“I traveled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea;
Nor, England! did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.”
There is a growing trend among my friends—to move back to Newton and, what is more shocking,to be content with it. For most of us, college is over or drawing to a close, and “real life” is upon us. But rather than choosing to follow those dreams of, as we used to say, “Getting as far away from Kansas as is humanly possible,” my friends, strangely, choose to return to Newton.
Why is this? My good friend Matthew Paden (a recent returnee) compares Newton to The Island on “Lost” which, mysteriously, makes its former residents restless and miserable until they grow beards, develop anger management issues, drive recklessly and yell, “We never should have left The Island!” and then return. There are other, more practical explanations: Parents, siblings and their babysitting skills seem less lame than they did seven or eight years ago; cheap housing and living costs; Drubers; the oil boom; the impending YMCA construction; Newton’s safe distance from any major fault lines, hurricane corridors or volcanic activity. But I would guess the reason is more subtle.
I recently read The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy in which a well-educated young man returns to his hometown in the boonies of England from Paris because he thinks he will be happiest there. Though I’ll never admit to watching it, Sweet Home Alabama tells the same story. The popular writing of Wendell Berry is almost completely dedicated to back-to-your-roots ideals; in fact, Berry’s writing influenced a friend’s decision to move back to Newton . . . and to plant a garden. You can just imagine that older character in a movie or book putting his calloused hand on a young person’s shoulder and saying real slow, “Son, this is where you belong” or “These folks are your folks; stick with them.” In other, rhyming words, “You know this place; this place knows you; life is better when those two things are true.”
Now, I don’t think this is a universal truth. In some cases—like the former criminal who is trying to get out of bad company—it is better not to know or be known. But, there is something to be said for being acquainted with a place. There is security in it. I enjoy knowing where to find Heather Lane, Norm’s Coffee Shop’s hours and which fast food restaurant in town has remodeled most recently. (It’s Taco Bell.)
My point is, I think my friends are moving back to Newton for more than practical reasons. I think it feels like home, even in its mid-Kansas obscurity. Also, they’ve come to realize how you appreciate a place much more after leaving for a while—“Nor [Newton]! Did I know till then what love I bore to thee.”
R. Eric Tippin
In The Study on 8th Street