Let me start this out on a note that may not shock people, but may upset some – when I was in high school, I hated my hometown.

I’m serious. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I thought that everyone was backwoods and that the rural stretches were boring and that the only thing I wanted to do was move to a city, any city, just to get away from small town life. I almost went to an out-of-state school just so I could go somewhere where I didn’t know a single soul.

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So I went to college thinking that it was my escape from Mayberry, and that everything would be so different but so better. And it was, and it still is. I won’t lie. I adore Chapel Hill. But after being away from home for the past three months, I can confidently say I miss my little Mount Airy. I miss the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the one-way downtown where all the shops are owned by my family friends. I miss hiking Pilot Mountain and the mint chocolate chip milkshakes at Cookout and even the Wallace Shelton football stadium where I used to cheer for the MAHS Granite Bears on Friday nights. But mostly, I miss the people.

And what’s weird about it all is that my little town looks so different, and so do the people, especially the kids I babysit. Since I’ve been home, the girls got “big girl” haircuts. The youngest has started talking so much now, and can say my name and actually tell me what she wants. The oldest is almost 6 and goes to the same elementary school I did and wants to play fairies and hang upside down from the monkey bars. Yet their personalities are still the same. Today, we were in the yard making flower crowns, and the neighbors came over to say hi. Without blinking, both of the girls ran to give them hugs and flowers that they’d picked. I immediately got tears in my eyes. The compassion and imagination that those little girls take on the world with is something that I miss so much while I’m at school.

During my therapy sessions senior year of high school, Linda told me something that I still haven’t forgotten: “You won’t be Sara Pequeno on Grace Street for the rest of your life.” Looking back, it really puts my high school career in perspective. In a small town, you can end up feeling like you live in a bubble. Seeing the same people in the same place for eighteen years will make you feel like that’s the way your life has always been and that’s the way it will always be. It makes you want to grow up and move on and forget that those years of braces and side bangs and that feeling that you just don’t fit in. But coming home now, in a better place than I was, I can appreciate Mount Airy, Surry County, and all of the ways that it helped me become the person that I am.

Thank you Mayberry, for all that you’ve done for me. I never knew how good you were until I left you behind.

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