Just by inhaling your first breath, you open the book of life and discover what the Author has written on the first page, catching a glimpse of the people you have been chosen to be bound to through genes. Some feel shorthanded as the pages of this book continue to turn, with uncaring relatives, while others are overwhelmingly blessed.
Home is our mental and physical base, no matter the family, in which the outer workings of the world are revealed to us with each lesson, and from which we are sent forth to imprint the best piece of ourselves onto this ancient planet.
Our marks can be overshadowed by others and lose importance in time and wear; some only etchings, barely scratching the surface; but others are engraved deeply, penetrating the mantle and touching the inner core.
Foolishly, some harbor their hopes on their first page, believing that ancestry will give them a head-start with exclusive opportunities and will burrow and scrape into the surface for them. They think their advantages will do the hard, grueling work it takes to chisel a meaningful and lasting mark upon this world.
After you have satisfied yourself, drinking in the single page that set the stage of your life, establishing your surroundings and lifelong companions linked by likenesses, turning the pages eagerly you’ll see the blankness staring at you forebodingly, taunting you, and demanding what you will inscribe there.
Everyone desires to make a mark, so deep that no one can ignore and must recognize with a twinge of regret in their chest that they did not give such great significance to their common human life that blanches in comparison; however, only a few will truly succeed in their endeavor.
The first time I ever wished for money, really wanted money, was when I realized I was going to have to pay for college. Sure, everyone has those moments where you wish your fridge and pantry didn’t mainly advertise Great Value products and could stray from the mundane clearance racks at JCPenney; but, I’ve never felt the need for money until I got back my PSAT test scores.
Driving home after receiving my scores, I’m contemplating the likelihood of the ROTC accepting my scrawny butt, bulletproof abs, and Jello-like arm muscles. My fingers start tapping the steering wheel, and my hands shift to the 10-and-2 position.
My odds are not at all favorable in joining the army. That is more depressing than the test scores. Who gets rejected by the army? Well, Mother always says anything is possible, (but I don’t think she ever intended me to take her mantra in such a negative context).
By the time I reach the town limits, I’m racking my brain for any way of paying for my college career without incurring such a massive amount of debt that Dave Ramsey himself couldn’t pay it back. Then the sign I’ve seen every day for the past 17 years comes into view. It reads: “You are in the Village of Choudrant Now.” My hand stops tapping on the steering wheel and rests on the gear shift. I roll down the window and let the wind play with my hair.
It always struck me as odd that it didn’t say “Welcome” or express any joy that someone is entering the village. It’s depressing, really, because not even the sign can fake enthusiasm about its location. Some small towns are all about community; not ours. Of course we know everyone and their business, but we keep to ourselves mostly, except on the annual community obligation of attending the National Outhouse Races, the occasional church picnic, or the ubiquitous casserole in honor of a death. (Southern women believe a casserole and a reverent “Bless your heart” can fix anything.)
I attend a private school in the city of Ruston, 20 minutes away from the village. Every day on my way home from school, I pass 12 ducks, 11 horses, 3 longhorns, 2 geese, 2 buffalo, and 1 llama. Also, I encounter an area of woods with 3 doors set up in a staggered V-shape, 2 mailboxes constructed out of old plows, and 1 house with a Christmas tree that hangs upside down from the porch. Choudrant brims with a collection of odd people with odd habits, and though we are a village and not a town, we boast enough character and characters living here for the whole population of New York City.
Choudrant is nestled between Ruston and Monroe, so you’ll always have to leave the village to get somewhere, but you’ll never have to really leave the village to go anywhere else. Choudrant is abundant in livestock auctions and Dollar Generals, so if your wants cannot be satisfied by either of those, Ruston is the quickest place to meet simple necessities. You can even attend college in Ruston and commit to a daily 20-minute commute from the village to Louisiana Tech University and never have to brave the dorms.
While Monroe is farther than Ruston, more options lie there. You can choose a meal from varying ethnicities, and select a wardrobe from the Pecanland Mall. For entertainment, you can visit the Biedenharn Museum, drive through the Garden District, or picnic in Forsythe Park. You can attend the University of Louisiana at Monroe and brave a 40-minute commute from the village. It’s farther from home, and if that’s what you are looking for in a college, this is as far as you’ll get, especially if you were raised in Choudrant. No one ever really leaves the village. Three generations of my family graduating from Choudrant High School is proof of that.
Our local high school doesn’t offer the opportunity to join a football team or cheer squad. There isn’t even a proper place to eat here, unless you count Huddle House or Sonic; but then, if you look at it technically, those restaurants are across the street in Calhoun. We do have a police officer, a Christmas light competition, and a country club.
I’ve always felt it ironic that I call Choudrant home, because by the end of my school career, I’ll have spent more time in Ruston than the village. Ruston is where I hang out, go out, and eat out. Ruston is where I attend school currently and where I might pursue a bachelor’s degree. Yet, Ruston isn’t home; if only because it doesn’t have the yearly Outhouse Race, or the longhorns, buffalo, or llama. (I’m sure we could find the horses, ducks, and geese somewhere in that town. This is Louisiana after all.) Maybe, if I ever dare to leave the village, I won’t have to make the 20-minute commute and just live in Ruston.
The only thing is, I want to be a doctor. Ruston is lacking in medical schools, as is Monroe. These towns have finally failed in satisfying one of my needs, so I’ll have to leave the village soon. I’ve never lived anywhere but the village, and my world is small, extending only as far as Shreveport, 1 hour from Choudrant. Tulane and LSUS lie far beyond the village’s sign. New Orleans is 4 hours and 47 minutes from the village. From all I’ve ever known.
You can’t commute 5 hours every day. You’ll be hard pressed to come home on the weekends with 5 hours to drive on our horrible Louisiana roads, damaged by so many hurricanes we’ve forgotten half their names. I hit a pothole, jarring my elbow into the console as if to put emphasis on this thought.
So what do you do when you have the option to leave everything you are familiar with? And only for the promise of obtaining an education to prepare you for your life. Acquiring a job with that education is a whole other game. So what to do…is the struggle of commuting 4 hours and 47 minutes every other weekend, birthday, and holiday worth it? That means only getting to see your family for 48 hours, minus 4 hours 47 minutes, there and back to the university, and the 8 hours you’re asleep at night.
I am greeted by two massive brick columns as I enter my gravel driveway. I stop for a second, peering out my open window looking past the rolling hills of golden grass. The pond glitters in the sunlight, and I can see a dozen ducks and a couple of geese swimming and waddling around.
I am worried about the uncertainties the rest of my life holds; what I will inscribe on the next pages of my book, and the scribbling, crossing out, and rewriting I’m sure I will have to endure.
I take comfort in knowing I can take refuge here, in my village. The barn creaks in the wind, a tractor roars in the distance, the restless autumn leaves are thrown aimlessly by the breeze, and a familiar voice shouts from afar.
Welcome to the Village of Choudrant.