“You never know, with where I’m from,” I said jokingly about some snarky comment he had made.
“You talk so much crap about your town,” he said, shaking his head.
I stopped, seriously taken aback.
“But you know that I really love that town, right?” I asked, feeling my throat tighten.
“I don’t know, no?” he said.
“Well I do. I love, love, love that town. It’s really broken. There’s a lot of problems. But I think it’s beautiful. And I love it. It’s painful for me to be there because of all the shitty stuff that happened, but if it still felt like home, I’d be there.” I looked him in the eyes. “I love that town.”
But more importantly, I love the people I know there and the way they do life.
“I’m with Jo, can she come over for dinner too?” she asks into her phone to her mom. Her mom says something. “Jo. Joanna. Yeah she’s home for the wedding.”
She ends the call and scoots back on the couch. “Yesss. Taco salad. Let’s finish this episode and then go over there.”
By the time we walk into her parents house an hour later another friend has joined us and hopped on the dinner train, and I go to hug her mom. “I didn’t know you were coming back for the wedding!” she says.
As we’re finishing dinner, her dad gets home from work and rounds the corner.
“Joanna! Hey!” he says as he sees me and I get up to hug him. “So how’s life in Kansas?” he asks, and the girls continue to talk about whatever we were talking about before.
We hang around the table a while after, all talking together casually. It’s natural, comfortable.
Finally as she and our other friend have gone off on a tangent talking about their plans to live together soon and who has what, I say, “Can we continue talking about this on our way to their house?”
We go to another house. Where more people we know and love live.
I’d found out in passing earlier that day that a long time member of the church there and part of our constant lives had passed away earlier this month. His funeral had been that day. And while he was in his 90s, I cried at the news of his death.
“Did you hear yet how he died, though?” He asks.
“No,” I say.
“He was in the half way house,” he says.
I interrupt. “The halfway house eh? Like, because he just got released from jail?”
He laughs while he gives me a look. “No, whatever it’s called. Hospice? A hospice house? Anyway, he was there, and the nurses didn’t know what kind of music he liked, but they looked up the lyrics to The Old Rugged Cross, but they didn’t know the tune. So that’s how he died,” he laughs and gives me a comforting smile as I have a tear welling in my right eye, “to them singing The Old Rugged Cross to some weird tune.”
Someone starts singing it to a hip hop rhythm. I laugh, comforted.
Later as we’re talking, I remember that I wanted to go lay on their new bed to see if I like the mattress because I know I need to buy one soon.
“I’m gonna go lay on your bed to try it out,” I say.
“Ohhh, yeah I wanna try it too,” one of my friends says, and we go into their bedroom as they continue to talk and eat cheesecake off the serving platter in the living room. We come back in a few minutes and finish the rest of the dessert as we talk about what we all might wear to the upcoming wedding.
Finally, when it’s late, we leave.
“I’m glad you’re not leaving for Asia,” I tell her, after talking again about her decision to stay. “I mean, selfishly, because I’m mostly really glad that you’re here for this weekend and that you’ll be here for Christmas eve. Because that’s the only time I’ll be here. But I’m really really glad you’ll be here for Christmas eve.”
“I was telling [my boyfriend] about Christmas eve and how we always have the party,” she says, “and he thinks it’s so weird. In a good way, weird. He thinks we have a perfect family.”
“What, just because all of our families get together and drink cider and eat cookies and sit around in the living room while your grandma plays piano and we all sing christmas carols together through the night?” I ask, mocking a little.
Because it’s true. That’s what we do on Christmas eve. We go to her house, 10 or so families’ worth, and those of us that have gone off to live elsewhere in the country or the world are back there for the holiday, and back in that house for the night. We catch up with each other, talking and laughing. We literally eat, drink, and are merry.
“Yeah,” she says, smirking, “he can’t believe we do that every year.”
“What I like about our community,” I say, “is that we do that. Yeah. But we do that, plus we still are there through when your mom has cancer. Or when D’s son dies. Or when my life explodes. Or when whatever happens happens. And then we can still all get together on Christmas eve, or whatever the celebration is, and be together.”
“Yeah,” she says. “That’s true.”
And then someone talks into the microphone announcing that it’s time for the bride and groom to cut the cake or something like that, and we get up and go on with the wedding evening, laughing, taking pictures, eating, like family and friends do.
That’s what I love most about the town that I grew up in. We walk in without knocking. We talk candidly and too openly about everything. We sit near each other, even when there’s space. We know each other. We love each other. And we honestly do sit around and sing christmas carols together while my friend’s grandma plays the piano each time a new one is requested.
No matter where I go in the world, no matter how much the circumstances of my life and past make it painful to go back there, there are people in that beautiful town that make me feel known, accepted, and above all, loved. And for that I will always love that town.
Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.
Other places are
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