Monroe, My Hometown
article by Meredith McKinnie
Sixteen years ago, I made the decision to not attend a popular college four hours south and instead stayed home and went to ULM, an institution only one year removed from its former name as Northeast Louisiana University. My best friend made the same decision. And admittedly there was a comfort in making the life transition from high school to college in the familiar surroundings of the place and people I knew. I never questioned it then, but I have since. This friend and I agree that the one thing we regret the most is not going away to school, both of us believing it easier to leave the nest when we are transitioning anyway, before life gets in the way.
And I’ve stuck with this logic and often used it to encourage students who are struggling to adjust to life miles from home. And then one day, as we were driving into Fort Worth for a visit to Boyfriend’s hometown, he said, “I left home at 18, and I never found my way back.” And there was sadness in his face, a longing. He loves going home; he loves Texas. He sometimes gets giddy as we cross the state border, an anxious anticipation of the familiarity I couldn’t leave sixteen years ago. And it got me thinking, what did I gain by not leaving?
My family is engrained in me, and not in the negative way portrayed on TV or loathed in books, but in the roots kind of way; I exist as a result of these people and their choices. I see them in myself, and I’m most myself around them. I read in The New York Times the other day that on average, Americans live only 18 miles from their mothers. I live six miles from mine. In fact, the house I bought last year had a lot to do with proximity to my parents. I like that closeness; I need that convenience. Some may see that as a negative, but I see it as choosing to invest time in my family, valuing the people God gave me.
Friends that have long left and return sporadically all seem frustrated by the same inconvenience, balancing friends and family on the short visits to Monroe they’re afforded. One college friend, who was so excited to leave seven years ago, now would do anything to get back to Monroe. She said, “I’ve learned it’s more about the people than the place.” She craves those connections she built back home and sees how distance makes those relationships more difficult to foster.
When I asked some who have moved away, whether recently or twenty plus years ago, what they miss, I heard the same response over and over: “I miss running into people I know at the grocery store. I hated it then, but I miss it now.” And again, that familiarity creeps in. The small town feel of a place where you have history and a name and a family tree, it all makes up the fabric of home. It’s a word with a definition that evolves as we grow older, but yet stays the same, like a warm quilt or a comforting embrace.
I’ve come to terms with the choice I made well before I was mature enough to do so. The possibilities are endless for the future and who knows how the path may twist and turn. I’m open to the bends in the road that make us wake up and pay attention. I immerse myself in travel, love exploring the culture and the energy of a new city and sometimes the quiet, almost still, peace in other spaces. It broadens my knowledge, fosters my humanity and forces me to examine my space from a different angle, a kinder one. I have a good life here, surrounded by a revolving door of people who inspire me, center me and attempt to keep me humble. Monroe, my hometown, provides an immediate bond with those who also grew up here and a familiarity that continues to keep me warm.