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I grew up in a very small town. My high school was closed for the first day of hunting season and student day at the fair. Entertainment on the weekends was driving in a loop of streets through the nearest city, known to those of us who frequented them as "the circuit. (Why was this fun?) I hated it. There were more cows per capita than interesting people. I could only visit my friends if it was grocery day because it was a 20-minute drive to civilization and my parents never wanted to take me anywhere. I couldn't wait to leave. So eventually I did.

Although I never ventured very far and at one point lived in an area very similar to the one I grew up in, I always felt I escaped it. This backwards little place where you had to constantly be alert for people braking for yard sales and confederate flags are everyone's favorite decoration. The rest of my family seemed to embrace this culture until my brother moved to Baltimore and I thought, "Ha! I'm not adopted after all."

My parents continued to live in Dover as I became an adult, so I still had to return there, although I never went to just go. It was Thanksgiving, Christmas, someone's birthday, to pick up something, etc. It changed. It grew. But it was never up to my standards. Despite many businesses opening since I graduated high school, it would always be too boring for my taste.

And then my mom — small business owner, friend, neighbor, community contributor in this small town — dies in a horrific, crime-filled, big city way.

And I am grateful.

Had my mom died in my favorite city, she may have been just another statistic. A news story for a day. An "Oh another one" passing comment on a train.

But she didn't live there. She lived in a place where people are still deeply mourning. A place where the media has continued to talk to me and my family over a month later and not just talking, but talking with passion. She lived in a community where people who only met me a few weeks ago have told me they love me, and I know with certainty they mean it. She lived in a place where hugs are plentiful and sometimes those hugs are accompanied by a case of beer. She lived in an area where strangers hear her story and write — not email, not on Facebook, but write a snail mail letter — with their condolences.

She lived in a place that knows and practices love.

And I am grateful.

Although I left and pushed away from my hometown, when I needed them the most they welcomed me back with open arms and a few beers. What could be better than that?

ALECIA ARMOLD

Harrisburg

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