I went home last week, to Faith, the little town of about six hundred, with one caution light, where I grew up, and where my parents, my brother and his family, and a slew of other relatives still live. I got into the whole ancestry thing about a year ago and was shocked to find out how many people in that town I'm related to and never knew it. I digress...
Dad is retired, and mostly he spends his days looking up imaginary symptoms on Web MD. He needs a hobby. Mom refuses to retire, mostly because staying home doesn't look all that attractive. Anyway, Dad and I went to The Faith Soda Shop for breakfast one morning--several mornings, actually. Side note: One would think that somebody who spends hours a day on health-related websites would stop ordering sausage and egg sandwiches with mayo for breakfast, but not my daddy. I'm just saying...
One morning, we walked into The Shop, and the couple who'd lived around the curve from us my entire childhood sat in a booth just inside the door. I graduated with their oldest son (and played in the creek with him, and fought with him, and love him like a brother). Their faces lit up when they saw me. You can't find that just anywhere...
I said, "I'd know these folks anywhere," and went over to chat. I hugged them, and they hugged me back, and it felt like I'd never left. There were a few other familiar faces in The Shop that morning. After we'd eaten, Dad and I made our way to the register to pay. We passed another pair of faces I knew well. This couple, parents of another guy I graduated with, lived a block and a half away from the house my parents still live in.
We exchanged the usual hey-it's-good-to-see-you kind of things. Then, Arlene patted my hand and said, "John just had a birthday, are you older, or younger than he is?" She was trying to pin down if I had already turned the same age as John, or if that was upcoming. She knew we were about a month apart.
I didn't answer immediately. Age-related chit-chat is not my favorite.
She said, "How old are you?"
I didn't miss a beat. I said, "Arlene, I'm twenty-four. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it."
She laughed out loud and said, "You can't tell that here."
Now, in Greenville when I tell people I'm twenty-four, they look at me oddly, like perhaps I'm Not Quite Right, but no one has ever called me on it. In Faith, most people have a general idea how old I am, and many can tell you exactly what year I was born.
My eyes misted up. There is something so compelling to me about being in that place where, even after I've been gone more than...err...a few years, folks know me. Makes me think of that Cheers song...
I love Greenville. I do. We have friends here, and a lot of Jim's family lives here. There's a beautiful downtown, with a river running through it, and restaurants of every description. There's culture. Diversity. Costco.
But, on any given day, if I walk into any restaurant on Main Street, odds are, there won't be a soul in the place who knows me, or can tell you approximately how old I am, or remembers the time I painted the old shed in the backyard five different colors (on the outside) and turned it into a weird sort of clubhouse where I could have hang out with my friends with minimal adult supervision.
Lord, I'm homesick.
P.S. This is NOT an invitation for my Greenville friends and family to discuss my age. The official age of all Jazzercisers is 24. It's a rule.