Is it possible to have more than one hometown? As a traveler, I would like to think so. While to me, home is more of a feeling than a place, people and places form a big part of that feeling. So even though it’s been more than a decade since I lived in Jefferson City full-time, the beautiful city where I grew up will always form a part of that feeling of “home” for me.
No matter that I’ve been in and out, and haven’t lived in Jeff City on any sort of permanent basis since graduating high school. Never mind that many of my dearest friends and family members have since also left the area.
Even after all of my travels and experiences living and studying abroad, I can honestly say that driving into town and spotting the state capitol peeking out above the trees in the distance, still jerks at my heart strings.
Whether or not I ever come back there to live and work year-round, it will always be the home of my childhood, the place where I learned to tie my shoes, nearly broke my ankle at the roller rink, sweat through my driving test and worked my first job.
Living somewhere else, somewhere very different , has given me the opportunity to learn to appreciate the place that teenage me was dying to escape.
Like Barcelona, where I currently live, Missouri’s Capital has its own charms and pitfalls. It may not have the Mediterranean climate and cuisine of my new hometown, but for the most part, it’s cleaner and safer. Air pollution levels are low, the streets don’t smell like urine and garbage and I don’t worry much about being mugged for my cell phone on an evening walk in the park. Jefferson City is beautiful in a very mid-sized midwestern way. There may not be beaches, palm trees or modernista mansions, but there are tree-lined avenues and cozy downtown shops, as well as lots of outdoor space and local wildlife. In Barcelona city proper, the bird-watching is mostly limited to feeding passenger pigeons. Suffice it to say I’m not at all surprised that my hometown is a finalist in Rand McNally’s Best of the Road competition for 2013 in the category of most beautiful small towns.
Beautiful sights inside the city limits include the state capitol, a silvery-white beacon perched above the city. In Jefferson City, field trips to the Capitol start at an early age, but I remember enjoying them year after year. Since parks in town close early (or they did back in the day), in high school we used to head to the capitol to goof around outside after dark. Maybe everyone local already knows this, but from the front steps, the doorway above the courthouse across the street looks like a skull. Christmas brings flashbacks of Capitol Caroling trying to remember the words to Adeste Fideles while trying not to trip over black and red choir robes and down the stairs to my death. It was hot, nerve-wracking and totally exhilarating .
Not five minutes away from the Capitol building on foot, the late 19th century Governor’s Mansion looms elegantly over its manicured gardens. The fish pond in the middle reflects the sky around lily pads and flashes of fire-colored fishtails. From the ages of 5 to 11, I came here every year with my dance troupes to pose for pictures on the stairs and I always felt like a princess in an enchanted garden, even that year we wore rolled up jeans and t-shirts for our “Hound Dog” number.
Nearby, there’s downtown with its charming streetlights and hanging flower baskets. It doesn’t look quite the same as it did when I was growing up, but all of the important local landmarks are still there. Across from the capitol building, Arris’ Pizza is still packed most days for lunch and dinner. The public library is still one of my favorite places in town, hands down. Downtown Book & Toy still sells parents books and educational toys. My aunt and uncle’s art and photo shop, Full Spectrum, plugs along, restoring old pictures and selling hand-made pottery and original photographs. Some of my favorite newer kids on the block (or blocks, rather) include Yani’s Coffee Zone, a great place to get my Mediterranean food fix and a cup of joe, Capital City CORK for a glass of wine, Sawaddee Thai for smoking hot curries, and the Art Bazaar Co-op, where I like to check out locally made arts and crafts.
In so many ways, Jefferson City is just the right size. It’s small enough to be clean, and relatively inexpensive, but big enough for lots of kinds of people. That balance means a local economy that can and does support a wide variety of businesses. That means that within a 15-minute driving radius of my parents’ home in Jeff I can encounter as wide of a selection when it comes to restaurants and shopping as I can in a 15-minute walking radius of my apartment in Barcelona—and for that I’m grateful.
Sometimes it’s good to come home to change.
P.S. This summer I spent a lot of time getting to know my hometown again—look for posts in the near future about things to do in #JCMO.