A lot can be said about a person and their hometown. A lot has been said. No matter who we are, we all come from someplace that–like it or not– defines a part of us. That being said, most of the time when I talk about growing up, I talk about Portugal, and I don’t give Pennsylvania its due. Maybe that’s because our family is not so stereotypically Pennsylvanian. My parents worked hard to ensure that my sisters and I were exposed to the greater world out there, somewhere beyond the rise and fall of the Alleghenies.
But who would I really be without those swooping mountains? Who would I be without the close-knit (ultra Republican) community of Huntingdon? Had I grown up in a city, any city, would I be different? Would I even be me?
My answer: No.
If you’re around me a lot in New York, I’m sure that by now you’ve noticed that I have an insane love of Pennsylvania. I am regionalistic to the core. My sole desire upon leaving Adelphi was originally to “get the hell outta New York and go back to Pennsylvania.” I know my local history. The Thousand Steps, Raystown Lake, Portstown Park, just ask and I can tell you all about how and when they came into being, as well as what was there before hand. Yes, it’s over 300 miles away from where I go to college, and yes, I do frequently have to cross mountains to shop for things like books or clothes (all you high schoolers, forget about getting your prom dresses in my hometown; you’ll need State College or Altoona for that). I still don’t quite understand why people choose to go to Juniata College (if you check out Juniata’s website, they’ve got a video on the main page called ‘What to Do Off-Campus’. That video pretty much describes the past 16 years of my existence. Also to be noted, at the end of the video, when they walk away from the coffee shop, they’re walking onto my block).
My roommate Kirstin told me once that I have “city-Maggie” and “home-Maggie” going on. Most of the time I talk normally (for her), but when I start to talk about PA or Huntingdon, I kind of affect a folksy drawl. It’s not intentional, I promise. My mom and I have had several conversations about the pervasive Huntingdonian grammar flaws and how just spending time talking with other residents of our town sways our own speech patterns. It drives her nuts, but I don’t mind that I do it. Who cares if “slippy” isn’t a real word. It gets the point across, and it’s easy to say.
When I was a kid, I never appreciated my hometown. I always wanted to get out of Huntingdon, move on to something bigger (almost everything is bigger than our less-than-5000 population town). I thought PA was boring, drab, dull. I wanted adventure in the great wide somewhere. I was Belle. Well, Haley was Belle, at least…
The older I get, especially now that I’m living mostly away from Huntingdon and the small-town world of Central PA, going home is like a cultural breath of fresh air (as well as a literal one), and I find myself loving it. Some of my friends who live in the NYC Metropolitan Area have been to my hometown to visit, and it’s like a whole different world for them. I could adjust to city life much more easily than they could comprehend the rural way of life. My one friend from Long Island wrote a paper about how Huntingdon was the weirdest place she’d ever been. Though she wouldn’t directly say it, I could tell that she had felt so out of place that she would probably never be back. I don’t blame her. It’s a completely different life.
But as “exciting” as living near NYC is, I prefer my little mountains in PA. There are fewer ways to waste your money, the people are closer to each other, the culture is different. And I love it.
I love the smallness of it, the closeness of it, the companionship of it. I love that I watched that video on the Juniata website and spotted people I know in the background at Standing Stone Coffee Company. I love that I can walk into my church on Sunday and it feels like the entire congregation is happy to see me. I love that I can walk into SSCC and no matter who’s working, they know my name and I know theirs. I love that I can walk into the Huntingdon Gift Shop and Sue will hand me an umbrella that I left there months ago. I love that it’s a relatively safe town to grow up in, and I love that I got to spend my childhood there.
I love it.
And the craziness of college and New York make me realize how much I do appreciate having my home base where I do. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
So, to all of my friends who are unfamiliar with rural life, please come visit and we will give you a crash course (this is best if done in the summer when hiking is the most beautiful) in Central PA life. I’d love to share one of these with you:
So what do you love about your hometown?