Leominster is not my hometown.
I grew up a bit east of here, in a snotty little town with small-minded people. The kids that got BMWs for birthday presents tormented those that didn’t while the latest offspring of generations of bullies took up residence in the hallways. I counted down the days to graduation, playing the game as I bided my time, blending into any background I could locate, always on the lookout for a disguise.
I left high school after a tumultuous and miserable run and started a new life elsewhere. No reunions, no drinks at the local watering hole reliving old times, no reminiscing about pep rallies and who dated who. I left and never looked back.
When I needed to move back to Massachusetts for career opportunities, I took a gamble on Leominster, which was appropriately described by my new neighbor as “a city that thinks it’s a small town." It was close enough to my hometown to be an easy commute, but far enough away that I wasn’t going to run into any alumni at the grocery store. More importantly, it was the one place that had our most crucial criteria: an affordable house in which to raise our growing family.
Over time, through trial and much error, I began to develop friendships with a bunch of people – many of whom were born and raised in the Twin Cities. I started to fall in love, just a little bit, ever so slowly, with this place.
This community, where notes come home from school in English and Spanish, this place where you don’t complain about the cafeteria food because at least half of the students rely on it for their most wholesome -- and perhaps their only -- meal of the day. My kids don’t ridicule others’ clothing, because they know that while they live large on sales at Justice and the clearance racks at Kohl’s, there are children in their very own classes that don’t have winter coats.
There is humility in Leominster, people who understand the delicate divide between those who enjoy the creature comforts and those who struggle with poverty and hunger. People lend a hand across that boundary, every single day. Those who can’t bring themselves to see the beauty here tend to find their way out, usually in the form of a nicer home in a more affluent town. But since that is the exact evil from which I came, I see both sides and I choose to love this place, warts and all.
My middle daughter, much to my initial chagrin, has become a cheerleader. If you read back to my first few paragraphs, I will further elaborate that much of my hometown misery was because of the cheerleaders, so her pleas to join up were not met with much enthusiasm from me.
But I want happy kids, so I hold my tongue. Uncharacteristically, unnaturally. With much difficulty.
That changed for me this weekend when I sat in the bleachers at Monty Tech and watched The Leominster Mighty Mites cheering squad compete in a gymnasium stacked with eager parents and a full panel of judges.
Hit it! she screamed, her high-pitched voice booming off the concrete walls. The chanting began.
We’re from Leominster, Couldn’t be Prouder. Of the Blue. And. White. The Blue. And. White.
Then there were cartwheels, and enthusiastic dance moves, and a full split – my 9 year old – front and center – arms raised. Proud.
The tears began to fall before I could stop them. I was pretty sure I was the only mom sobbing in the bleachers, catching my mascara with the napkin I found in my purse. My memory flashed to my oldest daughter’s soccer game from the weekend before, when a 4-1 win found her teammates screaming into a blur of blue and white uniforms hugging at center field.
My daughters have already begun to enjoy a feeling of fitting in that I never did. Here they are at stages in their childhood when I was already jaded and sad, an outcast at an early age.
They are so normal, so happy, I texted my husband. Did we do this? Did we make this?
Leominster isn’t my hometown. But it’s theirs. So on behalf of my children, who will grow up and move on but always call this city home, I couldn’t be prouder.
Of the Blue.