Living as an adult in the town you grew up in can be interesting. Running into people with knowledge of some of your highlights and lowlights you feel a bit like the Wizard of Oz after Toto pulls the curtain back. It is hard to maintain the illusion of being the all-powerful Oz (or even a mostly functional adult) when all is revealed or remembered at every encounter.
Fortunately Middleton is big enough these days that you get to experience the benefits of both relative anonymity and familiarity. Most of the people you encounter didn’t grow up here so you get to start fresh with them, but several times a week you run into people you have known for decades.
I never thought I would be in this position. Like Jimmy Stewart in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, I had big plans to “shake the dust of this town off my back” and see the world. Perhaps if that was my plan I should have considering going further than 7 miles down the road for college.
After college I applied to jobs near and far, but ending up getting a good job in Madison as did my soon to be wife. When we got our first place together we looked in Middleton but elected to live in Madison, which really does feel far away relatively speaking and is itself a great place to live. However as our family grew we eventually were drawn back to Middleton because we thought it would better meet our family’s needs. And it did and does.
Familiarity can be pleasing. Although most of my closest friends from high school no longer live here, several people I was friends with at different times of my life still do and I enjoy running into them at various places around town. It is also fun to see parents of good friends and find out the latest news.
Given that my family has roots in Middleton that go pretty far back, I also enjoy running into acquaintances of my Moms, Grandparents, and even my Great Grandfather. A few years back, I stopped at the Missouri Tavern just outside of town and met Mae, the matriarch and proprietor of the tavern. In the course of our conversation I learned that she knew my great grandfather well and that her husband Al was a good friend and a fishing partner of his. Mae has since passed on but I feel fortunate to have made her acquaintance.
Next up are the people you knew well at some point but whom seeing brings up awkward memories. To them I say, “I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me.” For the most part it is not a problem, but it is hard to make a complete break from the past.
Another interesting sub-group of people to run into is people who were upperclassmen while you were in high school. Unlike anybody else in the world where a decade or more of age difference doesn’t really matter, most will seem forever older, if not wiser, in your mind.
Then there are those whom you would just as soon not run into. You didn’t hit it off in the day, and it isn’t likely you are going to hit it off now. Strangely enough it seems like these are the folks you tend to run into most frequently. You may nod at them or call them by name, but after awhile you just tend to pretend that you don’t really recognize each other and get on with your respective lives.
The most interesting category of people to run into is the kids of people you went to school with. Surprisingly there are quite a few of them around. If you liked the parents there is a good chance you will like the kids. Nature nurture or both, who knows, but many likeable traits seem to be passed on to subsequent generations. What is fun about seeing these kids is that you get a sense of continuity and you realize it is possible for a community to take on and maintain the traits of the people who live there.
I don’t know if my kids will eventually end up here or alternatively shake the dust of this town off of their backs for good. The early indicators are that they are going to take a lap or two around to see what the rest of world has to offer. But that was my plan too and I, like many of my peers, found my way back to the Good Neighbor City, which I must admit is a pretty great place to call home.