Around my Hometown

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It’s been a long time since I lived in Mill Valley. I grew up there for elementary school and high school, and have spent a few short stints since, but nothing long term. But it’s the place where I grew up with my parents, learned to drive and make friends, made really poor fashion choices, and captained my high school wrestling team. A lot of cringe-worthy growth happened here.
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Since leaving Mill Valley, I’ve called eight cities home. Each new city also has distinct favorite neighborhoods, restaurants, and old memories of learning and reinvention. Each new city taught me how to be a new person, usually just for a year or two, before I headed on to a new place to be newborn all over again. While each of these cities are truly special, nothing really ever compares to your hometown.
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Coming home to Mill Valley, California always ignites an almost aggressive “local” mentality. Sure, I’ve lived in places long enough to feel like I know them, but I’ve never considered myself a local anywhere else but this place. Where I know so many hiking trails without names, and can tell you what a “Darrel’ is and why you shouldn’t date one. Normally a timid driver, I drive around this place like a maniac because I know every lane, turn, speed limit, and alley; honking and cursing at tourist drivers who have no idea there’s more than one way to drive to Stinson Beach. Driving to Stinson takes my normally much faster driving husband about 45 minutes, I am confident I can there in safely under 30.
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I don’t want to call what I do when I get home regressive exactly, but you get a weird catalog of local knowledge when you know a place so intimately, but only as a teenager. I can’t help but inadvertently slow down outside of 7-11 or In-n-Out late at night to see, you know, “if I know anyone there,” while my husband looks on in confusion as I survey carloads of teenagers. I call every restaurant and store by the place it used to be 15 years ago, such as, “Where Sakes Alive used to be,” or, “That bakery where the hardware store was,” or, “That hill where we used to drink 40’s on a Tuesday night.” I assume it must feel like when Evan showed me the “Best Teriyaki Chicken” in Seattle, one of the best foodie cities in the world. I sat with him next to crack heads downtown and ate $5 plates of teriyaki chicken smothered in ranch dressing, thinking, “Yeah, if I was 16, this would have been pretty amazing.”
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I have often asked my co-workers, most of which are ex-patriots with fully grown families of their own, about their hometowns and how often they go back. I wait to hear stories about how they summer there every year, bringing their children and grandchildren to play in each of the parks they once did as children themselves. Instead I usually hear, “I don’t go there anymore; all my friends and family have also moved on. What would be the point?” As a transient with no other real home base, I find this resolution to be incredibly unsettling. If anything, coming back after being abroad and away for so many years can make my hometown feel closer than it really is. I find myself regarding everyone who went to my high school as if they were a distant relative at a family reunion. I assume they’ve surely heard of me from one of my former teachers, coaches or our at least our grumpy Uncle Charles. And if they haven’t, they should at least fake it. If I see someone with a Tamalpais High School Baseball T-shirt I want to scream out, “T-High! You know!”
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I take my small town mentality with me pretty seriously wherever I go. For the past year I couldn’t hold my excitement from hearing an American accent, let alone someone from the west coast. If I met someone from California I’d immediately do everything just short of asking them to spend Thanksgiving with my family. If you saw me running into someone wearing clothing from my college (a place that regularly holds 40,000+ students), you would probably assume they had been my prom date. I can’t help but pounce on them saying, “Go Bears!” Only to usually get a quizzical look back before they finally look down and say, “This is my roommates sweatshirt,” or, “Uh, yeah, I guess I visited there once,” or, “Just please stop hugging me, I don’t know what prom you’re talking about.”
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I love being in new places, but truly at the cost of being away from where I’m from. Seeing someone from where I’m from has been an occurrence so rare, I can feel it light up my eyes and heart and voice as I go through all the things I love, miss, and can’t stand about being where we’re from. So over this Thanksgiving week, when I’m actually in California, in the bay area, in my hometown, and see someone with my high school sweatshirt, it takes just about everything I have to restrain from saying, “Hey! Can you believe this?!” Because, even though I know we may be growing apart, it’s still a rare reunion of me and where I’m from.

3 thoughts on “Around my Hometown

  1. haha You crack me up with asking people to Thanksgiving – After living overseas I know what you mean. It crossed my mind too when I met people with American accents. 🙂 Your hometown looks so nice! Hopefully you enjoy your time back there.

  2. I don’t know how I could have missed this one. It’s so well written……….After 30 years, Mill Valley has changed and evolved into a place that is so different than when you were growing up here. We like to move on and move away but with all the reasons that you mentioned in your well written article, we find it very very hard to move away from this place that we called home for the last 30 years……..:Hope to see you in Mill Valley soon!

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