Entering my hometown, population 3,428, I cruise down the Farm to Market roads, white knuckled and fearful for my life, trying to recall the last time I drove on a road that didn't have a median separating the oncoming traffic. Giant pick-up trucks covered in dust and mud zoom past me, letting off enough exhaust to make Al Gore's crazy antics actually seem legitamit. Almost instinctively, I begin to casually wave to every car I pass the moment I enter the city limits. The passerby matches my wave, never once squinting to see if they knew me. They didn't need to "know" me to acknowledge me--it's just what you do in a small town. I drive slowly behind a vehicle that is going five miles under the posted speed limit of 45 mph. The motorist isn't in the rush I often see on Dallas highways to get to their location. It makes me realize that I can't remember the last time I wasn't in a hurry; relentlessly rushing from one event to another, day after day.
Passing the high school to my right, I see the hometown chant: "We Can, We Will. We're Barbers Hill" written out on the chain linked fence in Dixie cups. My thoughts flash back to 9 years ago and I can still recollect my old lunch table, my best friend's laugh after a crude joke I cracked, the nutty science teacher's abstract lessons that always seemed to make perfect sense and the way my boyfriend use to smell when he would greet me in the hallway after class.
"We Can, We Will" was programmed into my brain from a young age and I truly believed that being a Barbers Hill Eagle really did make you special; that there was something magical in the water--not just the toxins from the local chemical plants. I remember the overwhelming feeling of comfort that I felt being surrounded by people I had known my whole life. How I never once felt the insecurity of not being accepted, the hurt of be excluded or the fear of not succeeding; feelings that now too often transpire in my mind.
My eyes divert to the power lines sadly draped along the road, the lack of curbs, the plethora of ditches, a run-down barn, broken fences and drainage tubes. My hometown is not necessarily a handsome place, especially after living in the type of suburb where I reside now. But never once did I ever think it wasn't something to marvel after. The spirit is unlike any other and growing up there, I couldn't imagine anything better.
The Friday night football game that the whole town attended; the local Mexican food restaurant who served the best green dip this side of the Rio Grande; the theater stage where I found my talent; the water-tower park where I spent countless hours falling in love with a boy I hoped I would marry; the rice fields where I drank my first Fuzzy Navel wine cooler; the church where I walked down the aisle as a girl and asked Jesus into my heart. Every mile, every place is a memory.
I turn down a gravel road that leads me to my parent's home. They wait in the driveway for me and my family's arrival. It never matters how late I pull in, since I first started driving, they are always awake, waiting anxiously for my return home. Although, I can't remember exactly when I stopped feeling like this was my home and started feeling like Dallas was, there is still something about the house that makes me feel like I belong. There's something about that town that makes me feel like I belong.
Each visit is perfectly and wonderfully the same; always comforting, calming and routine. I find myself speaking in a longer drawl and becoming a coffee drinker who's content to rock on a porch swing and talk all day. My cravings for my grandmother's cook, Brighton shoes and blingy-jeans become almost unbearable and the women of my family all pile into the car to hit up the local boutique which always seems to have something I can't live without even though I live in a 5 mile radius of three different malls. My mom and I talk to hours and I realize I need to call her more and what a unique and precious gift I have in her.
Every time I go back, I like to have a little alone time in my old room. Picking up my prom dress still hanging in my closet, I cringe at the suborn 5 pounds that keeps me from my school-girl figure but wonder if I held my breath just right, if I could zip it up anyway. I open the Hope Chest my mom still keeps in my room and sit Indian style in front of it and go through all my treasures; letter after letter, picture after picture and I cry because life was so easy, yet it seemed so hard and I realize how much I miss my old friends. I wonder if I can ever get back what I had and I realize that life has changed for me and with that so did my relationships.
When Sunday rolls around, we pack up the car, say our good-byes and I drive off to the life I've made with my own family some 300 miles aways, I try to hold back the tears as the familiar lump in my throat returns and I have an overwhelming bitter-sweet feeling saying goodbye once again to the town that built me. And although I know I can never go back, I close my eyes and re-live the priceless moments that have forever been instilled in my memory after all these years and smile because in the end I feel so lucky and so proud to have once called this place my home.