Last Thursday night, I strolled with my family through the streets of my hometown—New Albany, Indiana—enjoying the annual Harvest Homecoming Festival. It was a glorious fall evening with a slight chill in the air necessitating a sweater or jacket. The theme for this 45th festival is “Harvest Goes Hollywood.” We sampled homemade fudge, sipped hot chocolate, greeted old friends and made some new ones. A concerted effort by a number of groups to revitalize the downtown business district has been successful and, as a result, charming, independently-owned restaurants and shops are now drawing in younger families and the “hip” crowd to a once-dying economy. What an exciting transformation! The aromas of roasted nuts and caramel corn mingled with chicken and dumplings, corn dogs and pork sandwiches. Something for everyone. The cafés and art galleries opened their doors wide. Vendors in many booths sold all manner of colorful and creative wares, from T-shirts and trinkets to expensive jewelry and artwork. Firefighters gave kids a tour of the engine and ambulance. Bands and dancers performed live on the festival stage. All the while, Miss Harvest Homecoming moved among the crowd, wearing her tiara and sash. Groups of teenagers congregated in front of the music store, older folks observed from picnic tables, and young couples pushed strollers. As much as any other time in my life, it impacted me tonight that this is Americana. This is what life’s about. Small town life at its best with families enjoying a beloved hometown tradition together, strengthening ties and the spirit of community.
As a senior in high school, I couldn’t wait to get away from New Albany, part of Kentuckiana where it sits on the banks of the Ohio and often called the “sunny side of Louisville.” Let me make it clear I was in no way ashamed of my hometown, but I inherited an independent spirit from my mother and wanted to embrace and experience the world. Unlike the majority of my counterparts, I wanted to live and work in a big city, travel to Europe, see Broadway plays and meet all sorts of fabulous, interesting people. When I packed up and moved to the Ball State University campus as a freshman, I only returned home during summer breaks, holidays and vacations for the next 28 years. Along the way, I married my husband, Jim, gave birth to our three children (ages 16 to 23) and lived in Texas, California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts before coming back home in late 2005 with my family in-tow. Funny how life comes full circle sometimes. I'm proof that you can come home again and yes, Dorothy, there truly is “no place like home.” On my website, I make this statement: “I’ve ‘been around’ in the nicest sense of the word.” As a writer, living in different regions of the country has given me a broader perspective of this great nation and its people, customs, cultures, and geography. I wouldn't have traded those experiences for anything, and they've made me the person I am today.
When our son Matthew graduates from high school in two years, I’ll be able to say all three of our kids have graduated from New Albany High School—the oldest public high school in Indiana (1853) which served as a hospital during the Civil War, and first in the nation to have an FM broadcast radio station commissioned by the FCC. Notable alumni include Billy Herman (Hall of Fame MLB player during the 1930s and 1940s), Sherman Minton (U.S. Senator and associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court), Josh Dallas (actor, currently on ABC’s popular “Once Upon a Time”), Fuzzy Zoeller (U.S. Open and Master’s Champ—and part of my family), and Edwin Hubble (astronomer for whom the Hubble Space Telescope is named) was a notable faculty member.
My question to you: “Where’s home in your heart?” As New Albany begins its Bicentennial celebration in 2013, I’m so proud to be a “returnee” to my sweet hometown, full of rich heritage and tradition. You see, the Lord knew where I belonged all along. It just took me a while to see it, and to find my way home again. But oh, I'm so glad I did. My prayer for you, my friends, is that you’ll be so abundantly blessed. Matthew 5:16
JoAnn Durgin is the author of the popular Lewis Legacy Series, contemporary romantic adventures full of faith, family and love (Torn Veil Books): Awakening, Second Time Around and Twin Hearts are available in both paperback and ebook from all major online Christian book retailers. Book #4 in the series, Daydreams, is coming in December 2012. Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, a Christmas novella from Pelican Book Group (White Rose), is expected to release in the next month. She'd love to hear from you at her website, www.joanndurgin.com or on Facebook.