I have known one city my entire life: Naperville, IL. I was born in Edward Hospital and raised in the southern quarters of the city with the downtown about a fifteen-minute’s drive from my house. My childhood Sunday’s consisted of going to church at one of the many available in the Chicago suburb, traveling downtown to the infamous Barnes & Noble bookshop on the corner of Washington and Chicago Avenues, then going out to eat with my family at one of the many restaurants the downtown area has to offer. Then we would proceed to the Riverwalk where my brother and I would casually throw bread into the river to feed the many awaiting ducks.
I could almost always count of a field trip planned at Naper Settlement – sometimes a few field trips. Half days of middle school were spent roaming around with a herd of friends, eating at Noodle’s & Co. (a.k.a. the place that gave me plenty of food and still allowed me some leftover money from the $20 my dad gifted me with). When the Apple Store went into business, it was the best day ever for the tweens on Facebook (Did someone say Photobooth?!). Parades were the best five minutes of fame any middle school band member, boy scout, girl scout, or cheerleader could ask for. Author signings at Anderson’s were the best excuse to get a glimpse of Lauren Conrad or Hilary Duff or whatever other B or C list celebrity had decided to “write” a book. And there was without a doubt a pretty high chance that you could see some familiar face if you walked down Washington or Jefferson or along the Riverwalk in the afternoon.
After eighteen years of the expected, Naperville became a bore. I wanted to get away and that’s what I did when I chose an out-of-state college. I went five hours east of Naperville and thought that I would never go back; I would move onto bigger and better things. I would move somewhere that did not feel familiar and I would be given new adventures with every passing day.
But the first time I returned home to Naperville, I had never felt more relieved. I loved driving past the parks I used to play at with grade school friends. I loved seeing the restaurants I would eat at with middle school sports teams after a big win. I loved the lights that were strung in the trees downtown and twinkled like a row of stars, guiding your path as you walked.
Okay, perhaps the last description was a bit exaggerated, but truly, after being away from Naperville, I had never been happier to be home. The memories associated with the city were immeasurable, and I could place myself as far away as I wanted – the memories would never fade. Naperville would never stop calling me back.
I returned home for Christmas next. The city had been decorated, per usual, to the nines to celebrate the upcoming holiday. I remember looking around at the winter wonderland that had been created and being in awe. I listened to the music that blasted from atop Eddie Bauer and created even more of an illusion that Naperville was it’s own little world (because it is without a doubt a bubble that you cannot escape). I laughed with strangers as we slipped along the crosswalks, yelled at the idiot who didn’t know when to let the pedestrians walk and actually move past the stop sign. I poked fun at the tweens in the Apple Store who were still doing what I had done years before.
Sure, Naperville has its moments. There usually is not a day where I am downtown and don’t poke fun at some supposedly entitled soccer mom or group of twelve-year-olds thinking they are just the absolute coolest for not having a parental escort anymore. But I was that twelve-year-old once. I’m sure my mom felt entitled to quicker seating at a restaurant at some point too.
And that is what makes Naperville what it is.