I had initially planned to write a post about going home last weekend. But then I realized that might be a bit boring to read. So instead, I am mostly going to talk about what “home” means to me.
I have always loved my hometown, even though the general sentiment among people my age who grew up there is more along the lines of “I can’t wait to get out of here”. Sure, it has its issues. In fact, it has a whole lot of issues. It is one of the poorest towns in one of the poorest counties in New York State. The median income is very low at only $32,826, and the poverty rate is very high. We have a large population of disabled adults and children. Our welfare program is one of the best in the United States. Although this is good in some ways, it means that we have a lot of people move into the area who are on welfare and who come there simply to get better aid. This results in a high poverty rate. Almost 20% of the population is currently unemployed. Our school district recently rated among the very worst (like in the bottom five or so) of the 400 or so public school districts in New York State. In the past few years, we have made pretty big news (even national news!) for not-so-wonderful things. Our crime rate has increased a lot in the last few years as well. When I was young, our downtown area was a thriving, nice place, with several nice shops and businesses. There were several nice restaurants, and small businesses could survive. Now, most new businesses fail within a year or so. The downtown area is falling into disrepair. Many of the buildings are not adequately cared for. In the past 17 years, our little town (of about 6,000) has suffered two “hundred year” floods that have devastated our area economically. Over half of the village is now in the flood zone, including our main street and elementary school. The town has still not fully recovered from a traumatic flood in 2006 that caused major flooding downtown and in several residential areas. There are also a number of issues more directly related to the town’s background. Until the past ten years or so, our community was a farming community. Due to the push towards bigger, more “productive”, more commercialized farms, many of the farmers in our area have been forced to choose other occupations. Because they had expected to be farmers, many of these people have little education beyond high school. In fact, the number of college students from our town is significantly below the New York State average and only about 20% of the adult population has a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The most common occupations include manufacturing, buildings and grounds cleaning and maintenance, hand laborers, salespeople, and metal and plastic workers.
And yet, despite all of these issues and more…I love my town. It is one of the most beautiful areas I have ever been to. Although our school is poorly rated, I believe the teachers are wonderful teachers and that I received a great education there. In addition, because it was a small school, the students are able to participate in so many different sports and activities. The people in my town generally care about each other. It is a small enough town that you know almost everyone. When bad things happen, the community pulls together and comes out even stronger. After the 2006 flood, everyone worked together to clean out basements and first floors of the homes and businesses affected. Although the nearest cinema and Walmart are 40 minutes away, there is still plenty to do. There are a number of hiking and skiing trails. A lot of people go four-wheeling and snow-mobiling. We were once one of the top trout fishing areas in the world, and we still have good fishing today.
Most of all, this is the place that has shaped my whole being, more than I ever realized prior to coming to college. I want to teach economically disadvantaged students and loved my fieldwork where I worked with such students because that is what I know. I really value community because I come from a town where community is really important. I can’t imagine living anywhere where there aren’t farmer’s fields with cows, hills, or winding back roads. I have an immense desire to make things better because I grew up in a town that really needs improvement. I value the outdoors because I grew up surrounded by it.
I hope to return to my hometown after I graduate from college. Although it has its issues, I think I had a wonderful upbringing living there. Every time I have a college break, I can’t wait to be back home again. I miss being surrounded by all that nature, the quiet peacefulness, the small neighborhoods where everyone knows each other, and, yes, even the smell of cow manure. As soon as I enter our town lines, my mind feels at peace again. I have grand plans for our town, and I hope that I will someday be able to implement them. I want to take the good parts of my town and use them to create a better place to live. But for now, I’ll just have to be content with a sporadic visit now and then and the summers I get to spend home.
Note: I shot these pictures when I was home on break last weekend while hiking at my grandfather’s tree farm. These views are all around, even when in the village.