When I first moved to my small town in Alabama from Memphis, Tennessee in the eighth grade, I had no idea what to expect. I was still young and just went wherever my parents went. Mom and I had always known that Dad wanted to move back to the town he spent so much time in as a teenager, but we didn't know when and how that was going to happen. About two months before the summer of my eighth grade year, I got off the school bus and found a U-Haul truck waiting in my driveway. The time had come.
I went to school the next couple of days and said by to my friends, including my best friend since kindergarten. She told me later that she spent the rest of the day crying, because she didn't want me moving away, especially since we were about to start high school (and she still brings this up today...no hard feelings of course)! I still hadn't really wrapped my brain around the fact that I was about to move states, six hours away from the only friends I'd known and all of my family.
The first day of school in my new small town was an interesting one. Most of the eighth grade was on a field trip, leaving behind only a few several, making it somewhat easier walking into a classroom of teenage strangers. Those who were there that day ended up being my friends all throughout high school. The next day when the rest of the kids came back, it was nice having at least a couple of people knowing who I was. I didn't have to keep explaining that I was the "new kid," they kind of took over that job for me. Yet, when it came time for eighth grade graduation (which I still don't really understand) and my name was called, kids and parents alike turned to each other wondering who the heck I was.
I don't remember much about that first summer in Alabama. And starting high school in the fall, I probably had the same feeling I did when I walked into eighth grade that day. Thankfully, I did have friends. And eventually "new girl from Tennessee" finally became "Jess."
I joke all the time that you couldn't pay me enough money to go back to high school. But, I would go back to college in a heartbeat. Not that high school was horrible, but there are just some things you would like to be different or have a chance to re-do. Same goes for college by the way, it's just that high school seems so high school. There seemed to always be drama, fights, and crushes that went nowhere. Then, throw in learning how to drive, extracurricular, and prom. High school can be rough! In college, sure, you might have had to make new friends all over again. But, you are more on your way to an adult and there seems to be less drama...well at least for me and my circle of friends it seemed that way. We had our moments for sure, but nothing like high school.
High school in a small town is also interesting, because you are in a small town. I graduated with maybe 75 people. Seventy-five! Yeah, it's safe to say that I knew pretty much everyone sitting on that football field and I had probably talked to them at least once during my high school career. Seventy-five. That still blows my mind sometimes.
I applied to college kind of on a whim. I mean, I knew college was in the picture, but it wasn't something that had been discussed a lot throughout high school in my family. If anything, I would be like the majority of my high school classmates and go to community college (that is so lovely nicknamed Harvard on the Hill or what feels like your fifth year of high school because everyone is there) for a couple of years before moving off or just staying in town. I don't know if it was because I was born in the city or moved from the city, but I knew that I wanted to get away. I didn't so much hate the small town life, it just didn't seem to fit me. I felt like it didn't offer me anything and nor could I offer it anything.
So, of to The University of Alabama I went. Situated in beautiful Tuscaloosa, 45 minutes away from Birmingham, and two hours from home. Tuscaloosa seemed huge compared to the small town I had just left, but it wasn't long before I felt more at home there. And eventually, the life in the small town started to feel like a stranger.
When I left the small town for college and got more and more involved in life in Tuscaloosa, my mind really left the small town. I mean, really left it and the people in it. I'm not sure when my relationships with my high school best friends stopped. And because it feels that way, most of those cut ties are probably my fault. It was never something I thought about until I moved back to the small town.
When I left, I will be honest and tell you that I forgot the names of most of the people I knew in high school. Besides my close group of friends and the popular ones, I only remembered faces. I would see people all around town and they would call me by name and ask how I was. The entire conversation I was trying to remember what the heck their name was. And this is how it was for the next few years...and how it still is today.
Was I intentional with my friendships in high school? Did I waste the time I spent there with those people? Or was I just too set on getting out that I didn't care? I was a kid in high school, simple as that. And I always felt like I was the new kid, even after three years with the same group of kids. That isn't their fault. Some of them actually took the time to get to know me and include me. They wanted to be my friends.
I'm not saying my time in high school was horrible or that I have no great and fun memories, because I do. Lots of them. I have many pictures to prove it. What I am saying is that even though you couldn't pay me to go back, I wouldn't mind a second chance at it. A do-over to be intentional. To really get to know them. A chance to say thank you for approaching me and including me. A chance to not squander it away. A chance to not wish it would end too quickly. A chance to see what life in a small town really could be like. Another opportunity to know the community as it could be. As it should be.
Because life in a small town really isn't that bad. When I don't want to get the heck out of it...
Be on the lookout for part 2!
Do you live in a small-town? Did you ever move from a city to a small town or vice versa? What do you love or hate about small town life? What would you change if you could? Do you want a do-over?
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