When I was eight years old, my family moved to Friendship, Tennessee, a town with a population of about 650 people. Having lived in Des Moines, Iowa for most of my life, the only appeal of moving South was that my mom had a cousin in the area. I remember my surprise that a place so small could feel so loud. September was the month we moved, and even though the trees shed their covering earlier than normal that year, it still felt warm.
A few weeks before Christmas, I helped my aunt bake pecan pies in her kitchen as the afternoon sunshine spilled through the single-pane windows clad with red-and-white checkered curtains. More than once, as we scurried around the kitchen, we slipped on the bright-red, crocheted with no rubber backing. The house smelled sweet as my mom and cousin decorated a tree in the other room, singing along to holiday tunes by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
It didn’t take long for me to feel at home. The following summer offered many evening walks with my mom on quiet roads covered with canopies of deep-green leaves, as we were joined by the hypnotic glow of fireflies and the songs of cicadas. I attended a church where everyone was like family. I shot a .22 for the first time in my uncle’s backyard. I swam in the four-foot, above-ground pool with kids I felt I’d known my whole life.
But I eventually grew restless, wanting to see different places and experience new things. I longed to escape—to prove to everyone around me, and really to myself, that no small town could confine me. But after traveling throughout the U.S. and eventually overseas, I began to realize that home had less to do with place and more to do with people. Those people are the place I come back to, and each time I leave, I’m thankful that this little town of mine is small enough to carry with me.