As the sun rose on the morning of a long journey from Portland, Ore., back to my hometown of Topeka, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” came on the radio.
When I had boarded the plane to Portland and what I assumed would be my future at Reed College in August, I imagined that while I would come back to visit, I had metaphorically left Topeka and Kansas in my rearview mirror. An unexpected wave of nostalgia and homesickness came over me as I drove into Topeka that morning nearly 35 years ago.
Not surprisingly, my arrogant youthful self was mistaken regarding my life and future destination. Within the year, I returned to Topeka and eventually migrated 20 miles down the road to Lawrence. Other than a four-year residence in Kansas City, Mo., my freshman year at Reed College remains the only other time I have lived outside of Kansas.
Lawrence has replaced Topeka as my hometown since I have lived longer in the former community than the latter by now. Nevertheless, Topeka remains my touchstone. The schools and streets of that town formed me in ways that I carry with me regardless of where I call home. And while acquaintances comment on how “I don’t sound like a Kansan,” I am and it is an identity I do not shy away from.
A few days ago, the Topeka Community Foundation launched a campaign focused on why Topeka is “a great place to live, work and give.” For the next few weeks, many of us will travel back home to see family at Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays. I am excited to think more purposefully and gratefully regarding this community in Topeka that nurtured me and that provided me with the talents and tools that allow me to write this column and to work as a writer and teacher.
As I dig further into my own upbringing, I hope to better articulate what type of values and worldview Topeka helped foster in me and my family, friends, classmates, co-workers and students.
I applaud the Topeka Community Foundation for its focus with this campaign and I would encourage those of you reading this column in your own communities to ask yourself the same question. What makes your hometown a great place to live, work and to give? Complacency is one of the most common habits we acquire in all aspects of our lives.
Whether it is a romantic relationship, work, school or other activity, we can find ourselves taking our communities for granted.
I know that I did not have an understanding of how deeply I had imbibed the Midwestern spirit until I found myself one of only four students from Kansas at Reed College during my freshman year of college.
As a result of some writing and teaching opportunities, I have spent more time in Topeka than I had in the previous years. I have been pleased with some of the developments in downtown and with other initiatives in North Topeka. At the same time, I have rediscovered and remembered people and places I had forgotten.
As you return to your hometown over the holidays, I hope you will take the time for similar excursions. The results may surprise you.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.