Lost in my home town

Events have a way of coming full cycle, yet never really coming back to the beginning. After being gone from Shelby for more than 40 years I’m back, but both Shelby and I are different.

When I left I knew nearly all the people, streets, stores and factories. I was born here and graduated from the “old” high school. Shelby was all I knew, though I longed to see the world, or at least more than Richland County.

Leaving started me on a journey that would take me many miles and experiences away from Shelby. Each city became my new home and memories of Shelby began slipping away. I learned what I could of the new locale, made friends and made myself comfortable. I soon learned that home is wherever I am.

I have always been baffled when I heard people say they were going “home” for a visit when they had been living in their current location for many years. I say that I’m going to visit my family.

Now, I’m back for a temporary stay and feel like an alien. Except for two close friends and a few of my mother’s neighbors, I don’t see people I recognize. Everywhere I go I look at the faces and wonder if I should know these people.

A couple days ago I answered my mother’s door; and the woman standing there said, “May I come in?”

To my question about her identity, she responded, “Your cousin, Sue.”

Looking closer at this stranger I could see Sue’s features and her warm smile, and welcomed her into the house.

I get lost in the grocery store across the street. Any time I want to buy a specialty food item or something other than groceries, I have to ask what store carries it and how to get there. Many times I’m told I have to drive to Mansfield. That’s a big change.

As a youngster growing up in Shelby I remember that our family did all our shopping here, only riding the bus to Mansfield for a special occasion. Main Street hosted a flower shop, a photographer, three or four women’s clothing stores, at least two men’s clothing stores, three drug stores with lunch counters, a couple shoe stores, two grocery stores, two movie theaters, two banks, a shoe repair shop, a restaurant and a bakery with a lunch counter, a candy store and the Shelby Dairy, where we could buy giant ice cream cones for a nickel. We could even stop on the way to school and pet the horse that pulled the milk delivery wagon.

On summer Saturday evenings we would dress up and walk downtown to meet Mom’s sisters and my cousins who were in town from their farms. We’d walk down Main Street together giggling and gazing at the wonderful displays in the store fronts. Of course, nearly all the stores were closed. Most only stayed open until 9:00 on Monday and Friday evenings. The other days saw stores close at 5:00. Everything was closed on Sunday except for the movie theaters that opened after church hours.

Now, those stores are gone, replaced by different businesses. A stroll down Main Street to learn who is there seems to be in order. Why are all those stores gone? I understand that times and trends change. Yet those shops offered a personalized, quality shopping experience not available in big box stores. The sales staffs knew what brands we each preferred and what sizes we wore. I could go in any store and tell the sales staff I wanted a gift for my mother or father and trust that he or she would guide me to a wise choice. Though, I didn’t always take their advice and my parents ended up with some strange, “kid” gifts.

And, the factories, where are they? I can’t recall their names but I recall that one made ammunition. One was a flour mill. Another made bicycles and later business forms. Fire alarms came from another workshop. Bubble gum aroma escaped another huge building. The former Air Force Depot is an industrial/vocational park, an appropriate retrofit. At least, the “Tuby” is still here.

Sometimes it’s fun to look back and feel nostalgic about days gone by. But, they are just that, gone by. Shelby is a great place, but it isn’t my home any more. Shelby feels as foreign as any other city I’ve never seen before. Hopefully, before my stay is over I’ll begin feeling comfortable again. The key to that experience is people, not stores or streets or factories. I hope to renew old friendships, get reacquainted with my cousins and make new friends.

Then Shelby will truly be my home town.

© by Sharon Dillon, April 27, 2010