Nostalgia is a powerful emotion.
I think about this every time I return to the midwest, which is admittedly less often these days than in years past. I hadn't been to my hometown in several years, and when an opportunity arose last month to visit, I decided to take advantage.
I drove into town from the east just as the sun was setting; it was a beautiful autumn sunset, turning the rolling hills purple and setting the clouds awash in hues of cotton-candy pink. Thirty seconds inside the city limits, I realized the landmarks I had used to navigate (turn right at the trailer park) no longer existed - and while I wasn't LOST exactly, I had a moment of strange disorientation.
I grew up in Indianola, Iowa; although I was born in eastern Iowa, my family moved (back) to Indianola when I was four. My dad had also grown up there, and it was where my parents met. It was here that I went to school for the first time, joined the Girl Scouts, took dance lessons, attended the holiday parades, got a paper route, learned to drive, went on my first dates, had my first job, graduated high school, and even went to college. I met my husband here; we got married in the park. I spent more-or-less the first 21 years of my life here. It is a typical, small midwestern town - unremarkable in many ways, but comfortable and cozy to those who call it home.
In some ways, going back to your hometown is like putting on a favorite pair of jeans - they're soft, broken in, and you know exactly what to expect.
There's a huge new sports complex on the east end of town (causing my initial sense of disorientation), and houses have sprouted like mushrooms where once there were only open fields. My best friend's house, blue for all the years she lived here, has been painted grey and has unfamiliar cars in the driveway. There's an Arby's and a new hotel on the edge of town, and a whole new elementary school on the other end. Some of the one-way streets now run both directions, and a new iron-and-glass courthouse stands where the old sturdy 1880s brick pile of a building once held sway.
But the A&W Drive-In is still in business, where carhops bring you your draft rootbeer on a tray; the Dairy Queen is still the center of high school social life after a school concert or play on a Thursday night. Kids still play in the field where I used to play catch with my dad on summer evenings, and I'm still likely to run into half the people I know at the grocery store in town.
The campus where I spent four happy years in college hasn't changed much; sure, the student center is a little bigger, and the library is undergoing some renovations. However, the maple trees still whispered as they watched undergrads in groups of two and three spill out into the sunshine as a lecture period ended, headed off to lunch or work or back for a nap before the weekend.
My hometown is the one place on earth that makes me feel like I'm sixteen years old again - while simultaneously reminding me that time is passing swiftly, and maybe I should slow down for a minute and soak it all in.
Travel has the power sometimes to remind us of the "why:" why we move, why we seek adventure, why we choose to live in one place rather than another - and maybe even a bit of the why we are who we are. I remember the reasons why I left Iowa, but I'm proud of my roots.