I watched from the circular window as the fields of corn and the old courthouse shrunk to figurines. I left Valdosta. And I had been dreaming of this day since I was a kid. I always craved a life in a bustling city up north or out west, and it was finally my time. Baltimore needed to get ready for the country girl coming to town.
As soon as I moved into my first dorm room in Wolman Hall, I started a bet with myself. More like a competition to see how long I could stay away from home. I had to go back for breaks, and I was happy to see my family and friends, but my stays were always very short.
But this year something changed. I actually began to appreciate my home and to like where I come from. While my politics may not always align, and the Jewish community is a hefty 20 people, it’s home.
I can always count on hugs and warm welcomes when we have lunch at the Royal Cafe in Quitman, a small town just up the road. Ming’s Chinese Restaurant is always at the top of my list because I not only devour their delicious egg rolls, but I also visit the wonderful couple who quizzed me on how to spell the vegetables they brought out on a tray when I was a kid. Needing Ming’s to survive is a part of my DNA. My father has been going for 30 years, and my grandmother went for 30 years before him.
Every time I come home, one of my mom’s best friends is waiting to surprise me with her famous pound cake, her to-die-for cheese straws or her enviable Brunswick stew. What more could I ask for?
I look forward to driving up and down dirt roads. I race golf carts on my farm and occasionally go mud bogging. Yes, that means riding through the mud on makeshift sleds, which are usually made out of pieces of old plastic fishing boats. And my friends and I always get up to some kind of shenanigans.
This trip I surprised my best friend Maggie with the help of our friends, and she opened her closet to find me just hanging out in there. Yes, there were screams and lots of hugs. I have come to not only love my time with them but to truly cherish it.
The same goes for the people in town. No matter where I go — to a restaurant, to a store or to Starbucks — I am bound to see someone I know. The questions are at first overwhelming, but you end up having such a lovely conversation with your dad’s neighbor from first grade that you come to realize how special that is.
Where else can I run into a person who recognizes me just because I look just like my father or knows who I am because they knew my grandmother?
My town, although it has its flaws and tons of pollen, has started to grow on me, and it only took 20 years. They say it takes a village to raise a kid, and my town did raise me. It taught me to smile at every person you see because they may be having a bad day and your one smile might turn their day around.
It taught me to be kind but a little scrappy. And most importantly, it taught me to be grateful for my parents. People are always telling me how lucky I am to have the parents I do, and I always used to say I know, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve really seen how true that it is.
This concludes my sappy love letter to my town and to my parents. I will never see my billing address as saying Valdosta, Ga. again, but Valdosta will always be my home.