Whoever said “You can’t go home again,” didn’t grow up in St. Clair.
Even though I moved away more than almost 40 years ago, the love I feel for my hometown will never change.
When I drive up the exit ramp and start toward Main Street, I know I could find my way there with my eyes closed. I learned how to drive on these streets. I traveled them daily, taking my kids to Dairy Queen and to Dr. Peters’ office.
I parked in front of Mom’s house on East Springfield Road for countless visits. One of my first jobs was at Arro Mini-Mart on South Main; it’s gone now, but it doesn’t matter. The bank parking lot will always be “where the Mini-Mart was” to me.
The businesses haven’t changed much. Economic growth may not be blazing throughout my hometown, but the longevity of the stores I see there stand as a testament to the stability of the area and the loyalty of their customers.
Lewis’ Café employed at least three of my family members in the 80 years it has been feeding St. Clair families. I spent many hours there, with my best friend, Donna, eating fries and monopolizing booths with giggly conversations.
I drank at least a dozen sodas and shakes there, sitting across from my mom after a day of yard sales. And I corralled my oldest daughter into a high chair in the restaurant’s back room, dozens of years ago, to share plate lunch specials.
Even now, I stop in for poppy seed salad dressing every time I visit and carry it home with the care of someone transporting precious cargo.
The sidewalks of my hometown aren’t perfectly paved. But they never were. I loped along them as a teenager, invariably tripping in a forgotten crack when trying to seem graceful for passing cars.
When I climb from my car now to take a walk down the blocks that used to begin at Ingram’s store and ended somewhere past Berkel’s, I stumble in familiar crevices and crunch along cracks that are as progressively deep as the spidery age lines on my face.
The memories they evoke make me smile and my wrinkles deepen empathetically.
No, there isn’t a lot to do in St. Clair. There is no theater. No giant chain store. Limited access to the excess of today’s available busyness.
But my hometown is brimming with families who know that backyards are to play in, that porches are godsends in the summer, and that having “not much to do” is a blessing few people remember how to appreciate anymore.
Growing up in St. Clair and knowing it so well has given me a wealth of memories and perspective as to what makes a hometown successful.
Growth and industry are important, but as important is the dedication and determination of a community’s leaders to retain a town that will give its residents the familiarity of a Main Street.
The continuity of family names that are recognizable generations later, and the lessons of common courtesy learned at four-way stop signs, rural, one-lane gravel roads, and patrol-boy disruptions of afternoon traffic.
Life in my hometown was never perfect. Thank God for that, or I could never have grown up to love it so. The roads I travel in my life are different now—busier and less friendly.
But when I dream a story, whether awake or asleep, they all happen in St. Clair, the best hometown I know.
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