A few weeks ago, I was contacted to see if I would be interested in writing about my experience growing up in my little hometown in Darke County, Ohio. The piece ran on last weekend in the Visitors' Bureau insert in the Early Bird, the county newspaper (as did a couple of our engagement photos, which were taken at the Great Darke County Fair). I've got fond memories growing up in such a quaint and quiet place, and enjoy talking about its quirks and the things that make it special to anyone who may not be familiar. It was a fun piece to write, and, to be honest, was a lot easier to write than I initially thought it would be. While I may live hundreds of miles away, I still catch myself calling that place "home," and probably will until the day I die. I'm happy with the piece, and I wanted to share it with all my readers, even those who may not be familiar with that tiny, rural town where I grew up. Chances are, you may have a tiny town that these words conjure up warm feelings about, as well.
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Pulling onto State Route 127 after six hours on the road, the feeling hits. A sense of warmth washes over me as our car careens north, passing through miles and miles of field, flora and farmland. It’s been a while since I’ve driven on country roads, but I know these ones by heart and fondly remember every wind and curve that takes me back to the place where I grew up.
It’s been six years since I moved to Milwaukee, where I was married last year, where I bought my home and where I plan to live for many years to come. But 29 years ago my roots were planted deep in Darke County, and every time I make the drive back, with every mile closer I reach, that same warm feeling swells. No matter how long I’ve been gone, I always refer to Greenville as “home.”
Whenever people ask about my hometown, I’m usually met with a quizzical look, to which I respond with the usual quip, “The birthplace of Annie Oakley! The only place where KitchenAid stand mixers are made! Have you ever heard of the Treaty of Greenville?” I could go on, and given the chance, I will. Given the chance, I’d describe the subtle spice of the sandwiches at the Maid-Rite, impossible to duplicate; of the restaurant’s brick walls covered in gum and about the afternoons we’d walk there after school in junior high. I’d tell them how the official start of summer directly coincides with the opening day at Jim’s Drive In. I’d talk up the Great Darke County Fair, and how exciting it would be to stroll down the midway, aglow in flashing lights. I’d tell them about how the long line for Farmer Brown sandwiches was well worth the wait; how you’ll never feel more refreshed than after slurping down a Rotary Lemonade Shake-Up; how a colorful wooden cane is the greatest prize you could ever hope to win; how I can still hear the warm voice ringing throughout the grounds, calling me to meet my friends at the Mike Tent.
If prodded to continue, I’d speak with pride about the ability to pinpoint the smell of a hog farm, and how the best pork chop you’ll ever eat will come from Winner’s. I’d speak about my favorite stretch of land, out on my grandparents’ property on Byrely Road, sandwiched between corn fields, with a stream sweetly flowing through. I’d conjure the memory of my cousins and I, falling through the ice on that stream when I was young, horrified not so much that our feet would freeze, but that we’d surely be in a heap of trouble. I’d talk about how we were greeted with hugs--not scolding--and the memory of the four of us in line, lying with our feet up, warming by the wood-burning stove.
If, by this time, this person is still interested in learning more about the place where I grew up, I’d smile and describe with detail the thrill of playing Capture the Flag in the Greenville City Park, of sledding down Memorial Hill and hoping that, this time, you just might have built up enough momentum to make it all the way to the ice-covered lagoon. I’d lean in and whisper about the time I “borrowed” a baby duckling from the park lagoon when I was five years old, about how I brought it home, named it Puddles and called it my new pet...all before my parents had discovered what I’d done and made me take him back. I’d explain how it was simple for me to go so, as my hometown was quaint and safe enough for someone so young to walk a couple blocks down to the park to play.
But more than anything, if given the chance to summarize my experience growing up in Darke County, I’d describe the feeling of pride I have to count this place as home. It’s slow-moving and simple, laid-back and friendly. It may not come with the thrill of living in the heart of a bustling city, but when you look up at night and see the sea of stars twinkling over the gentle plains of farmland, you feel a sense of contentment that can’t be reproduced. It’s the place that I’ll always refer to as “home,” no matter where I travel, no matter how many years I’ve been away from this humble stretch of rural land with roads that wind their way to homes filled with the same warm memories as my own.