Rebecca Holland lived in Deerfield for the first 18 years of her life, and still visits often to see her family. She received a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. From there, she spent a year traveling in the Middle East and Asia before working briefly in Washington, DC. Now she resides in Rome, Italy, where she works in the communications department of an international organization and does freelance work for a number of travel websites. Check out her blog at curiosityandacarryon.com, or follow her on Instagram @curiosityandacarryon, twitter @globalmusings, or facebook @curiosityandacarryon
I think it's safe to say we've had a love-hate relationship over the past 25 years.
As a kid, you were wholesome, safe, and nurturing. The kind of place where we hid our spare key in the most obvious place if we locked the door at all, and where dangerous crime existed only on the news. You watched as my best friends and I, the same best friends I've had since I was born, rode our bikes down your trails, played tag in your cornfields, made friends with the animals on your farms, and splashed in a stock tank turned swimming pool.
You gave us our first taste of a work ethic on yard-sale-day, (a town-wide affair), after we spent all our money on knick-knacks from the neighbors, and had to promptly pitch a zucchini stand to make up for it. We charged 25 cents a zucchini, but your generous citizens overpaid with smiles and whole dollar bills.
We spent hours reading in the sunflower house my parents planted, or playing kick-the-can in our huge backyard. Once a year, we would practically explode with excitement when the festival came to town, riding the tilt-a-whirl until we couldn't stand and overdosing on snow cones. My parents threw cookouts around our fire pit, with juicy Wisconsin brats, lots of Leinenkugel's, and the Beach Boys blasting in the background, and just when we started to get bored, the seasons would change.
How I loved the crunch and sweet scent of your deep red leaves as I fell into them! How I delighted at your sparkly, abundant snow! For such a tiny place, my dear, you carry an immense amount of Wisconsin beauty.
Season after season, you were consistent in your small-town clichés. You're the kind of place where a person can't walk into the post office without having a conversation, or stop at the bank without overhearing the latest gossip; where you know or know of every person you see on the street. There is exactly one row of shops; four bars, one pub, two antique stores, a realtor, a preschool, a bank, a library, a post office, two gas stations, and the village hall. Your community is so strong, and friendships so close, that I essentially ended up with two extended families and eight loving mothers. You gave me love, lifelong friendships, and security, and I took you for granted.
At 14, I hated you, loathed you. You became boring. I needed something more and you couldn't give it to me. I wanted shopping malls and movie theatres and traffic. Even the festival lost its allure, and we spent more time swiping on Lip Smacker cherry flavored lip-gloss and picking out short-shorts than we did on the carnival grounds. Our cotton candy loving innocence had morphed into questions over which boy would win us over with which prize from the ring toss, and we had to look our best.
Madison was only 20 miles west, but without a means to escape we were stuck. My 16th birthday and a driver's license seemed an eternity away, and we would wander your streets for hours at a time, stopping in the Jaycee park to watch the t-ball games or at Amoco for gummy worms and pizza. We knew every street, patch of grass, and sidewalk crack by heart.
It wasn't all bad, though. I eventually learned to drive on your dusty back roads. You saw my first crush and kiss, took my virginity and watched me fall into first love and out, all with the same shaggy haired, hilarious boy who had a knack for playing the drums and getting me into the best kind of trouble. You were there for my first taste of alcohol, and didn't even sneer at my complete lack of actual taste when I chose blue UV and Mountain Dew in a friend's basement. You watched me take my first hit of weed, my drummer's band playing in the garage while my band of groupie friends lounged in the grass and giggled, a haze of Alkaline Trio and warm, breezy nights.
But in the end, we couldn't make it work. I outgrew you. You're technically only a village after all my dear Deerfield, and I'm a city girl. I left you at 18 for college life, and found myself endlessly criticizing you. You weren't open-minded enough, or worldly enough. You were so simple, so stupid! And didn't you understand that there's more to life than petty gossip and church soup suppers?
I rebounded from you quickly and fell deeply in love with Madison, then DC, and now Rome, bouncing from capital to capital in search of somewhere worth settling. But I always come back, for a home cooked meal or a trip to the Pickle Tree, your flagship, stereotypical, small-town dive bar. It's hard to admit, but that stale cigarette-greasy pizza-cheap beer scent brings me comfort every time. At the Pickle Tree, clientele ranges from wholesome to hooligan. Men in faded leather jackets drink at the bar while kids play pinball, and a group of families has dinner on the checkered, vinyl tablecloths. The dartboard is always in use, as is the jukebox, and on Friday nights they serve the best fish fry around. Fish Fry - this is something I have to explain to my non-Midwestern and European friends as "basically fish & chips," and every single time their confusion breaks my heart.
When I visit, I nestle into my parents' house, which hasn't changed since I was five. Our playground is decaying in the backyard, and my bike gathers spider webs in the shed. I walk your streets, or the quiet, shaded trails, stopping of course for pizza and gummy worms at what is now BP, chewing in silent thought. I end up on Bannon Road, at my best friend's old farmhouse, or at the grassy spot at the curve in the road where groups of us would lie on the hoods of our cars and count stars and drink cheap beer until curfew, and none of it has changed, though I have.
In town, zucchini sellers are lacking, but lemonade stands are going strong, and my gaggle of mothers still envelope me in hugs and know what I've been up to all year. A banner hangs across Main St. announcing dates for the festival, and at the post office I overhear, "you going to fish fry tonight?" Just then, a tractor drives past and no one blinks an eye. Rural America at its best.
'Will I ever surrender to your sweet embrace?' I feel the questions as I pack my bags again. We both know that I can't. But first loves are never really over. I'll be back, and you'll be waiting ¬- simple, safe, and small.