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I am a Minnesota boy but after college and a divorce, I found myself in Nebraska. There I met and married a wonderful local woman and went on living for the next twelve years or so. I still considered Minnesota home, but hadn’t been back in over twenty years. Therefore Nebraska became home.

Five years ago we relocated to St Louis for a job opportunity. We love it here and now think of this as home. However, last weekend we returned to small-town Nebraska to attend a wedding. The youngest daughter of one of her oldest friends was getting married. We jumped at the chance to get all of her friends together; most of whom we hadn’t seen in years.

We drove my little VW Beetle the seven hours it took to get there. We don’t mind long drives and enjoy seeing the country. However, as we crossed into Nebraska we sensed a change in the atmosphere. It felt as if a dark cloud was materializing above us. We could feel the oppression building. Our mood deteriorated the closer we got to ‘home’. There was a Children of the Corn vibe going on with a little Cujo skin-prickle added.

Subconsciously, we were both dreading going back there. The old hometown had turned dark and depressing while we were gong. One of us finally mentioned the change in mood and we immediately agreed that there was something to it. Our exciting and enjoyable occasion was instead full of dread and foreboding.

We realized that we had too much baggage in that town. We had each lived there for years before meeting, so it was littered with old relationships and old memories that had nothing at all to do with our new life. The whole trip felt like wading into murky bath water. We felt dirty afterward. There are too many things there that we don’t want to remember or relive. It is much easier to forget those things if we never revisit them.

We had a great time seeing old friends and will not be returning any time soon. We may have left friends but we didn’t leave home. Home is where the heart is and wants to be.

I went to high school in a small town in Northern Minnesota. It was a great place to grow up and taught me the value of hard work and education and getting out. I left soon after graduation, eventually gained a college degree and a career. Since then I’ve continued my education and explored the world. However, like many people, I failed to maintain contact with friends from home or people from my past. I honestly suck at keeping friends. But Facebook and other social media have made it possible to reconnect with people or even to stalk them if you are just curious and unwilling to actually reach out to them.

Lately, Covid-19 and middle age have got me thinking about the old days and old acquaintances. Curiosity eventually led me to Facebook in search of old classmates. A few of them had at least a basic profile and some pictures. It turns out that most have not gone far from home. Most are still in that little town raising kids and hunting and fishing.  Living the Good Life, so to speak. Things haven’t changed much.

It is wonderful to see them with kids and grandkids, looking so mature and happy and in some cases old. Compared to many I seem to be aging well. Good for me.

What struck me most during my look-through of posts from home was the unexpected realization of how far we had drifted in ideology. The Trump flags and assault rifles and racism were surprising. And disappointing. Could these be the same people I knew from the halcyon days of my youth? Could we all have come from the same place that molded what I believe and who I am? It made me question my view of the place and stripped away the whitewash that time had used to cover up the old uglinesses.

I then recalled the homophobia, sexism, the Indian jokes and hatred, and the narrow insulationist thinking. And I remembered why I left. I never belonged there. Not ever.

People will always have disagreements on important issues but I have made a lifelong point of avoiding extreme opinions. I’ve tried to see both sides of an issue in order to meet in the middle. I believe that once you remove the most extreme ideologies we tend to agree on more than we think. We should concentrate on the things we agree on rather than getting angry about what we don’t. There is always a middle ground where we can live as neighbors. But the social media coming out of my hometown doesn’t make me believe that I could find a middle ground there.

I’ve considered going home for a visit, but I have no family there and haven’t been back in almost twenty-five years. I also realize now that I don’t have any friends there really, just people I used to know. I’m not a part of that world anymore and I’m fine with that. I also believe that the part of there that I thought I carried me never really existed or else was chased out of town and forgotten like a gay cousin.

Maybe I’ll visit someday, but I’m in no hurry to put myself through that. Particularly since no one there has reached out to me. Maybe someday.

Or – maybe it’s not that you ‘can’ never go home, but that you never should. Maybe it was never home, to begin with.

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