Monday, March 12, 2007

Somewhere in Middle America

I remember reading somewhere, back when I was young and impressionable, that writers often have "complicated relationships" with the places they grew up. I remembered thinking, "I don't think it's that complicated...I hate it here!"

"Here" was a tiny town, middle of a cornfield, Illinois, population 500. We had one no-name grocery store, one small cafe that closed before dinner time most nights, one gas station with two pumps, five churches, and zero stop lights. If you blinked driving through, you'd miss it. Unless you got pulled over by our one and only cop. Although if you'd driven through town before, you knew to look for the patrol car in his driveway at the outskirts of town. If it was there, no need to drive 30 on the way through.

Time stood still there. Mullets and pouffy bangs were, and still may be, the height of fashion. Kids played outside after dark in the summertime. People left for the weekend without locking their front doors. The movie theater (20 minutes away, mind you) took at least an extra week to get most new releases. Popular high school electives included shop, agriculture, and home economics, except for the parochial school I attended where there weren't any electives at all. Driving an hour to get to clothing stores better than Wal-Mart was a way of life. A happening Friday night included driving to the next town over and "cruising" a mutually designated set of blocks and finally parking in McDonald's parking lot to talk, flirt, whatever. Escape was imminent in my mind the whole time.

The thing I miss most, that I sometimes don't realize until I'm with them, is (some of) the people. I graduated with seven people (no, that's not a typo, seven people). And this weekend, four of us got together. There had been three years between the last time we had all been in the same room at the same time. It's always funny to see people who knew you way back when. When I think of us, I often remember us the way we were, little things, like how Amy painted her perfect fingernails in the school colors before big games, how Becky tore the crusts off her sandwiches at every lunch period, how as chem lab partners, Michelle and I narrowly escaped an explosion practically every week. I remember the parties, the little rebellions, the inside jokes. But in the intervening years, we had gone from main characters in the dramas of each other's lives to occasional guest stars.

But none of that mattered. I loved every minute of the few hours we spent together. It's true; we lead radically different lives, from where we live, to our career paths, our relationships, and even our values. But on another level, we are the same. We've turned out to be even better versions of the girls we've always been. It seems to me to be a rare thing for friends to be able to grow and change and still accept each other as they are now. There's something beautiful about the people who know your true past, not the revised version of history distorted by time and distance. And there's something even more amazing about friendships that transcend the past and continue into the present, when so many others don't.

We parted with heartfelt hugs and promises to meet again soon. And I honestly hope we do. They are the best thing about where I grew up. While I drove back to my life, back to the city that I still don't refer to as "home," I decided that coming of age isn't the day when you strike out on your own from the place that you grew up. It's the day you discover the road that leads you back and forth between the two places.


  1. home is where the bekah is...that's what i always say

  2. Angela Lynn Nelson Feller,
    that brought a tear to my eye. I am so glad that we all got together, I had a really good time and it makes my soul ache for high school- nothing but the lack of responsibility that we could hang out whenever and wherever we wanted to. I love you guys! Thanks for changing- but really just staying the same wonderful person you always were!

  3. That is so beautiful! I'm crying! I understand EXACTLY what you mean. It warms my heart to know you feel the same. Love you, Michelle