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You can’t go back

POSTED February 16, 2010 10:05 p.m.
Thomas Wolfe had it right; you can’t go home again.
Well, technically you can. Last week I took a pilgrimage to my hometown of Cicero, Ind. to visit friends. While there, I visited my old stomping grounds and had dinner with a few of my former high school classmates. I enjoyed the two feet of snow that made Indiana a winter wonderland and made sure to visit a couple of my favorite Hoosier restaurants, especially Bonge’s Tavern.
Bonge’s is an Indiana original. It is a five-star gourmet restaurant in a remodeled barn in the middle of cornfields. Regulars come early to the popular eatery to have wine and cheese tailgates in the parking lot. Hoosiers are a weird lot — present company excluded.
My best friend works at the high school that we graduated from, so I also had an opportunity to visit my alma mater. It wasn’t actually the school that I attended, as the students of Hamilton Heights High got a state-of-the-art facility a few years back making my old school look like a pole barn. Unfortunately, the day I visited was a sad one. The school’s long-time administrative secretary died of an apparent heart attack that morning. Barbara Cook had been the secretary of Hamilton Heights High School for more than 50 years. That’s right, for half a century Mrs. Cook made sure that the high school ran in an efficient and organized manner, while connecting personally with administrators, teachers, staff and students.
After hearing of her sudden and unexpected death, the school principal called a staff meeting to break the news while the students were gathered in the auditorium. He then told teachers they could go home if they were overcome with grief. The students and teachers were given over an hour to digest the news and regroup to their classrooms. The sheriff’s department had three deputies on hand and youth pastors from local churches came to the school to talk with the students.
The school’s response to the death of a beloved employee and member of the community was a little surprising to me. I have many fond memories of Mrs. Cook and am saddened by her death, but I was shocked that the school basically shut down for a few hours and law enforcement and clergy were called in. It seemed a little overboard to me.
But after almost a week of reflection, I am beginning to wonder if my small-town perspective has been irrevocably changed. I know most Turlockers consider themselves residents of a small town. To me, Turlock is almost a metropolis. The population of Cicero, Ind. is around 4,450. It was even lower when I was a kid.
Nobody in Cicero locks their house or car doors. Everybody knows everybody. If a rowdy teenager vandalizes someone’s property, a few phone calls usually narrows down the culprit and parental discipline soon follows.
Residing in a town where leaving your car door unlocked for even five seconds is like putting a “free” sign on it is not the best way to live. And when the only way to return safely from a grocery shopping excursion is to guard your purse like an NFL running back, it’s time to rethink my decision to live in the Central Valley. I am losing the sense of community that was an integral part of my childhood.
Despite Turlock’s problems, however, I have become fond of living here. The weather is great, the majority of people are sincere and generous and my only remaining family live here. Moving back to where I grew up is not an option for me.
But, I will not sit by and let my small-town roots wither. I am going to start behaving as if I live in a small community. I am going to be a better neighbor and more involved in the happenings of my community. While that won’t stop a hoodlum from stealing my car, it might make him think twice before bringing his criminal enterprise into a neighborhood where everyone looks out for everyone else.
If every Turlocker begins to live that way, maybe we can come together and put a stop to the crime that hurts all of us in our city.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.
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