I also came to realize that what I needed as a free-spirited 15-year-old boy was not what I needed as a 45-year-old man with a wife and kids. My parents, cousins, nieces, and nephews wanted me there, and I longed to be there as well. I never regretted having left in my youth, but now Ruthie had shown me why it was time to come home.
We expected our Philadelphia friends, neighbors, and colleagues to be sorry that we were leaving, and they were. What we didn’t expect was folks telling us how much they wished they had a place like St. Francisville to go to. One friend confessed that his parents had raised him to put professional success ahead of everything else in life and to always move for better jobs. And he had. Now that he and his wife were older and their children were gone, they had no real community in which to grow old. They were rich, successful—and alone.
We have lived in this small town on the Mississippi River for more than a year now. Are there times when we miss big-city life? Yes. You can’t easily satisfy a whim for Thai food, and movies, museums, and shopping require a day trip at best. But something always happens to remind us that Ruthie’s way—the road not taken for so many of us—is worth it.
One afternoon last autumn, my cousin Amy glimpsed Lucas, our nine-year-old, out her car window. He had wiped out on his bike and was weeping after getting banged up badly. She lent him a hand, cleaned him up, and brought him home—with the help of several equally well-meaning onlookers. As he was tucked into bed that night, Lucas told his mother, “I’m so glad we live here. When I crashed, so many people came to help me, and they all knew who I was.”