar later. a video circa ’87 just felt so right.