The "I've got to get out of this town" cliché felt so real at the time I was certain I'd continue jumping from metropolis to metropolis, never looking back. In reality I found good work and good friends only 100 miles away, so I planted roots in St. Louis. But while I loved this adopted home, the higher cost of living combined with lack of nearby family made staying there seem less appealing after my husband and I had our first baby in 2020. Living near a favorite bar suddenly mattered less to me than living near a retired grandparent.
The pandemic made us think about what we prize most, and our answer was quality time together. Springfield could offer us that.
And so I loaded up a different – more practical, family-oriented, arguably less cool – car and returned back to where I started. Exactly where I started, actually, as we bought my childhood home from my ready-to-downsize mother.
The experience has been equal parts comforting and confusing. I've appreciated the conveniences, like Springfield Clinic's network of connected professionals, and felt lost on some of the changes. (They moved Urgent Care?) I think I know where I'm going, and then I see something I don't recognize. I have trouble updating my language; Hy-Vee is not the old K-Mart anymore, and calling AMC 12 the "new" movie theater seems like a stretch. And that doesn't even cover the weirdness of moving into a house you already know.
Despite these confusions, nothing has baffled me more than the hometown welcome wagon.
Moving back to a city is a topic that changes based on your tone. Is it an endearing relocation, focused on family, or is it glorified backsliding? My husband – a fellow Springfield native, whom I met after we had both left – and I debated this topic for most of 2020. Missouri's response to the pandemic made it an easy state to leave. The quirks of our mid-century home I'd previously adored switched to stressors while pregnant. The cozy neighborhood I grew up in became more appealing when we imagined the overtime required to afford our dream family home in St. Louis.
When we made the announcement, we expected our St. Louis friends to question the decision. Few did. Instead, the larger negative reaction has come from those currently living in Springfield. They'd hint at the massive events and cultural institutions they love in St. Louis. I'd feel my teenage self fume when I'd counter: annoyances like high crowds and bad parking started to outweigh my fun, so my attendance at these mainstays had dwindled for years. Taking a child to Springfield's equivalents sounded easier. Nicer. Not nicer for everyone, but nicer for us.
People hid their opinions less than I anticipated. While plenty have been happy to see us return, or at least shared normal pleasantries, the bad responses have ranged from verbal judgment to audible laughter. "Ugh, I'm sorry" is one of the most frequent. "It's way worse now" recently stood out.
The problem is twofold. Sure, it doesn't feel great to have your decisions insulted. But more importantly, the unnecessary negativity can't be helping Springfield. I'm not here to say it's the ideal spot for everyone, and I'm aware relocating isn't a luxury available to all. I also wouldn't argue it's a perfect place. We've been out of the loop for years, and I'm sure we'll discover a slew of complaints, much like you would in any location.
What feels toxic is the "this place is so boring" attitude we see from many of those questioning our return. Ones who aren't taking advantage of what's available to enjoy here, or anywhere, and instead add drops of poison to the collective well of community attitude.
What's the old line, if you're bored you must be boring? Because the only thing keeping us from a full calendar is pandemic safety – and the fact that I still need to finish unpacking.
The parts of Springfield I most admired have only grown since I left. Shows inside sandwich shops evolved into new mainstays, like Dumb Records or Downhome Fest. There are more new-to-me boutiques downtown than I could fit into a single shopping trip before the baby needed her nap. There are eateries, public art and community organizations connecting this city in a way I couldn't see through the clouded vision of my youth, but I can tangibly feel now.
And I want to be a part of it.
Julia Cain is an award-winning writer based in Springfield. She runs the lifestyle site, OhJuliaAnn.com.