Not so very long ago, a high school classmate of mine made a comment on Facebook about this lovely little hometown of ours, except the comment wasn't lovely at all. In fact, it made me quite sad. Basically, the insinuation was that young people who still live here are only here because they got stuck here.
When we moved here, I was fourteen, and growing up in a military family meant we'd moved around a lot. I honed my language skills everywhere from Japan to New Jersey. During my first few years in the south, this lack of accent often spurred my very favorite greeting, "You don't sound like you're from around here, young lady."
Apparently I still don't sound like I'm from around here, fourteen years later. And, sure, a non-regional dialect in southwest Virginia sounds out of place. But truthfully, I'm still not sure what "from around here" sounds like. I have two friends who grew up "around here," mere miles from one another, and they couldn't sound more different. One of my best friends has lived here all his life, but he doesn't have a southern accent, and every now and then you can hear a little New York in his voice - thanks to parents with a lot of New York in their voices. In fact, POSSLQ sounds a lot less "from around here" than his brothers.
When I left this hick-filled, poe-dunk town after high school, I swore I'd never come back. After all, I'd been traumatized when we moved here my ninth grade year - I couldn't understand my classmates (or teachers), I had no idea where "yonder" was, and I always thought "plum" was a fruit. I suffered through my high school years not knowing the right people or families in this small town, and having a hard time with directions because I didn't know where the ol' Layman Homeplace was.
When I moved back into my parents' basement after college, it was only until I found a career and got on my feet. I'd incurred some debt in college, and needed to get a start on paying that off, plus I really didn't know where I wanted to live.
When I fell in love with a local guy, I talked constantly about moving, only to discover that people who didn't move a dozen times in their childhood are much less likely to want to pack up their life and move across state lines.
When I realized I'd lived in the same town for almost ten years (except while I was away at college), I realized I was home. And that's when my prospective changed.
Over the years, people have told me, "Oh, you guys should move to [insert cool, open-minded, progressive city here]. You would love it, and there's lots of people just like you!" I probably would love it. But why do I want to live in a place with a million people just like me? I'd rather spend my time challenging people's ideas, broadening their minds, and helping shape this town into a better place.
I see so much potential in this place. Sure, areas are run down, and lots of people are out of work, but I see it as an opportunity to be creative in re-defining the town. We have so much history in this area, so much rural land. People who perform skills that have been lost in other areas for decades. There's natural beauty here, and potential for growth.
Do I love all the things about this place? No, I don't. It can be boring, small town politics are a little annoying, and people often know way too much about my life. But my least favorite thing, by far, is the notion that I got stuck here. I'm here because I chose it, and because I think my being here will affect change. And thankfully, so do other people. Some of the brightest minds I know have chosen to stay here, come back here after a few years away, or plan to come home after college. Hopefully, together, we can mold this beautiful space into exactly what we want.