I take this picture nearly every time I go back “home” to the farm in Missouri. Being in the house where I grew up brings nostalgia and romanticism that I never expected – until it does every single time.
As my social media feed fills with scenes from the recent Apple Festival, I suppose I’m feeling even more sentimental. I loved Apple Festival – the food, the parade, the annual musical, the buzz around town. The entire community – plus a few thousand more – welcoming in fall as a rite of passage.
But rewind back to the 1990s me, and I failed to appreciate our farm house, the fields or the way the morning sun crested over the horizon of the farm next door. Twenty years ago, I left those dusty roads as fast as my Ford Tempo would take me. But now? When I visit there, I can sense it – and I can trust that it was good.
You see, I grew up in a literal one-stoplight town. The stoplight was installed during my high school years. I remember when Super Walmart and McDonald’s were built.
I don’t remember being unhappy here at all. In fact, I loved cheering on the Tigers under the Friday night lights. I adored our active community theatre that is still showcasing local talent even now.
Driving down the “strip” to see the different cliques hanging out was a weekly past time – the cowboys in their trucks and work boots, the jocks always near the basketball goal at the local hangout spot, the artists and the jokesters that found themselves in each of these groups.
Having your picture in the paper for good grades, music contests, ball games, plays and small-town life was a regular occurrence. Not only did your parents get to celebrate your accomplishments, but your whole town joined in.
And now I’m seeing (from afar) many of my high school friends living beautiful, full lives in our small town. They are celebrating their own kids’ newspaper-worthy victories. They are cheering them on at ball games and plays, attending festivals and demolition derbies.
Even after decades away of building your own life, a small town means you run into familiar faces when you’re back in town. People who have kept up with your family even better than you have. It means that in a season of grief, your breakfast is secretly purchased by the mom of a former classmate, who also happens to be the local funeral home director – the one who gently led my family through the impossible steps of planning my mother’s funeral.
It means that when your neighbor is walking by on that red gravel road, you run out of the house and go talk to her for a few minutes, capturing a little bit of God’s grace in the sharing of stories.
And while it’s not where God took my path, I see the beauty of small-town living. The grass always seems greener on the other side – though I’ve heard it said that it’s greenest where you water it (a quote that is attributed to many different people and songs, so I just leave it here that I didn’t say it first).
So while my lawn is 1,000 miles away and I love our life in the south, I hope those who stayed “home” to build their lives can step outside and appreciate what’s right in front of them. I know I do every time I go back.