birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Unwelcome Home

I used to happily ask anyone I met where they grew up, or what their hometown was. Now I've come to understand how difficult that question can be for some people. Some people don't relate to calling one place home because they grew up in a military family. Others moved around a lot because of family difficulties or trauma. Others did grow up in one place but they don't like to think about it because their childhoods were not happy ones, or they are not accepted by their families.

My hometown would be Gilbertsville, PA, I guess, although I have attachments to the towns of Schwenksville, where my dad's store is, and Boyertown, where I went to high school. And if anyone asks me where I'm from, I usually start with "outside of Philly." If they ask for more I say "near Allentown, Pottstown, Reading." If they really want to know where I grew up, I tell them, but the name registers with very few people.

My home "area" was settled around the time of the Revolutionary War. There are some houses there that date back to the 1700s, although those are the exception. The area I grew up in was homogenous; lots of white people with German heritage. One of the biggest reasons I left was because as a liberal, bisexual woman interested in music and art, I always felt set apart and I wanted to meet lots of different kinds of people.

My dad is very rooted in the area. My parents live about a mile from a historically preserved cemetery where our ancestors who came over in the 1740s are buried. Maybe if both my parents were so deeply rooted there, I would have felt more connected to the area. My mom, though, grew up in Michigan and her family, through several generations, has moved from place to place to find better work or because they felt called to a certain area.

Gilbertsville is adjacent to Boyertown, but the two towns feel different even though they look similar. In Boyertown, people are more close-minded and set in their ways, and the average age skews high. There is a stoicism to that town that feels eerie to me. And, there is some deeply rooted racism there. When I was growing up, there was only one black family in school with me. The KKK used to demonstrate in the center of town every couple of months. It wasn't a very robust demonstration and a church set up a counter-demonstration across the street, but still. Growing up I occasionally heard of cross burnings in people's yards. I very much disliked being associated with hate.

Even at church camp each summer, we would spend a night in one family's backyard having an outdoor service and singing songs. There was a pond with a cross next to it, and it was lit up with candles. There was nothing malicious or racially motivated about it, but I think somebody would've put the kibosh on that in a more socially conscious community.

In the early 1900s, there was a fire in an opera house in Boyertown, which was one of the events that led to the creation of standardized fire codes. More than 150 people died. I've always wondered if it's intergenerational trauma that caused the townspeople there to be so closed off to new ideas or people.

Now, they are revitalizing Boyertown to try to make it attractive to tourists visiting Pennsylvania Dutch Country. In my mind, it's like putting lipstick on a pig.

A Little Town

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