These days it’s not only the bright colors and long sunshine that tells me summer is close; the cars and trucks tell me, too. Specifically, the back windows on the rusting hoopties the neighborhood teens drive. That’s where the messages go, whether in soap or, more often, traced through a layer of dirt and pollen with a finger.
SDHS 2015, they say.
And this one, seen often from my porch in the last evenings, which sums up the general thinking of anyone between the ages of sixteen and eighteen—
ANYWHERE BUT HERE
I get that, I really do, at least in some way. I was eighteen once. Yet while my friends for the most part succumbed early on to the virulent strain of wanderlust that infects the young, I remained largely unaffected. The talents I’d grown up believing would carry me away from the valley and into the wide world were gone by the time I became a senior, and I had made peace with that long before I walked off the stage a high school graduate. By then, I no longer wanted to leave the mountains, had no desire to go off in search of anything. I’d already found what I needed right here. Here was—is—home, this speck sunk deep into the Blue Ridge that I share with deer and bear and coyote, rivers as clear and smooth as glass, fields golden and peaceful in the sun, and where the bones of my kin are buried, their souls sung to heaven.
Why would I ever want to leave such a place, if only for a while?
But as I said, I get it: the wanderlust. Though much larger now than the summer I graduated, ours is still a small town. Little happens here. In face, outside of a skirmish in the early spring of 1865 and an Indian war in some dim part of time (the evidence of both still here if you know where to look), nothing much has ever happened here. We are generally lower-middle class, blue collar, and Christian—farmers and factory workers and teachers who slog through five days so we can catch our breath for two. Sounds fine if you’re forty-something and want a peaceful place to roost your family. Not so much when you’re eighteen and suddenly, wonderfully, free. When you’re that age, wherever you are isn’t good enough. What you crave is adventure. What you dream is ANYWHERE BUT HERE.
Sometimes I think that describes us all to some extent. We’re all searching for a way to get ourselves over the hump, that one special thing that would bring a sparkle to the dullness that seeps into every life. I guess in that respect we could all be said to wander, even if we never venture beyond our doors.
I’m not the only member of the class of 1990 who’s stayed and carved out a life in this quiet corner of the world. Plenty more stayed, too. Those who went on to college and career have been flung not only across the country but also across the globe. I talk to some of them upon occasion, catching up. And each time, no matter what great things they’ve done or what magical places they’ve seen, I’m always asked the same question:
Because in the end it doesn’t matter where they all have gone or what they’re doing, this little town of field and mountain and holler remains that. Home. This place they once could not wait to flee and forget is now the place they know they can run back to if the world ever bared its teeth, and what dark memories remain of their former lives here have gone soft at the edges.
If I could say one thing to all those pending graduates, I think it would be that. I would tell them to go, light out into the territory, seek what treasures wait just over the horizon. But as you leave, know that the traveling is lighter if you carry home in your heart.
And know that should your eyes ever turn this way again, we’ll be waiting.