This Is Why I Left My Hometown And Never Looked Back

by Mary Katherine
Originally Published: 
A girl waving through a car window
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From social circles to football rivalries, nothing ever changes in my small hometown.

Which is why, I suppose, so many families return. I haven’t been back to that farming community in over a decade, but I can tell you exactly what’s happening this time of year: There will be festivals celebrating plants. There will be pageants in which young ladies will be crowned Queens of Said Plants. The two high schools will play their rivalry football game, and some football players will catch a wild hair, drink a little beer, and toilet-paper some houses in town. There will be an uproar amongst the parents because how dare some heathen put soggy toilet paper on my prized azaleas!

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And in another 10 years, many of these same students who play football and compete in pageants will return home to start families, probably with one another. Thus completing the Small Town Circle of Life.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this because there isn’t. In fact, I believe there’s something to be said for the wholesome simplicity that such an upbringing provides. A small town is a comfortable blanket — for those who belong.

But I always felt suffocated by that blanket, which is why I left.

More and more, it is becoming a thing that adults fly their hometown coop, never to return. I can think of plenty of reasons why this might be the case, but today I’m going to share a few of my own.

Time Stopped Moving in My Small Hometown

This year, I received an invitation to my 15-year class reunion (holy crap). Just like that, a pang of nostalgia hit me in the gut. It’s festival season. It could be fun to introduce my kids to the spinning lights, fried Oreos, and teenagers strutting around in letter jackets. Time stopped moving in my hometown, and that’s beautiful in so many ways. So I texted my closest friend from high school.

“Hey, are you going? It would be fun doing the festival, right?”

“Think I’ll pass. Too many rebel flags flying around that festival for my family’s taste.”

Oh, right. That’s just it. Time stopped moving in my hometown — but the world didn’t.

You Can’t Shake Your Small Town Story

My husband and I were back home, preparing for our wedding in my old Baptist church, when a girl arranging flowers recognized me.

“OhMahGaaahd, if it isn’t Mary Katherine!”

My name has enough syllables as it is, but she went ahead and added a few more for emphasis. We hugged and made chitchat for a minute when she asked who was in the wedding party. I listed a couple names, and she nearly spit out her sweet tea.

“Wait, Lindsay? Lindsay!? You don’t mean Lindsay-who-got-drunk-at-that-football-party-in-11th-grade-and-kissed-Elizabeth’s-boyfriend, do you?”

I stared for a minute before responding, “Um, maybe. But now she is Lindsay-the happily-married-medical-student.”

One of the greatest liberties I ever experienced was moving to a brand new city where my past didn’t define me. Away from your hometown, you can be whomever you want to be, without fear that some middle school skeleton might emerge to haunt you.

Leaving My Hometown Widened My Lens on Life

If I never left my hometown, I would never have tried sushi or learned to speak another language. I would never have made friends opposite of my political spectrum, listened to them, and changed my world view. I shirked the safety net of my hometown, and in doing so, found that the net had also held me down.

Without my entire family, church, and every single teacher I’d ever had breathing down my back, I was able to make life choices — and mistakes — that defined who I am today. I see the world through a wider lens now. It’d be hard to go back.

And even though I have conflicted feelings about that quaint Southern town I called home for 15 years, there is one thing I love the most about the miles between us.

Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Nobody’s perfect. I suppose that goes for towns too. It’s sort of wonderful when you only visit your hometown every so often because I promise y’all: Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. It’s hard to focus on anything wrong when you are busy buzzing around town playing catchup with old friends and family members you haven’t seen in a while. With a healthy distance between me and the home of my past, I am able to fully cherish all of the little things I missed.

My favorite Mexican joint! OMG, I had forgotten how amazing this queso is!

A small hometown is something to cherish. The farms, the gossip, the churches competing for who can let out earliest on Sunday (those restaurants fill up quick, you know). I honestly miss those things. But some people can just better love their hometowns from a distance.

And for the reasons I listed (and so many more), I am one of those people.

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