If you had asked me about my future in the fall of 1994, I would have told you that I was planning on moving back home to Paducah, Kentucky, as soon as I finished college. I was supposed to live on Jefferson Street, right next door to my life-long BFF, Laura. She was going to live in her grandmother’s house, and I would buy the house next door.
Twenty-four years later, she still reminds me of that broken promise.
I had roots there in Paducah. They were strong and firmly planted. My daddy grew up there, too. In my eighteen years living in Paducah, many folks had tended to me and allowed my roots to become stable. Laura’s family treated me like I was one of their own. Her momma and daddy taught me how to cook, pray with my family, and love my neighbors. Her daddy even helped me decide on what I was going to study while at Union University. Countless Sunday School teachers and youth leaders at First Baptist Church Paducah discipled me and taught me all the stories of the Bible while I was involved in their families’ lives. I saw them live out the gospel in front of me through their everyday lives as teachers, doctors, and salesmen.
When I left Paducah in 1994 to come to Jackson, Tennessee, I knew I would be back. At that time, I could not have imagined my life happening anywhere else. Or so I thought.
I am not even sure when it began, this desire to re-plant myself and grow roots in the town I had chosen to attend college. Over my four years at Union, somehow Jackson had made her way into my heart. Every “adult” decision I have made has been made in Jackson.
When Jon and I moved to Memphis for him to attend law school, I knew we would be back in Jackson. We spent most weekends in Jackson with our college friends who stayed after graduation.
We ended up moving back five months before Jon graduated from law school when he landed a job with a firm here in town. We bought our first home in the LANA area the same week he started working at Rainey Kizer. We got a dog a few months later. Then we started having babies.
We began to realize that our roots were getting deeper and deeper. Over the years, we have had opportunities to move out of Jackson with my jobs as well as Jon’s firm opening offices in other cities. It never felt right to uproot ourselves and our growing family from the city that had nurtured us into adults.
I now realize that this town grew me. I was planted here in 1994, and I have continued to grow since then. There are many people in this town who have tended to me in those twenty-four years. It started on campus at Union University with professors like Steve Beverly. I learned about the rich history of the city from my first boss, Bart Swift. The folks I worked with at Suede's became my family away from my biological family.
Years later I was tended to by folks I worked alongside in Juvenile Court. Ms. Jo Ann and Becky always had snacks for me in their desks for when I got hungry during long court days. Diane listened to me talk about my struggles as a wife and working mom because she was one, too. It was in that courtroom where I heard stories of family struggles and saw lives changed through adoption—even mine! (That’s a story for another day.)
I am now firmly planted in a place I thought I would only be in for four short years. Now we have people in our lives who are like family to us. Our girls’ grandparents are just one to two hours away in Collierville, Florence, and Paducah. Even so, they have a city full of folks who serve as surrogate grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
It’s incredible to watch a second generation of Stewarts plant themselves in this city at such a young age. Like me, they have dreams of going away to college, but until then their roots are being tended and nurtured by the community of people in this city. It is neat to watch them grow, just as I have been able to see myself grow.
I still have a part of me that is rooted in Paducah. If you spend any time with me at all, I will tell you all about how wonderful my hometown is. It’s a gift that I was transplanted to another town that takes such great care of its people, and I want the same for my girls. I want them to have strong Jackson roots that are a part of who they are. I want them to feel confident that they can always come home to Jackson.
The roots that were once so new, vulnerable, and small when I moved here are now sturdy and strong. I know that I am here to stay.
Shannon Stewart is a Kentucky girl living in Tennessee. She is married to the man of her dreams, Jon Stewart, and they have four daughters: Sammie (16), Carlee Hayse (10), Stella (8), and Addie (8). Shannon loves nothing more than having a house full of people sitting around her table enjoying good drinks (she usually is sipping on bourbon), food, and conversation.