An Open Apology to My Hometown
On September 18th, I returned to the United States to find my hometown under construction. Literally and figuratively.
While I’m hard at work constructing my own “hometown” feeling in Portugal, my other hometown of Middletown, Maryland, USA, is undergoing some major renovations. My beloved Main Street, running straight through the hustle and bustle of “downtown" and lined with beautiful victorian houses, and the best (and only) restaurant around, is completely torn up and littered with orange construction cones. Any journey to the local grocery store (there’s only one of those as well) requires an added five minutes in one-way traffic, directed by questionably friendly construction workers. I always wave. They don’t always wave back.
Beyond the chaos of Main Street, the corn field behind my old lacrosse stadium now holds a cluster of “single family homes” because somebody really gets a kick out of building these homes for single people. Yet another corn field (we’ve got plenty around here) has been turned into a strip mall, complete with Dunkin’ Donuts, and uh, well I think that’s about it. But most importantly, the iconic, ancient hair salon, the Carousel of Beauty, has shut its doors, forcing the refined older women of Middletown to seek their curls elsewhere.
We also have plenty of apples
During the first week of my stay here in the states, it seemed that every time I drove through town, I saw something else under construction. It’s not a big town. We’ve got four stoplights. These are big changes when you consider the scale. But I don’t even live here anymore, I’m just visiting. I don’t really have a right to complain about the traffic. In fact, I’m the person going out of my way to drive the scenic detour home, even if it adds an extra three minutes to my drive. So why did I find myself bristling every time I sat impatiently on Main Street, waiting for the questionably friendly construction workers to give me the green light to drive through the chaos?
These were the thoughts cluttering my brain as I went for a morning run along the back roads and dairy farms. Every time I crested a hill, I’d take a slight pause to take in the view, and to catch my breath, but mainly to take in the view. This town is stunning, and to be perfectly honest with you, I don’t think I ever appreciated it enough.
As a child, I moved twice, so my technical “hometown” of Atlanta, was never much of a hometown in my heart. When my family wound up in Maryland, we had no idea how long we’d be staying, or how much apart of our lives this town would become. As the years crept by, we adapted to life in the “middle of nowhere town” as my sisters and I would say, and grew to like having endless fields to run through, and creeks to explore. I knew it was pretty, but I was a kid and I had things to do. After my first trip to New York, it was a done deal. I loved cities. I was going to live in one someday. And Middletown, Maryland, USA is the opposite of a city.
I enjoyed the after-school trips to the dairy farm down the road (South Mountain Creamery’s Chocolate Milk is the stuff dreams are made of), but I knew I could find “good” chocolate milk in New York. Our town’s annual festival, Heritage Days, complete with war reenactments, high schoolers parading around in convertibles vying for homecoming king & queen, and every John Deere model from the last fifty years (possibly an exaggeration), is great, but I was just there for the candy. I never stopped to watch the reenactment of the town bank being held hostage in 1864. I never climbed aboard the impressive array of farm equipment. Heck, I never even attended a pancake breakfast. And that’s saying something, as there’s one happening at either the fire hall, or one of the many churches (we’ve got plenty of those) every. single. weekend.
Something within me appreciated my hometown enough, but I had no interest in really delving in. Maybe it was teenage hormones. Maybe it was the product of moving as a child. Don’t get too attached, because you’ll be leaving eventually, right?
Lots of those.
Well, I’ve come to find, as a 20-something, that I am incredibly attached.
They’re ripping up my hometown. And I’m upset. This town that I couldn’t wait to escape for the big, bad city, holds a larger piece of my heart than I ever thought possible. And now I’m rushing to appreciate everything that’s here, before it’s mowed over for another Dunkin’ Donuts. *
So in this quest to appreciate my hometown, I’ve been doing a lot of… nuthin’. And it’s been grand. Most evenings, I make sure I’m home before the sunset, and I sit and have a glass of wine with my dad, overlooking the fields beyond our yard that lead to the surrounding mountains. I’ve gone for walks through the town, walks through the mountains, and runs through the farms. You name a back road, and my feet have seen it. The views are movie-like, and bring me a sense of peace I’ve yet to find elsewhere. And of course, my parents and I had to stop by the aforementioned best restaurant in town, The Main Cup, (for which all three of my sisters and I have worked) to share a bottle of wine on the patio, and chat with the staff members, and owner Bob, about life, and the happenings around town. Who’s gone, who’s married and who’s reproducing. Those are always the hot topics.
But what’s funny, is these quintessential Middletown things that I’m determined to appreciate, aren’t the things that are changing. They will always be there, steadfast in their representation of my hometown, claiming that space in my heart that just won’t let go. The sunsets over South Mountain will always be spectacular. And the view from the back porch will always be the perfect backdrop for a glass of wine. And the folks at the bank will always greet you by name, even if it’s Friday afternoon, and the line to deposit paychecks is wrapping around the small lobby. These things aren’t changing, because these are the things that make Middletown, well, Middletown.
“Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til its gone”
I guess Joni Mitchell put it best, as she often does.
“Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til its gone”
Middletown might not be gone, but I am. I keep moving further away, and my trips home are becoming more infrequent. My childhood home is for sale, and with it, the little piece of earth that holds my furry friend, Gulliver. Everything is changing, and I arrived back in Middletown wishing I could stop time. But life is constantly buzzing around us, and stopping it wouldn’t be fair. It’s my time to stop, eat a piece of humble pie, and appreciate these back porch sunrises and South Mountain sunsets. I owe Middletown one big ol’ apology. An apology for always wanting to escape, without ever appreciating what was right in front of me. This small town is woven into my character in more ways than I ever imagined, and shows no sign of leaving. Unfortunately, now it’s my turn to leave. I’ve got my own hometown in Portugal to nurture (and our apartment needs some major love).
But now I’m left staring at the pieces of Main Street, in the town I always wanted to escape, wishing I could stay forever.
Are you from Middletown, or a similar place?
Share your thoughts on growing up in the country, in the comments section Below
*NOtey Mc Note face*
I should note, much of the construction on Main Street is required maintenance, and it’s my understanding that it will return to it’s former glory, after this lengthy facial, of sorts. And Middletown does not have a Dunkin’ Donuts problem. Yet…