I spent some time in my hometown a few weekends ago. It’s not a bad place. When I was a kid I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, likely because I hadn’t seen anything else. When I went to college I witnessed skyscrapers and homeless people and sexualities of all kinds. Since I’ve moved to another state altogether, I’ve understood how blue sky in February can actually be possible; and I suppose due to just figuring some things out on my own (and with lots of others) I’ve come to see that hometown in a different light, as though I’m shining a flashlight from the outside, looking in.
My hometown has moss on all sides of the trees. I never understood, when I was growing up, the adage that moss grows on the north sides of trees, and such a fact could help you find your way to … to Canada, apparently. Where I grew up, north was apparently in all directions. Moss grows on the lawn, between blades of grass. Homes are all wood, and they all look saggy and soggy, dulled by water, especially in February.
My hometown is not on the way to anywhere. When I tell people where I grew up, they look blankly at me, usually. Many think I’ve misspoke: “Oh, you mean ____” they try to tell me, either locating my city in a different state, or placing me in a different city within the same state, but a different side of the mountains. As if I didn’t know where I’d lived. Those who do know the town usually remark that they drove by the sign to the turnoff for the place on their way to the coast. Or they heard of it.
My hometown relied on a mill that produced the jobs for mill workers, loggers, and forest professionals like my dad. Now, that mill yard is blanketed with bagged mulch, acres of chipped and shredded wood piled as high as my house where the plywood and lumber used to be. All bagged individually, the mulch is the remains of the mill’s wood debris from the past 100 years. The contractor who removed it got to keep the mulch as payment for the operation.
In my hometown, my dad still leaves his truck unlocked regardless of where he parks in town. He used to leave the keys on the floor, but he stopped doing that a few years ago. You can’t be too careful. Any store you walk into you’ll expect to see someone you know, and I still look around when I’m visiting, and usually I still see someone who know me through my parents.
There’s a weekly paper, published on Wednesday since 1877 or something. In it you can see who got married, who got arrested, and a few other things. It provides a nice weekly summary of the high school sports teams.
I can still find my way around the town. The park’s playground equipment is solidly anchored into the earth. There’s the funny intersection where you stop if you’re heading west, but don’t yield headed eastbound, even for a lefthand turn. When I was growing up there was but one stoplight. Another was added just before I started driving, and a third now confuses drivers on the other side of town — a recent addition. The only changes I notice are cut trees, opening up a view of sky, usually just to maintain a yard or clean up after a wind storm. It’s strange to me that the trees continue to grow, even as everything else seems so timeless.
I forgot about the new pool, on a different side of town, replacing the one that got filled in two years ago. Or maybe three, or seven. I lose track. Oh, and there’s a Walmart now, too. It is America, after all. Also, all the hills are shorter, and the inclines are all shallower. I know that this is true, even if all the topographic maps and elevation marks still read the same. I know I’ve gotten taller, but not enough to create such a strange illusion. I know the hill we would ride sleds down was a mountain, but today it’s only a small, rounded slope.
All the other changes are just layers of wallpaper, or a covering up with a new coat of paint. The market that was once a video store that was once a market that was once a food coop that was once a market is open again. I suppose it’s the same as anywhere. My home, the place that produced me, is covered with moss and weighed down with the mulch of its scrapped wood. But it keeps going, even without me.