There is no doubt how much I love living in Chicago; how much I love my home and my neighborhood. But when I have a little time off, there is something I love about going to my hometown to see my folks.
I never viewed my tiny farming hometown as quaint until long after I left it for the bright lights of the big city. But it is. Growing up there in the 70s and 80s had its share of challenges for a non-sports-minded, tv-obsessed introvert, but what I think about the most is the simplicity of it all; how I could walk home—or to the dime store of broken dreams—alone from school at a very young age without worry; how everyone knew everyone; and how us neighborhood kids would play outside in the summer until the lightning bugs came out–then it was time to go home.
My parents are just two of the kindest people you’d ever meet. No fuss. No drama. Easy to be with. When my mom asked what I wanted for dinner one night, I gleefully replied “Pizza King!” It’s an Indiana (only, I think) chain of pizzerias. It was the only kind of pizza we had for a long time–until the big chains moved into the surrounding towns. And–like my appreciation for the simplicity of my small town childhood–it’s something I love to eat when I get the chance. It’s more than the flavor. It tastes like the 1970s and 80s, simplicity and childhood.
When we stopped in to order the pizza, (there is no website or online ordering), my mom said to the woman behind the counter, “You remember my son Ron.” “I sure do,” she replied. “Looks the same.” (Small town, politeness abounds.) She and her husband live a block behind my folks. I went to school with her son. She took our order then said to my mom, “I’ve been meaning to take a picture of your house. For my kids.” There was a short pause from both Mom and me. Why would she want a photo of our house? Then she told us: “Oh, I was married there! Fifty years ago.” (In case you didn’t know, my parents bought a church and converted it into a house.) All the years we’ve been there, I never considered how many weddings (or funerals!) took place wit him the walls of ranch-style house/former place of worship. My mom invited to her come over any time and look around–though it hardly looks like the church they bought–and hasn’t for some time.
The Pizza King is located on the south side of downtown, which I remember to be a lot more bustling than it was when I was visiting–though it was almost after 5 and that’s when everything closes for the night–which makes me appreciate all the benefits of living in the bright lights of the big city.
It’s hard to believe for the first two decades of my life that little town was my world. It’s so small, but it used to seem so big. There’s something really special about coming from a small town–and the connection it provides to a prodigal son who only visits a few times a year–because he relishes the bright lights of the big city. Maybe it’s that contrast that makes me appreciate them both.