Recently I found a time machine. It took me back to this gas station…where prepay doesn’t happen at the pump and analog is in action. Ok, so this wasn’t a time machine, this is my hometown. It’s the gas pump at the local station, recently upgraded – or so the sign says. I can only assume it was upgraded to add the cents column because gas prices are so high they needed the extra digit for the dollars side.
This gas station is a sign of so much more to me. It’s a sign of a community that’s not necessarily stuck in the past, but connected to it. A community that doesn’t change because it refuses to grow, but a community that is just doing its dead-level best to get by in a world that has wants to move on.
I love going back home because it reminds me where I came from and how far I’ve come. I don’t say this in a condescending tone or to point out that I’m now a city boy who doesn’t have time for the hicks and sticks. Instead this is a point of pride. So often in the city, life moves so fast. I forget to stop and listen to the crickets. The lights so bright at night, I can’t see the stars. A place where you get flipped off more than you get a friendly wave while driving.
Going home also reminds me while the world is growing smaller every day, the problems of the world are much larger than I have managed to compartmentalize in my own life. I live in an area where the economy is doing well and work in an industry where I have relatively stable employment. I report on the struggles of others, the misfortunes of communities and the society that needs help. When I go home, I see these struggles on the faces of everyone.
Christmas for many in the nation meant soldiers coming home and the end to the war in Iraq. For my family, it meant a cousin who was called up. Instead of celebrating with extended family, she was in Germany preparing for a new surprise deployment. The world is not as safe or as stable as we want to believe.
From the aerospace industry to blue-collar careers many are facing the possibility of layoffs. Some are facing the reality of being out of work. Others have had to go back to work, only now doing more with fewer resources. As jobs are gained or lost, there’s a reality that these are not just numbers in a plus or minus column of some economic outlook.
Despite all the bad news, there’s also hope. Hope in the smiles of the children playing. Hope in the laughter of family playing games together. Hope in the memories shared. People I only knew as parents, now holding little ones that belong to their little ones. Kids, who in my mind were only kids a few years ago, walking through the door with their own families in tow. Then I realize, I am also a kid walking through that door with his own family.
My favorite Christmas song is “Home for the Holidays.” There really is no place like home for holidays. The song says no matter how far away I roam, home will always be there waiting for me. It is never quite the same as the place I remember, but I have to remember that I’m not the same person that left so many years ago.
I go back to the city, back to my nonstop life. Though there’s always going to be a part of me that’s left in the backwoods. I like it that way.