When people ask where I’m from, I say “Charlottesville.”
Chances are decent they have heard of Charlottesville, if not because of the University of Virginia or Thomas Jefferson, then because my town made national news in August 2017 for a sort of hatred that simply should not exist today.
But that’s not where I’m from. Not really.
I grew up in Schuyler, Virginia – pronounced ‘Sky-Ler’ – a small mountaintop town about forty minutes south of Charlottesville. Ever heard of or watched The Waltons? That’s exactly where I’m from. The people and places featured on that show are real. I know them, knew them. Honestly? Not much has changed on Walton’s Mountain, although most of the roads are paved these days.
I’ve considered writing this post for a long time. I’ve always put it off, worried that I might offend someone or say the wrong thing. But as I grow into who I am, experience more of life, and chase dreams that can’t come true in my hometown, I’m less concerned about stepping on toes or ruffling feathers. I no longer worry about whether I’ll be considered a “snob” for my views – a holdover from a high school bully who must have sensed even then, well before I did, that I would eventually eimigrate away from the hamlet.
According to 2010 census data, the population of Schuyler 298. I don’t know how accurate that is – filling out a census doesn’t feel like something a lot of my neighbors would do – but it is easily less than 500 all the same. The closest grocery store is a small, cramped Food Lion 20 minutes away that doesn’t sell much in the way of food that doesn’t come prepackaged. Cable doesn’t run that far out – it’s either satellite or nothing – and it’s a toss up as to whether you can get high speed internet. Forget about cell phone service or a luxury like Uber or food delivery.
There are things I love about my hometown.
Most of my family is there. I’m probably related to a quarter of those 500 or so people with a 22969 zipcode. I adore my family. I don’t see eye-to-eye with some of them and I would be lying if I said I didn’t sit at the dinner table with them sometimes and think ‘how are we related?’ (I’m sure you’ve wondered the same about your family a time or two) but I love them. I have the kind of family that rallies together when one of us is in need. We celebrate holidays with big meals and lots of laughs. In some ways, we are the Waltons family. My family is the single greatest thing about my hometown and the thing that brings me back for visits.
I have near idyllic memories of my childhood. There were plenty of cousins to play with, lots of time spent outside, grandparents to visit, aunts and uncles to teach you the things your parents didn’t want you to know. I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up any other way.
But I did something a lot of people in my hometown don’t do, even now:
I went to college.
I wrote about what drove me to leave my hometown in my The Breakup post, so there’s no need to rehash it here. It’s not hard, either, to understand why most people in the town don’t opt for higher education. Socioeconomics and familial patterns are very real and often hard to break.
Going to college did for me what it is meant to do: it changed my perspective.
College exposed me to – everything. My apartment building housed a number of international students and I learned just as much during conversations in elevators as I did in my classes. I had to quickly learn how to navigate city life, including public transportation. I made friends with people with backgrounds different from mine. College showed me there was more.
I’ve since been fortunate enough to live in big cities, to travel. I’ve lost the fear of “different” in the name of speaking bad French in Paris and eating rice and beans in third world countries with the locals – locals that cry real tears when you buy the most expensive earrings from their table of offerings – $3 U.S. dollars – because that will feed their family for several days to come. If you only do two things in life, may I recommend they be this: get lost in a foreign city and travel to somewhere poverty stricken. You’ll walk away a different person.
I’ve learned, too, perhaps selfishly, what it’s like to live in close proximity to – everything. I can have groceries delivered to my door within two hours if I really don’t want to leave the house. Seeing a movie doesn’t require advanced planning or even leaving the house an hour before showtime. High speed internet and access to the rest of the world via both internet and airplane are commonplace. My neighbors don’t always look like me. They don’t always share my same beliefs or my same religion. But they’re still people, just like you and me.
All of this to get to my truth:
I struggle when I visit my hometown.
I love – LOVE – visiting with my family, seeing my cousins, playing with their kids. There are certain places I go every time I’m home for a certain menu item or a bottle of wine I can’t get in North Carolina.
But I struggle.
I don’t belong in my hometown anymore.
I wrestled with that thought for a long time. I felt guilty for thinking it. My family is there. My roots are in Schuyler. To say I don’t belong there? That has to be some form of blasphemy.
But ultimately, it’s true. I don’t belong there anymore. Life has taken me away from the mountains of Virginia and given me experiences and moments that have changed my life perspective. The things I want in life aren’t going to be found in those mountains.
Schuyler will always be home. My daddy is there. Granny. Grandma. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. But it’s not home anymore. It’s the place I grew up, a place I visit with a lot of love in my heart, but it’s not where I feel at home.
And that’s okay.
It took me a long time to even identify what my feelings were and even longer to accept that it was okay to feel this way. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of guilt for “not wanting to come home” or for “not staying long” and I allowed it for a long time.
I know now that I don’t have to feel guilty for not feeling at home in my hometown. It was the right place for me once, back in high school when the best Friday night in the world was spent at a party in a field by the river or when twenty year old Sarah thought the definition of romance was a night of catfishing (I hate fishing – but to impress a guy… sigh). It’s not the right place for me now. It might be one day. Of all the lessons I’ve learned in life, perhaps the greatest is “never say never.” But for now, my home remains TBD. I’m figuring it out, defining what home looks like for me.
Home could be London, mornings spent in my favorite Notting Hill coffee shop, afternoons spent working from a park or along the Thames.
It could be a cottage in Cape Cod, just big enough for my family and I, with a view of the ocean rolling in and out.
Perhaps it’s Nashville in an East Nashville bungalow renovated with love, a guitar playing husband, hipster little children.
Maybe it’s in Los Angeles, breaking stories in a writer’s room for the next network drama.
It could be a combination of all the above. I’ve always said I’ll move to London the moment someone gives me a way to do it. Nashville has always felt like home. I’ve never been to Cape Cod, but I think I’d be just darling at living like a New Englander (during the summer months, at least). Los Angeles? 75 and sunny has always been good for my soul.
I think we’re conditioned to believe our hometown is always supposed to be “home.” But I don’t believe that. Not anymore. I think some of us outgrow our hometowns and that’s okay. You’re allowed to grow, change, reach for things your hometown can’t offer you.
It feels good to put words to my feelings and to acknowledge them publicly. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m not the first person who left their hometown, came back to visit, and realized they no longer fit in. Real life isn’t a Hallmark movie where the heroine returns from her big city career only to fall back in love with her high school boyfriend.
I’ll always visit. Did I mention my family is there and how much I love them? And one day, far in the future, I may feel differently and call it home again.
But for now, I’m embracing that it’s okay to realize you’ve changed. That your dreams are bigger than what your hometown can give you. I’ll always be from Schuyler. But it’s not home anymore.
And that’s okay.