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Twenty-five years. A quarter of a century. Two and a half decades. No matter how you frame it, it deceives you by sounding like a long time.

Each time I cross the city limits of my hometown, I feel myself divide -- a woman-child, suspended somewhere between what is and what was. I cruise town a bit before the kickoff of our 25-year high school class reunion. Familiar buildings mingle with new discount stores. A renovated track showcases a familiar mascot, with "Home of the Mules" painted on the entrance. Folks punch clocks at the factory and rush to the Walmart, where the parking lot is full regardless of the hour. The library has no need of a parking lot.

I drive out the dirt road to the place where I took my first steps and tied my first shoelaces. Where I dragged home stray dogs and learned to pop gum loud enough to rival any boys' locker room. Where I found Jesus and lost my way and planted geraniums and dreamed of a life less encumbered by poverty and circumstance. Where my happiest and most heartbreaking memories were made. Where I left after 18 years, and where my Mama remained, entombed in walls she loved and loathed.

My tepid melancholia vanishes as I step into the dance hall and embrace classmates. We talk and laugh and dance from p.m. until 1 a.m., then head to a greasy spoon for breakfast, finally leaving one another at 4 a.m. -- simply because we're too old to stay awake another moment. We genuinely enjoy each other's company. Our roots are tangled, and we couldn't separate them even if we wanted to. And we don't.

Some of my classmates never left town. Some still live in the same houses in which they were born. Others live a town or three over, while others followed college or jobs or sweethearts or the military, and live in lands far from what they knew. Some come home regularly. Some found home elsewhere. Some are still in search of it.

They are the cashiers, bankers, truckers, realtors, teachers, moms and dads. They aren't kids. They have kids ... and mortgages and less hair and tighter waistbands. Yet, when tossed in a room with faces from their youth, they become children again. I love those kids.

I live and work on prime real estate in downtown Bentonville, near a multimillion-dollar art museum and the world's largest retailer. I have an education and a career, and I clip coupons and buy on clearance and am never far removed from that little girl hoping to keep food on the table and heat for the winter. This Gold Award-winning Girl Scout (the less-known equivalent of a boy's Eagle Scout) hears the Girl Scouts might be disbanded as obsolete, and that To Kill a Mockingbird -- once required reading -- is now banned from the library because its content makes some uncomfortable.

Perhaps this is the way of every generation, to reevaluate what is to be revered or deplored. Or perhaps we have lived on asphalt so long that we forget the road home is rocky ... and those are our rocks.

NAN Our Town on 10/19/2017

Print Headline: 25 years later

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