Home is where the ‘Stock is

Woodstock. To most it conjures up images of long-haired hippies rocking out to the biggest rock concert in history. But to me, Woodstock stands for something far more tame, my home town. It’s a place I never really gave much weight while growing up, it was always the same uninteresting location that people got confused with the “real” Woodstock. Now, after I’ve spent several years living away from home, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the town.

Like many small towns, Woodstock has its few cheesy claims to fame. Remember the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray? It was filmed in Woodstock. Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy, was born there. So of course the town naturally wants to exploit these fun factoids by holding an extravagant Groundhog Day festival and a Dick Tracy Days parade every year.

Throughout high school, my peers would complain that there was nothing to do in Woodstock, and they were right. Aside from those few festivals that you either attend when you’re young or old, there’s not a lot that caters to the teenaged crowd except for the movie theater. Like all small communities, what made Woodstock home was my friends. It didn’t matter if we had anything to do or not, we were resourceful enough to entertain ourselves (and stay within the bounds of the law). But, like all good things, our time together came to an end when high school ended.

Going to college relatively close to home made it easy to stop back from time to time. I still remember how I felt the first time I was back in Woodstock since moving out. The place felt like a ghost town. Sure, most of the 20,000 residents were still there, but many of the people who had made it a special place to me were away. The feeling was truly disorientating; if the place that defined me for almost two decades was suddenly not what I remembered, was I still the same person who grew up there?

I think that this question is one that most college students grapple with upon their first “homecoming.” What ties me to this place if many of the friends I cared about are gone? Ultimately, the answer comes down to family. But going to visit family creates a bittersweet predicament – I’m happy to see my family but now I realize that this place cannot be the home I remembered. I would imagine that many college goers are left feeling disconnected.

That question lingered in the back of my mind for several years until this past summer when I spent several months living back in town. By some strange act of fate, most of my original posse was back as well, bringing Woodstock back to life. Perhaps it was because of that, but I really felt connected to the suburb for the first time in a long time.

Working at the Woodstock Opera House, I took an interest in our local politics and how the city sought to develop. Being 21, I was able to check out some of the local bars and experience what “townies” do in the after-hours. I gained a greater appreciation for the city simply because I cared enough to stick my nose into a few areas that I had passed by all my life.

My fondness for my town grew because I began to realize what the purpose of a suburb truly was. Like Lake Forest, Woodstock wasn’t founded as a teenager’s social world; it was founded as a safe, nurturing place to raise a family. And I’ve just begun to realize that if I were to ever have a family, living in a community like this wouldn’t be so bad.

I just spent my first weekend back in Woodstock since beginning this year at Lake Forest College. Only one or two of my friends were around, but it didn’t bother me as much as in the past. I felt like I belonged. Driving around town, seeing the family dog, and some home cooking was all it took. It may not be the Woodstock of the past, but it’s good enough for me.

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