A town named “Bland” surely doesn’t have much going for it, right?
When I grew up 13 miles from there on the banks of the Bourbeuse River, I thought so too. There wasn’t a whole lot shaking in that tiny town. Or in the neighboring metropolis of Belle (pop. 1546), where I ended up taking 2nd grade because the minuscule schools decided to combine their meager efforts. In Bland, there was the world headquarters of Mules and More Magazine, a riveting read, to be sure. There was a little greasy spoon restaurant where the old men gossiped every morning, and there were the obligatory antique shops along the highway for city ladies to drag their husbands into on weekend excursions to the country.
Other than that, not a whole lot was going on in town.
Before I moved to Texas a couple years back I took the chance to make one last swing through the first town I ever called my home town. I went in an antique store. I peeked into the windows of the now closed-down elementary school. I looked into the eyes of every stranger, hoping to recognize an old schoolmate. I stopped out on the farm where I ran around playing cowboy for five of the first eight years of my life. I wondered what happened to all the people I once called friends.
I thought of people I’d known back then. I wondered who I’d forgotten. I remembered Thomas Lingo, who was my best friend in Kindergarten and First Grade. I thought of this kid Stanley, who peed on my leg one time in the bathroom. I thought Lyndsay, who my older sister always teased me about and who consistently beat me in math races.
I did not like losing in math races.
I thought of my teachers. Ms. Hohl, Mrs. Rasmussen, Mrs. Gerdamann. I remembered the time I took the bus from Belle to Bland where I had to switch busses to get home. I missed the connection. One of the teachers threw me in the car and chased down the bus. There was Amanda, who I flew a paper airplane to. There was a heart drawn on the paper if you unfolded it. Or was that Krystal? I don’t recall for sure. Memories are harder to grasp than they used to be.
After 2nd grade we moved to Salem, Missouri–the town I refer to as home to this day. At the end of the 3rd grade school year we went back to Belle for Field Day (the schools were now completely consolidated). I had started playing basketball and was better than everyone else all of a sudden. I remember people being impressed. I remember feeling important, thankful that they hadn’t forgotten about me.
In High School we’d got to Belle every year for a cross country meet. I always wondered if I knew any of the runners on the Belle team. I never had the guts to ask.
Off and on through the years I’d jump on Facebook and see if I could find anyone from the good ole’ days. Occasionally I’d get close, but never really made a solid connection. When I went to St. Louis Christian College, a kid from Bland ended up there. His name was Mitch. I tossed some names his way, but apparently a lot of folks I’d known had moved away. He had a little info to share. I was a little older than him. He knew of people in some cases. Then a dude from Belle showed up. His name was Ben. He was even younger, so he knew even fewer people.
I always wondered how Thomas and Stanley and Lyndsay and Amanda were doing. Who did they become? Who am I becoming? Even though I moved away, I guess I still feel like I’d grown up with them, somehow.
A few days ago, I added a friend on Facebook. His name was Bruce. He used to drive my school bus and is a preacher in Bland. Once I made that connection, I got curious. I started searching, and it didn’t take me long. I found Amanda. Then Stanley. Then Lyndsay. Then a bunch of other people. Some I had forgotten about. And honestly, I figured they’d all forgotten about me. There really wasn’t a whole lot for them to remember, to tell you the truth. I was a curly headed kid. I remember myself as quiet (I don’t know if I was). I remember myself as a poor farm kid (I don’t know if that made me unique…there were a lot of us). I remember liking all those kids, but I lived too far from town to interact with them much.
As we reconnected and swapped stories on Facebook, I realized that a ton had changed. Life had taken us all many different ways. Life has knocked us all down here and there. Some of us stayed put. Some of us left a long time ago. Some are still looking for a way out. One old friend commented to me that they wished they’d ventured out of the little small town we all called home. I couldn’t help but think that sometimes I wished I never had.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. I’ve been blessed beyond explanation. Billionaire Warren Buffet calls his good fortune in life the “ovarian lottery.” I know there’s more to it than that. Though I don’t believe my good path in life is by accident, I also know that someone who feels stuck or hopeless or in a rut questions the purpose of everything.
Then I thought of Jesus. I thought of how he was born to a teenage girl in a backwoods part of the Galilean countryside. Scandal surrounded him most of his life, beginning with his conception. No one understood him. he never travelled more than a hundred miles or so from his home. Once in the public eye, it even prompted one individual to quip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
I know there’s a lot of people who think the same thing of tiny Bland, Missouri. You pass through it and it doesn’t seem like a place with much to offer.
Mules. Bars. Antique stores.
But I know better. It is a place rich with memories. A place I once called home. A place I still miss and drive through whenever I get the chance. It’s a place where a bunch of dream-filled little kids used to chase each other on the playground, swap stories on the school bus, and pass notes in class. We had no idea who we’d become back then. And, indeed, we are all still becoming. Our stories aren’t completely written.
I am thankful for where I’m at in my journey. I am thankful that my story is incomplete. I am also thankful that God saw fit to write some of the old central characters in my life back into the script. We may not have grown up together, but they all grew up with me, because I never forgot them.
Now we’re moms and dads and teachers and preachers and blue-collar workers. We’re a cast of characters straight out of a country song, which makes good sense in light of where we lived. And it also makes good sense that no matter where life has taken us, we’ve never forgotten each other.
Bland may not have had a lot going for it, but it did have a lot going for me. What it lacked in pizzazz it made up for in heart. It was home. It was a big part of my life then, and I’ll never forget the people–and the place, Bland as it was–that helped make me.