My childhood was spent entirely in one small town, Pickerington, Ohio, and it was memorable more for what it did not have than what it did have when I lived there. It has since exploded and the new development makes it almost unrecognizable.
It is frozen in my mind, though, as a small town, somewhat like Grovers Corners, the setting of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town. Admittedly, I had never heard of heliotrope until performing in the play when I was a freshman in high school, and my neighbors did not prepare the dinner vegetables sitting on the stoop talking with my family, but to me, my town felt that quaint, especially when I was a tween.
Perhaps it felt that way because the town had one middle school, housed in a building that was a century old and that backed up to the local cemetery that was the final resting place of the city's founders.
Maybe it because we were very proud of the fact that our community was the smallest one to receive a Carnegie library, a place I still vividly remember skipping into for story time, where I made friends with Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, Kickeroo the Kangaroo, the children's library who worked their my entire childhood, and books in general.
I loved that when I was outside on summer nights, I could hear the train rumbling through the small downtown several miles from my house. It always struck me how very quiet it must be for the sound to travel. It was somehow comforting to know that there was a world out there, moving along, but that I was safely separate from it. The best of both worlds.
The old covered bridge that is considered a town landmark added a bit of that old fashioned, small town feel as well.
It actually was a small town for most of the time I resided there. It was an event when it was finally large enough to be certified as a city by the Secretary of State, the same year the high school performed Our Town.
My dad was the high school principal and then school district administrator when we lived there, and everyone knew him. Going anywhere in town with him was like entering Cheers with Norm. I thought everyone really did know your name and didn't quite understand why that Boston bar was special until venturing out into the larger world.
My hometown, and especially that middle school, while quaint, is also full of memories that make me cringe and squirm at the thought of them:
* When I followed my orthodontist's directions and wore the headgear to school. (Thankfully, my mother made sure that only happened once.)
* The time I made a fool of myself over a silly crush on a boy. Okay, fine, times. (Hangs head in shame.)
* Wearing the Science Olympiad team shirt in the school color purple with the drawing of Albert Einstein's face on the front. (Apparently the nerd target shirts were all sold out?)
Writing a tween blog may mean that I think about my own tween years more than others.
Regularly fielding questions from parents aching because their children have been excluded by kids who were best friends yesterday does sometimes bring up the memories of when that happened to me, in the halls of that very old middle school building. Of course, exclusion is a pretty common aspect of the tween experience. It happened and continues to happen to pretty much everyone. I had absolutely no awareness of that fact, perhaps because race horses wearing blinders often have a broader world view than tweens do and I was certainly no exception.
My parents moved and I have been back only once in the last 17 years. Sad, I know. My high school reunion is approaching, and I'm thinking of attending, but I'm apprehensive.
It was a place that could feel both safe yet ill-fitting at the same time.
As much as the town felt like home, it felt like I didn't always fit in.
That's made clear to me by all the Facebook post of friends who still live there and who are still well connected with each other, reminding me of connections either lost or that never existed, and I'm sometimes not sure which it is.
It was so very typical of the tween years to feel comfortable, yet not. I didn't feel like I belonged, but I was also pretty sure I didn't belong anywhere else, and there really wasn't anywhere else that I wanted to be, especially when I was a tween.
My town was changing, growing, developing and taking on a new identity as I was doing the exact same thing. I think it's safe to say that we're both fully grown now.
This post was written as part of ChicagoNow's Blogapalooza during which we had exactly one hour to "write about a favorite or memorable place you have lived for any time at all, whether a country, state, city, childhood home, fraternity/sorority, hostel, hotel or even bedroom."
You can see all the other Blogapalooza posts on the topic here.
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