Peter Greene Column: A Search for Fulfillment Can Lead Us Back Home

This is a column by Peter Green from The Derrick & The News-Herald. Find the original article here.

I try not to focus on myself in this column, but Tuesday’s article by Rosemary Fielding about the “Be Here” visit to Rocky Grove High School inspired me to speak up.

Be Here is a worthwhile movement, a program to do the simple business of pointing out that people choose to live here in Venango County, on purpose, and are glad they did it. That’s a point worth echoing.

I was not born here; my family moved here in the mid-’60s as part of the great Joy migration, and so I arrived at Sandycreek Elementary School as a new fourth-grader. I graduated from Franklin High School, headed off to college all the way up to Meadville, and had every intention of starting a teaching career somewhere else.

The program I was enrolled in required me to get my first teaching job within 40 miles of downtown Cleveland, and so I landed in Lorain, Ohio, a nice enough place at the time.

But at the end of the year, the district laid off more than 70 teachers, and I was out of a job. I came back to the only place I could afford to live – my parents’ house. I soon traded up to a trailer in the Idlewood Trailer Court, where substitute teacher pay (and low expectations) was enough to make ends meet.

I had every intention of leaving. When you return to the town where you grew up, it takes a while for people to see you as a grown-up (even longer if you do, in fact, take awhile to actually grow up).

The window of opportunity to leave was there, but I didn’t. Instead I got married, put some roots into the community, got comfortable, had kids. Then I failed at being a husband, and there was a window of opportunity, again, to head out. But I didn’t.

Now at this point in my life, I’ve been to a lot of places. There are places I really like. Seattle is really nice. I actually kind of enjoy LA. New York City has its charms. And there’s a nice little cottage on a lake in Maine that is great, too.

Most of my old friends live somewhere else, and so does much of my family. As a grandfather whose grandchildren live far away, I can really appreciate raising children five minutes away from all their grandparents.

There are challenges to living in an area like this. Employment options are narrow; if you’re not working in a certain few fields, your best bet may be to create a job for yourself. The flip side is that, if you have a decent source of income, the cost of living here is pretty good.

Yes, there are the small-town dynamics. You aren’t constantly lost in a sea of strangers, but a lot of folks will know your business – real or imaginary.

Many complaints about the region ring false, as if people are comparing the home they know to another place that is strictly imaginary. People talk as if there is some magical place in America where drugs are not a problem at all. Folks will talk about the resources in a big city that are right there, and yet in the time it takes me to manage getting across a large urban sprawl to a destination, I could get from Venango County to Pittsburgh or even Cleveland.

This country is full of places that are dull and generic, urban ant farms served by strips of interchangeable chain stores. Too many places where if you were transported to after being blindfolded, you’d never be able to guess where you are.

I like a place that has character, that is its own self and not a sad copy of other places. Besides, it’s beautiful here, and the people are mostly decent, and the opportunities to be involved and make a difference are great.

There are other places with character, places where there are different sorts of resources and probably, at the moment, a more robust economy.

But you have to pick a spot to come down, and you’ll never be happy there until you really decide to really be there. Otherwise, you’ll be one of those sad, cranky people complaining about all the problems that you never lift a finger to work on.

The biggest strength any region can have is people who are are really invested in that place. I stayed here because I was already invested, and because I admired those people who really wanted to be here and who were determined to make the most of the place where they came down right.

This is a column by Peter Green from The Derrick & The News-Herald. Find the original article here.

Peter Greene resides in Franklin and is a retired Franklin High School English teacher. He can be reached by email at pagreene@outlook.com.

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