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Hometown always stays in one’s heart

Your heart never completely leaves your hometown, no matter how far you roam. That’s especially true if you were lucky enough to grow up in a small town in South Alabama.

There was something special about the place where I went from childhood to adulthood. It was a community that felt safe and where you knew your neighbors, and neighbors didn’t mean just those who lived on your street.

I close my eyes and see the Opp of my youth with its busy downtown streets and trains that roared past the old depot on their way to unload cotton at the mills.

Most Saturdays, I walked those streets with my friends. There were people everywhere, shopping in the stores lining the streets, stopping at Zeb’s Cake House for a fresh baked nut roll or waiting in line for the Royal Theater to open.

When did it start changing? I don’t think it was anything civic leaders did or didn’t do. The world and the way people did things changed.

Shopping downtown became mostly a thing of the past. People traveled to the mall or bought what they needed from chain stores that replaced the locally owned places. Of course, the internet and online shopping changed things even more.

I suppose that is progress, but I feel bad for folks who never experienced what I experienced growing up in Opp. Going to town was exciting, especially for a kid. There was so much to explore around every corner.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the fun of exploring every aisle in the dime store or the anticipation of purchasing the latest 45 hit from the record store. And, I always saw someone I knew around every corner. People spoke to each other as they walked the streets. Downtown was where friends gathered to visit and share the news.

Now I realize that things change and you can’t go back in time. But I think you can hold on to the atmosphere and attitudes that made small towns such great places to grow up.

That, I think, is what some people in Opp are trying to do — remind folks that they live in a wonderful place. And there are opportunities to revitalize and restore some of what small towns are losing.

The Opp Downtown Redevelopment Authority and the Opp Chamber of Commerce held a public meeting to talk about ways to improve their town. They are also welcoming the cast of HGTV’s “Home Town” to Opp to share what they did to revitalize their hometown, Laurel, Miss. The event is set for April 2 from 6-8 p.m. at Westview Baptist Church and is open to anyone who’d like to attend.

The vice chair of the Opp Redevelopment Authority, Wendy Johnson, said it takes a lot of people to save a town. She also said people in her town are excited and willing to help.

That doesn’t surprise me because I know Opp and its people. They are always willing to help when called upon to help. It’s been that way for as long as I’ve know anything about this town.

I moved from Opp to Andalusia (another wonderful Alabama town) more than 30 years ago, but it is and always will be the town that raised me. When I read the story about what folks are doing to revitalize the community, I also read some negative comments about the town, its leaders and its future. That made me sad, but I realize that some people don’t understand what can happen when determined Opp folks set their minds to it.

Wendy Johnson is right, “It takes a town to save a town.” I have no doubt that my hometown has the spirit to save and expand upon all the good things that make it special.

Yes, it’s true the place that you called home for the early years of life remains a part of you. That’s why a part of my heart remains in Opp, Alabama.

Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.