The notion of the hometown carries with it a longing, for both escape and return. When we were young we baby boomers chafed at the bit to leave our hometowns and all they represented- limitations, stasis, boredom. We wanted to be free from expectations so that we could find our own paths and discover ourselves. It sometimes comes as a surprise when, later in our lives, we actually long to return to our hometowns.
Home is a slippery concept, colored by nostalgia, where a plate of mashed potatoes and a jello salad could actually fix what was ailing you. I have been living on the east coast for over 20 years now but have returned to my Midwestern hometown nearly every summer. No matter the travel schedule, there always seems to be time to drive around the old neighborhood- past the park that is unrecognizable from its 1975 incarnation, through the side streets I roamed with my posse of tomboy girlfriends, by the old family homestead, long ago sold to strangers who have created their own family memories in my house.
It didn’t take much to transform a city like Waterloo, Iowa into a hometown. It seems I only needed a few small triggers to turn fluid memories into something solid. Retracing the well-worn circuits of my youthful past I head down Washington Lane. Mama Nick’s is just off to the right- still the best pizza in town. I take a left at East Mitchell Avenue and find that the sand pits where I spent long July days baking in the sun have been bulldozed into a ‘recreation area’. Later, rolling down Ridgeway, I turn to cut through West High’s back parking lot where the kids known as the crispy critters would converge to smoke between classes. Then it was a dirt lot, now a swath of concrete. I didn’t imagine it. This place, my hometown. Not exactly the same, but still here. Just like me.