I long to be a small town girl

Ellie McDowell

More stories from Ellie McDowell

It takes a village
April 19, 2023

Rebekah McDowell

A picture of the farm my mom grew up on through one of the side mirrors of our car.

“I want to live in New York City or Washington D.C.”

That is what I would have told you when I was six years old. I never would have expected that to change like it did. By the time I turned 16, I started to dream of being a small town girl.

This dream began with our annual trip to Castlewood, South Dakota. What should take a 12 hour drive takes my mom, sisters, and I about 15, but that doesn’t stop us from leaving Grand Rapids behind for a four day stay on the dairy farm that raised my mom.

With COVID-19 numbers on the decline, we were able to continue our annual tradition with a trip out west to our home-away-from-home this year. I’m not sure if it was that, pure excitement, or an inkling of what would happen after this trip was over, but as we packed the car in the middle of the August heat, I was thrilled.

The farm stands a few minutes outside the town of Castlewood, carefully nestled onto a hill that you can see from the highway. This dairy farm belongs to a family that played a role in raising my mom: the Tekronys. This farm contains numerous memories of holidays spent crowded between its house’s walls.

This home-away-from-home is one that—even though I had never visited it before fourth grade—grew me into who I am today.

As an eight-year-old, the thought of pieces of my heart being left somewhere I didn’t know was daunting and downright insane. Why would a strange place full of strangers come to mean so much to me in so little time? If I knew the answer to this, I would explain, but I can’t.

We weren’t even fifteen minutes past the South Dakota state border before tears began to pool up in my eyes. Whether that was because of the bird I had hit a few minutes before, the song that was leaking out of the car’s speakers, or the emotion of finally being home, I may never know. Whatever it was, I felt this for the rest of the ride.

Warm hugs and happy smiles greeted us at the door, and I was finally home. I felt a sense of serenity and happiness as I stepped into the house that had grown into a home for my family and me.

Within minutes, we were welcomed to the family dinner table. These people created a place for us, no matter what they were going through, without fail year after year.

During this year’s stay we finally got to make the drive into the town of Castlewood. A town that houses 619 people isn’t necessarily a major tourist sight, but for me it always has been a dream destination. I grew up hearing stories about things from penny candy to old men drinking coffee and reading newspapers, and I wanted to see this place for myself.

Even after the early memories of my summer weekends there have long since disappeared, and all that remains are the whispers of the people I grew up hearing stories of, my heart and soul will belong to this town I wish to call home.

As I took in the one-streeted town, I felt at home. It was a different feeling to my yellow house with the forest green shutters back in Michigan. That yellow house—the house I have lived in for six years—no longer felt like home, but more of the place I was staying for the moment.

By the time we made it back to Michigan, I felt as though I was missing more than just a piece of my heart. It was then that I realized that, not only did I leave the piece of my heart that I had been leaving on the farm for seven years, but I also left a piece of my soul there.

I’m sure that if you were to walk into Ida’s Cafe on Castlewood’s Main Street you would find a piece of the soul of a girl who longed to be somewhere that wasn’t Michigan. You would find the heart of a girl who no longer belonged to the crowded Grand Rapids streets.

When I was nine years old, my mother decided to put a city girl in the country. I’m sure she never expected that city girl to become a girl that longed to get out of that city, and back into the country; she never expected this city girl to long to become a small town girl.

Our annual trip is something I look forward to all year. As I trudge on through school, I long to go back to find my soul again. Even after my mom isn’t making the trip with me, and I have my own kids, I hope to still have a place on the Tekrony farm.

I will forever be changed by the time I spent on the farm and will forever long to be a small town girl. Even after the early memories of my summer weekends there have long since disappeared, and all that remains are the whispers of the people I grew up hearing stories of, my heart and soul will belong to this town I wish to call home.