I grew up in __________. 37 years later, I still/once again live in ____________. Sure, I moved to _________, then ____________—but I came back to my hometown 12 years ago, and wound up appreciating it anew, and staying.
That’s a rarity, these days. For much of human history, it was unusual to travel even 50 miles, ever, outside of one’s hometown.
But in an age of interstate highways and affordable air travel—where you can take for granted the act of sitting in a chair while flying in the sky!, as Louis CK put it—my generation chooses where to live much the same way we shop. I like that style, or that color, we say, perusing a J.Crew Catalog (something most of us haven’t done, in paper form, since the 90s). Nowadays, my friends and I say I’m gonna bike across Africa, then live in Portland. Portland’s too rainy, I’m gonna move to Berkeley. Berkeley’s too white, I’m going to Willy. Willy’s over, I’m moving to…say, Boulder.
And Boulder’s where I live. The other day, walking with a friend on our “Mapleton Hill”—a street, the cheap side of which I grew up on, we passed my old elementary school. “Our class photo was taken on those steps, right there,” I pointed out to my friend. “It’s funny to think that 31 years ago I was running around these grounds with a dorky haircut and striped velour shirts and bellbottom handmedown corduroys.”
And then, this week, an ol’classmate I’ve been out of touch with for…well, 31 years…messaged me on facebook about that very same class photo. Put it on FB!, I urged her, would be amazing to see it!
She scanned it, and tagged a bunch of our old (young) friends:
“I love that I still have this photo! The carefree days of first grade at Mapleton, when fashion and nice hair really weren’t a concern. Those are my “buckle shoes” and they were pretty much awesome.” ~ Tara G.
I rest my head on a pillow on the college hill. 37 years ago, I was born at the Boulder Community Hospital, not two miles away, on the third floor. I still know the doctor lady whose hands delivered me.
I have memories that go back 30 years, in this town.
Eating at Fred’s. Getting a baseball hit into my leg at Whittier. Learning to swim at Spruce Pool. Walking my dog at NCAR. Shopping at Pearl Street Market, and Alfalfa’s. Playing video games on the downtown outdoor mall. French kissing for the first time, on a bus in North Boulder (gross). Getting stuffed in a locker by two girls at Casey. Playing Ferdinand (etc) up at the Flagstaff Mountain red rock amphitheater, built by FDR’s boys, 80 years ago. Getting a Tintin book from a Buddhist teacher at the original Boulder Bookstore. Etcetera.
Perhaps, to those of you 40 and up, having deep rooted old memories of the town you still live in is NBD.
But to kids these days, it’s a revelation. One of my best friends, Merete, who used to be elephant magazine’s editor for 3 years or something, has been itching to move away from Boulder ever since she graduated. She’s moving to Brooklyn in a few months. Another one of our best friends moved to Tucson a few months back (she had a good excuse: love). My best buddy in the world moved to Canada years ago. We’re nearly out of touch. Another best buddy moved to Israel a few months ago. Another best buddy is a momma in Minneapolis. And so it is. Modern friendships are like firecrackers, that ignite and soar and fall, silent and dark.
These days, we can reinvent ourselves every few years—convenient, if we happen to be insane and malevolent and destructive—but for those of us (mentally) on planet earth, it’s a sad thing, too.
Who in your immediate everyday experience has known you for one, two, three, four or five decades? Who when they look at you sees that silly, happy, bowl-cut headed boy or buckle-shoed girl they first met, so many moons ago? In my case, being a “native,” many people. Family friends, peers and friends and colleagues of my mom, and a few of my friends…I see many of them, casually, every week around town. And every time I do, for a moment, I see who they were when I first got to know them, and they likely see little me.
But such societal roots are withering, more and more. In their place is a wanderlust—the joy and privilege of being able to travel and open one’s mind and heart to new places and ways of life. For many of us, these days, if we settle in Amsterdam or Seattle or Austin or Hawaii, it’s because we’ve found our tribe. But it’s sad to have to make that choice, between roots and adventure.
In my case, loving my hometown, I’m fortunate to have both—even if I hadn’t been born here, I would have been happy to move here.
Still, every time I bike past that hospital, I look at that third floor with a little nostalgic smirk. Like most of those children in that 1st Grade photo, I was born here in little old Boulder.
Unlike most of those cute children, who’ve moved to every corner of our great nation, I’ve come home, again.