Stepping away to see home more clearly

Monday, April 15, 2002

It's amazing how stepping back from something can truly change your perceptions of it.

Kind of like one of those paintings that, given I weren't from Iowa, I'd be cultured enough to tell you the name of.

If asked, I guess I'd compare Storm Lake to one of these works of art. After spending nine months away from the only town I've ever known, a certain appreciation has grown that was never there before.

After 18 years of home, I, just like any other bright-eyed kid who knew they were smarter than everyone in the world combined, wanted nothing more than to graduate high school and get the heck out of Dodge, never looking back. Unfortunately, plans change, and an unbearable phantom sickness resulting from the absence of Mom and your smelly mutt sends you driving home monthly at breakneck speed.

It's in these too-often trips home that I've realized perhaps Storm Lake isn't the uh, "Pit of death run by about six names residing comfortably in West Lake Estates" as I had so affectionately referred to it as in the past. Like I said, all it took was a step back. Two-hundred miles back.

As a freshman journalism student at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, I've definitely seen a new world, or more of an eerie parallel universe. With a population of approximately 11,000, clean-cut police officers in shiny Impalas and an always-hopping McDonald's located on South Main, Maryville's uncanny resemblance to Storm Lake is nearly frightening. However, Maryville is without a few important items that I have realized make my now-beloved hometown so special, other than the absence of that big pond thing Storm Lake is christened after.

I'm sure you all know what I am referring to. In fact, the now-irritating name for something so normal to my classmates and I was shoved down our throats so much throughout middle school and high school that the mere mention of it sends a chill of annoyance down my spine. Therefore I will discuss the D-word without actually saying it.

It easily goes without saying that growing up in this town has been a wild ride. I've watched my neighborhood change quite drastically. Families whose names I had always known left the block, and were replaced by families whose names I was unable to pronounce. It was a scary experience; as, no matter how much they'll say they do, no one handles change well. But it was also, as a nine-year-old, rather intriguing and exciting. I particularly recall the afternoons that I would bolt down the block, practically begging the friendly Asian family who had just moved in to teach me how to perfect a jump kick, just like my favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, for I had assumed all Asians were karate masters.

As time passed and misperceptions were corrected with good humor, something that was formerly so scary eventually became something so natural, both in the neighborhood and at school. I later found myself eventually asking what the big deal was with the families in town who happened to have a different skin color and speak a different language. To me, it had been around for so long that it was just another part of home.

It lasted that way up until I left home to attend a school with a majority of white students in a city that is almost strictly WASP. I now realize that, as I reside with citizens who would, to some degree, fear change beyond a new parking lot for the Super Wal-Mart (Also located on South Main. Creepy). Storm Lake is truly advanced, not only in experience but also, from what I have been fortunate enough to witness, in understanding.

So, as the spring semester ends and I move back in with a mother who I'm sure is ecstatic to once again be able to cook my meals and do my laundry, I now view my hometown in a whole new light, and perhaps have grown a newfound appreciation for it in many ways. Let's just hope the appreciation lasts.

As for my high school classmates who also return home monthly and will certainly be here this summer, well, I'm sure they feel the same way as I do. They're just too damn cool to admit it. That and, as my classmates here at Northwest can certainly verify, I have no shame.