A few weeks ago I flew home for a family wedding.
I took my boyfriend, Jason because I needed to win an argument we’d been having. (I also love him but that’s not important to the story.) For most of the year, he’s been insisting that he grew up in a small town, just like me.
The small town he’s referring to is Tucson - population 1.2 million.
You can understand why I needed to take him to North Dakota - population 700,000.
We packed our winter hats, apologized ahead of time to our livers and arrived in Valley City, ND ready to celebrate. The morning of the wedding, Jason and I drove to my hometown of Wimbledon - population 250 - so I could officially win the argument.
After almost an hour in the car where we have not seen a single stoplight (or person) I could feel him beginning to concede. We arrived in Wimbledon and pulled up to the local grocery store where I had once accidentally locked myself in the meat locker.
We walked in and were immediately greeted by my (surprised) elementary art teacher. She was working at the store now and showed us around, eventually leading us to the newly renovated cafe where five women sat around a table, chatting. One of them looked up and blinked at me, confused.
It was the woman who used to babysit me. The woman who let me collect eggs from the chicken coop and who taught me that purple cabbage was delicious. And then all the women glanced up.
I knew every single one of them. They sat us down, fed us hot coffee and homemade caramel roles and welcomed me home.
Eventually, we said goodbye and I took Jason around the rest of Wimbledon pointing out important places - the kickball field where I’d kissed my first boy, the whispering willow tree I used to ride my bike under, and the school that my grandfather, my father, and myself had all attended.
We left town and drove down the long gravel road to our families’ farm. Even though I had grown up here, I was startled how quiet it was. The cars and rush of Los Angeles seemed far away.
On the way back to Valley City, Jason admitted I had won. I’d like to say I hadn’t needed to hear that, but let’s be honest - if felt good.
Later, surrounded by friends and family at the wedding, I danced to Journey with my cousins, polkaed with my Uncle and tried to save Jason from the men who kept warning, “You better take care of her…”
I had forgotten what this was like. To be known - deeply and for a long time - by most of the people around you. To be able to see a part of your history in the faces staring back at you. Hollywood felt so far away. I jumped up and down to John Mellencamp and things felt easier and warmer and more possible.
The next day at breakfast I bounced my little nephew on my lap and thought about how lucky he was to be growing up here. Yes, I had moved away from this place and no, I’m not sure I’ll ever move back but the groundwork this town set down for me gives me something to stand strong on in Los Angeles.
I realized as we flew back to California that Jason might be right. I’m actually not from a small town at all. I’m from a giant family.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum. You can find them (and me) here.