It all started with a trip a few years ago to the Smithsonian.
Our family happened on a small piece of an exhibit. A few computers were set up with a prompt that simply asked, “What does it mean to be human?” Responses were limited in length, and visitors were asked to answer with whatever was meaningful to them.
Answered veered from serious — my daughter, Sarah, then 12, said “to be able to have our own beliefs and meet people from different parts of the world” — to silly, like some husbands who will remain mostly nameless, who mentioned petting cats and the general agony of being a Phillies fan.
But as I looked at the answers from around the world, I was struck by how much it feels great to be a part of something.
Fast-forward to this year’s York Fair, at which, per custom, YDR staffers planned to spend 10 days hanging out, meeting people, and generally talking about what it is that we do as a local news organization.
Our signup sheets were full of ideas. Political reporter Ed Mahon was going to show off some of his digital work related to the governor’s race. April Trotter and Rebecca Hanlon, leaders of our “No Sweat, York” fitness initiative, arranged for on-site health screenings. They were all cool, but I felt like they didn’t get at what I love most about going to the fair, an annual event I don’t think I’ve missed more than once or twice as far back as I can remember.
I love the fair because it feels like home. I feel like part of something when I’m surrounded by 10,000 of my closest Yorker friends. It actually gets at why I’m still here in York County, 32 years after I got here at 3 days old, even though I swore for years that as soon as I was done with high school, I was headed for Anywhere But Hereville.
And that made me wonder about why everyone else is here.
Look, I get it. There are lots of practical reasons to be in a place like York County — you got a job offer here that paid more, with a lower cost of living and better weather than the heat of New Mexico; you met someone in college who needed to move back after graduation to take care of a family member; you have a house that’s been in the family for years, fully paid off, and you can’t afford not to live there.
These are real stories from people I know. But they’re reasons to arrive — not the reasons you stay.
And that’s what I wanted to find out.
Or, to put it another way, what is it that keeps you here? That’s what led to the ongoing project that I’m featuring here on Only in York County, and that’s being highlighted in this ydr.com story and in our print Living section on Sunday, Sept. 21.
For me, being a York Countian means not being able to go anywhere without running into someone I know. Sometimes people who’ve known me since I was a baby, sometimes high school or college classmates, former coworkers, people from 4-H, from previous jobs, people who read my column in the paper… there’s almost nowhere I go where I don’t know someone from somewhere.
It means eating Lola’s waffles and ice cream at the fair and drinking Kohr’s orangeade.
It’s that moment when you cross the bridge from Lancaster County and just know you’re “back.”
It means feeling at home, whether it’s at a high school football game, around a campfire, at the dirt track, at market, or out for a night of shopping and food downtown.
Those aren’t the reasons that brought me here. But they’re the reasons I’m still here.
I can’t wait to find out.