By Tiffany Cooke
Last week, I walked into my Alma Mater – Salem High School – for the first time in a long time. I had to go to the office to pick up some scholarships materials to send to my college. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Orientation happenings filled the streets and the halls with high school students. High school wasn’t my favorite experience. I didn’t want to relive it and I felt out of place.
But then, I walked in. Almost immediately, it felt as if I had never been gone at all. A teacher that I’d never even had greeted me and motioned me into the office. In the office, teachers and staff who passed through noticed me and asked how life was treating me.
I live in Indianapolis now as I am a full-time student at IUPUI. Growing up, all I could talk about was how much I wanted to live in a big city, how ready I was to get out of here. I don’t hate the city. I love the views and always having something to do.
But I have a new appreciation for my hometown now. A new appreciation for small city living and country roads.
I like that when I walk into my old high school, everyone still remembers me. I like when I go to the grocery store, I see people I haven’t seen in a while. I like driving the Square and stopping in local, little shops. I like walking the trail that goes around Salem Schools and greeting everyone on the path as I pass. I like being able to see the sunset over the corn. I like sitting on the front porch with my family, nonchalantly waving at all the cars who go by. I like that there are festivals and events throughout the year that embrace the small-town charm.
When people at college ask where I’m from, I tell them, and then they have no idea where I’m talking about. I tell them it’s a small city in southern Indiana. They give me a look of pity. I wish I could tell them how it’s not as bad as it sounds.
How special it is to have been given the opportunity to grow up here.
One of my favorite parts about coming home from college is the drive. Most of my journey is I-65, but for about the last 20 miles, I’m on the highway. Then, I turn on my country road. There’s something freeing about the feeling of instead of seeing cars, I see open fields. Instead of 70 mph, I cruise at 55. Instead of straight, never endings roads, there are curves and hills.
It’s hard to explain, but I never realized the draw of Washington County until I wasn’t living here anymore. There are so many little things, little moments, that didn’t matter to me until I couldn’t experience them anymore.
This week, I move into my new apartment in Indianapolis. I’m excited to embark on this new chapter of my life, but sad that my summer here has ended. Even so, I think that I do still want to live a big city somewhere. It’s what I want for my career and my life.
It’s true what they say, that home is where the heart is. So no matter where I go, Salem will always be home. And it will always feel good to come home.