There is a spot in this little city that beckons me come when I am in need—in need of assurance, in need of rest, in need of a change of scenery. I must admit, I did not find this spot on my own. I was dating a boy that understood my tendency for restlessness, and one night at dusk, he drove me to his secret respite in our small world. We sat at the edge of the parking lot of what is now a bustling commercial hub and watched the sun go down over our city. For the first time, I saw life here. I saw a vibrancy that I had missed before. I saw a place that had been become tired to me in fresh light, and change began to overwhelm my head and my heart.
Staying in Jackson beyond high school felt like settling. I was born and raised here. My whole life had taken place within a ten-mile radius, and I had very little exposure to what was outside of this place. I could not bear the thought of staying here and forfeiting the opportunities that surely were out there. I did not really know where I would go, but I knew I would go. So I set my eyes on bigger things and closed the door on any talk or whispers of settling for staying in my hometown. But there was this boy, and as much as I promised myself that a boy would never be any factor in any of my life decisions, the possibility of being away for years lurked in the back of my mind until it forced me to choose. I could not be that girl—the one that stayed in her lazy hometown and married her high school sweetheart. Surely I was meant for more. The deadline to apply for colleges was fast approaching and I applied to Knoxville and Chattanooga and . . . Union University. Just in case. For security.
I knew I wanted to teach. I had played school as early as I can remember. I made a pro and con list for each school. The major pro for the East Tennessee schools was that they were at least four hours away. (And football.) But when I weighed all of the details, Union just made sense. The education and history departments were unmatched. So I reluctantly enrolled. I was thrilled to be near my younger brothers and sister and definitely glad not to leave that boy. I moved into my dorm and waited for what was next.
I immediately became the token Jackson native and was expected to help my new friends navigate their new city. In those first few weeks of school, I found myself constantly apologizing for my hometown’s lack of nightlife and downtown activities. It seemed so strange to me that so many of my classmates had left big cities full of life for a small town that virtually shut down at 8:00 P.M.
College was full of dreams. I had so many ideas and possibilities swirling around in my head. Maybe I would continue on to grad school somewhere new and interesting! Maybe I would be a tour guide at a cool museum in a city full of skyscrapers! But every time I heard the siren song of some distant place, I would feel a twinge of uneasiness. I felt unsure and actually began to develop feelings that resembled sadness about leaving home. In college, the idea of home takes on a completely new importance. Sure, I was only a few miles from my childhood home, but being there, surrounded by everything familiar and dear, felt right. So as graduation approached, this boy (who by now had put a ring on my finger) could see the fear in me and sensed that I was torn—deeply torn—over what to do next.
He had deep roots in Jackson. His family owns a small business that has been serving Jackson for nearly forty years. My roots were also here but not in the same way. I felt like we could leave and plant our own roots somewhere else. But that gnawing uneasiness had settled in me, and he could see it. So he took me to our spot. It was an unusually pleasant May night, and we sat on the roof of the Jeep that had taken me on our first date and driven me to prom and moved my belongings into my dorm room. He said nothing, just let me sit and take in what was below. I could see a city that had grown so much in the twenty-one years I had called it home. I had memories linked to every one of the places I could see. I had established sweet relationships with people who were foundational in making me who I am. I could see the exact spot where I ran out of gas for the first time. I could see a parking lot where I had held a friend as she found out her father had died. I could see the steeple of the church where this boy and I were going to be married. Tears flooded my eyes, and I knew, in this exact moment, that this would be a turning point. I knew we had to stay. I did not know why or what was before us, but I knew that what was behind was too good to lose.
So it was settled. Once we made the decision to stay in Jackson, I dug in. We intended to plant deep roots in Jackson, and we set out to do just that. Charlie and I bought a house in midtown, near his family’s shop. I took a job at Jackson Central-Merry, a school that I attended and loved with my whole heart. Charlie began to make moves to join the family shop and really get his hands dirty in local business. In the first few years that we were married, we were completely intentional about joining not just our money or our energy to Jackson but our hearts as well.
Shortly after, we had two children in two years. That's really when the reality of making this place home truly took hold of me. I made baby humans in this city, and they were going to call this place home. I joined every mom group there was to find. I went to every local meeting that had anything to do with bettering our school system and making Jackson more family- and children-friendly. As a teacher, my heart was (and still is) in the betterment of schools. But as a mom, my heart began to ache for the students in our city who did not have moms to go to meetings. My entire idea of home deepened and grew as my children grew. We were creating the framework for our children's’ memories and experiences, and I was genuinely proud that Jackson was the place we chose to do it. My loyalty and love for Jackson had rooted itself so deeply in my person that I could no longer even consider living anywhere else a viable possibility. I had become so far removed from that clueless girl who once thought that she had to leave to truly experience life. Now all of my sweetest memories were wrapped up in Jackson, and I loved it.
Today I could not be more proud to call Jackson home. I love to drive around town and regale my own children with stories my sweet dad used to tell me about his childhood. We are invested here—wholly, totally invested. Charlie (that boy) has stepped in at his family’s shop and adores the work he does. His affections are mostly tied up in the people who come through its doors who knew his granddaddy and remember Charlie as a child. I own a small business that allows me to do what I love, and we even named it for this city that is so precious to us. I grew up in Jackson—in so many ways. I learned to love what was right in front of me instead of always looking ahead. This city is so full of creative, intelligent people with fresh ideas on how to push Jackson to the height of her amazing potential. The city I used to apologize for has become one of my greatest treasures.
Charlie and I had a date night a few months after our second child was born. We had two babies under two, and we were lucky to have left the house at all. Charlie drove to our favorite spot, but the view had changed. We could not see the sun set over the city as we once could. There were buildings and businesses obstructing the view that had changed me in so many ways. We reminisced about the hours we sat staring out at Jackson, and I lamented our spot. But as we drove away, we both agreed that our spot had become a symbol of our journey—and probably many native Jacksonians’ journeys. Life and vibrancy had been lurking under the surface here for so long; I just needed a different view.
A born and raised Jackson girl, Trista Havner is a mom, wife, and teacher. She and her husband, Charlie, have a charming local family business and are passionate about the history there. Trista can be found teaching European history or Shakespeare on most days, but her real loves are her family and painting. Her love for home grows daily, and she is passionate about being an agent of growth and positive change in her beloved Hub City.