A person can hardly choose his or her place of birth.
Though one might speak of a city as being his or her “hometown” it is often an appellation that comes well after one has already been established in such a place.
While I never called it so in my youth, I consider the small Rusk County community of Overton as my own hometown. A funny thing, because I spent only a portion of my childhood there and most of my adult life away from it.
Growing up in a quasi-Bohemian household that moved no less than 10 times in my first 10 years of life, I had no real concept of a permanent home until my parents purchased a comely parcel of land nestled deep within the woodlands of East Texas.
This place rooted me in a community and established a sort of refuge. Wherever else I might wander, here was a place to always return if need or circumstances warranted.
But as I was yet an adolescent when this occurred, I still had enough of a concept of the wide world to know that there is more out there than is found in the acreage of my parents or the nearby city limits.
So, as soon as I came of age, I set about finding a way to leave again. In hopes of settling a restlessness in my Soul, a restlessness which sought something beyond the familiar.
At different times, I was presented with opportunities to further unbind myself from where I came. With each turn of the seasons, the voices of my past grew faint, until they could scarcely be heard over the din of others new and insistent for my attention.
Life, however, brings with it bends and curves in the road. The greatest permanence a man’s plans can hold are best thought of as written along a sandy shore, for we never know when the crash of a wave might rend them asunder.
I was reading a local man’s obituary a few days ago when I noticed that none of the late individual’s descendants was currently a resident of the general area.
Not only had they moved away from their hometown, they had not even remained in the general East Texas vicinity. The closest relative was a grandchild, who lived near Dallas with his family.
I commented on this to co-workers, who were busy with their own tasks, so they likely paid me little regard (as I am prone to making such arcane observations, I imagine they are somewhat accustomed to my bizarre non-sequiturs).
But the matter has remained close to my thoughts ever since, because I have seen this phenomenon become more the rule than the exception.
Take for example my own high school class, of whom fewer than 25 percent have remained or returned to Overton. Presumably the “best and brightest” have moved on elsewhere, to pursue ambitions personal or professional. Or, perhaps, because the town never had anything to offer them.
I have watched the movement of our culture, and it gives every indication that cities are the future. Rural America is dying a slow death and urban sprawl is consuming even the suburban areas now.
Young people are flocking to the cities in unprecedented numbers. Small towns are becoming a holdover from a bygone era.
When I look around, I see the effects of this cause.
Empty buildings remind residents of the commerce that was once there and the roads desperately want for repair.
The quiet of a lazy Sunday afternoon is but a prelude for a deepening silence to come… if the course is not reversed.
I have lived in cities and, I must say, it’s simply not for me.
While there are no doubt a variety of advantages for personal and professional enrichment, I find the depth of connection in smaller communities preferable to that of urban centers.
Even as I am one who was traveled a goodly span from the place I was born, I believe that life is a voyage that is homeward bound.