We grew up in a small town, a very small town. No one knew the population for sure but 15,ooo seemed to be the number we would all finally agree on — it was the largest town in a circle of other smaller communities. Like most kids growing up in a small town — we were always looking for something else… something we thought only existed in any place other than where we lived. We gathered at the lake and spent hours swinging out over the water, jumping from the water falls, leaping from bridges — laughing, swimming, talking. This was our town. The lake was the center of our universe. We would ride our bikes or have someone drop us off — somehow we got there. The majority of our conversations revolved around how we were going to escape our town — when we got older, we could get away.
At night, when it became too dark to enjoy the lake, we would change our location and head to the drive-in or a field somewhere. Fields are very popular locations for hanging out in small towns. We would sit on blankets and cook-out hotdogs and hamburgers, we would feel like adults as we drank the beer we somehow acquired at the local market. We watched the stars and talked about the constellations and saw more than one amazing meteor shower. We would laugh and talk and dream of a time when we would be old enough to leave this town behind.
Sometimes at night, we would gather at the drive-in on the outskirts of town for a double feature. Car hatches popped open, lawn chairs, coolers, friends. The movie never mattered — no one really went for the movie. We went to talk and laugh and be with one another. We went to share stories of the day at the lake — who made the biggest splash off the bridge, who got hurt on the rope swing, who had broken up and who had kissed. We talked about what we were going to do the next day and we would always laugh because we knew the routine so well. We dreamed of the day when we would be old enough to drive away and never look back.
When we were old enough for college, we moved away. We settled on out-of-state schools and schools in the biggest cities and schools that were the farthest away. We grew apart when we left our town behind. We talked to our new friends about all those days we would spend jumping off bridges and cooking out under the stars. We began to count down the days until Thanksgiving break when we knew we would all gather in the alley behind Daddy Billy’s and talk about how we loved our new life and how we loved having things to do and how it was so much more than just a lake and a field and a drive-in. We cried when it was time to return to our new life. We longed for a day at the lake.
When we finished college we settled in new towns and started families and became adults — just like we always dreamed. When our children became old enough, we started to hear the words leaving their lips that always came out of our own mouths — they long to be old enough to escape the small towns we decided to settle in. They long for something to do besides hang-out at the lake, go to the movies, and cheer on the football team. They talk about what they’ll do when they grow up.
We know what they’ll do. They’ll look at the calendar and count down the days until their first Thanksgiving break from college. They’ll watch the miles tick on the car as they get closer to that small town. They’ll see the lake as they cross over the bridge — and they’ll know…they’re almost home.