A couple days before I left for college for the first time, I went to the local drugstore for toothpaste, deodorant and stuff like that – there was no Walmart in town – and on my way out of the store was greeted by one of my grandfather’s friends. He had heard I was going out of state to college and wanted to wish me luck. Then he said something I will never forget.
“You spend the first 17 or 18 years of your life trying to get away from home,” he said, “and you spend the last 17 or 18 years of it trying to get back.”
I was reminded of that chance meeting and what he said last week when I read Titus Benton’s twice monthly column that appears in The Salem News. Titus has been gone from Salem a long time, but in 2016 he asked to start writing a personal column about his days in Salem, and since he didn’t charge us a thing, we had nothing to lose.
We were pleasantly surprised at first and ecstatic after a few of his columns appeared in print and online. Titus is a talented writer and a good storyteller, and his offerings have been great for the newspaper and enjoyable to our readers.
This week's offering will be Titus’ last for The Salem News, at least for the foreseeable future. (You never say never.) His farewell column appears on 1B of this week's edition and on our website, too.
In some ways I believe the past four years or so of writing about his hometown has brought him back here. His body is in Texas most of the time, but a couple times a month through his column he has been able to get back to Salem and the memories, reliving his childhood and reconnecting with people.
One of the great things about technology and social media is how easy it makes it to reconnect and stay connected. Titus’ columns have meant a lot to him. They have meant a lot to those he shares a hometown with, and not just the ones his age who can relate to the names and stories he’s told. Anyone who grew up here could tell similar stories of their day, recalling their memories, their names.
One of my favorite things to do the past few years is take a look at our social media pages when Titus’ column really hits home, so to speak. His column tugged at hometown memories and the nostalgia many people love to relive. The comments were often hilarious, sometimes somber.
To hear Titus tell it, he wasn’t as anxious as some of his classmates to get out of town. But he did get out of town, and has an entirely new life that only includes the occasional visit to Salem to see friends and family. But he’s had his column, too, which was sort of like the Star Trek transporter, allowing him to be at a Salem basketball game moments after he is sitting at a desk in Texas.
Titus has done such a good job with the column, there was a few times I thought about doing the same thing with my hometown paper. There is something special about the memories of family and hometown that, like my grandfather’s friend told me years ago, make you want to go back after spending much of your life getting away.
But for many of us, including Titus and me, we don’t really want to go back physically on a permanent basis, but we do want to hold on to the many things that helped shape us into what we are today and the things that made growing up in special places special. Thanks to Titus for sharing those the past four years, writing a book about them and helping us remember that in some ways our hometown isn’t really that far away.