I grew up in the small town of Omer, Michigan, the smallest city in the state and that’s not a lie; there is an actual sign as you come through town to prove it. To give you an idea of just how small it is, there were 26 people in my graduating class. It’s so small that the neighboring towns: Twining , AuGres, and Standish, might as well be included in its population. I know as many people from these neighboring towns as I know from my own. When I think of my hometown, I immediately want to start singing the theme song to Cheers. You know the one….”where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came,” anyway you get it. I would say that people growing up in Omer were split down the middle of 50% can’t wait to leave and the other 50 % never want to. I was the latter. I loved my small town. I love that I can walk into the grocery store and and not just run into someone I know, but know everyone in the store, including the employees. I love that I can run into the gas station to pay for gas and the cashier will say ” how is your mom doing?” When I eat at a local restaurant, I not only know my waitress, but the owners of the restaurant as well.
One of the local hot spots in Twining is a little bar called Sportsmans. It’s a stomping ground for most anyone who grew up there. This is also where Todd’s family’s cabin is located. He and his family would frequent this bar when they were up hunting. We had known each other for years before we even thought of dating. Todd’s mom loves to tell everyone I wouldn’t date Todd because he was too short. I always let her run with it because I love to pick on him about his height, and let’s be honest, it’s pretty funny. The truth is, Todd is not a guy you date and he is not someone just you have a crush on. At least to me he isn’t. To me, he is the kind of guy you marry. I think subconsciously neither of us was ready for that which is why we never got involved. Plus, Todd once described where he lived and I wasn’t familiar with the area, so he said, “close to Flint, Michigan”. At that point, my head said it was a most definite no! If we ever got serious, I would have to move to the city!! No way! I loved my small town. I actually pictured him dressed up hanging in some city club. Thinking of that now makes me laugh and when I tell him he laughs even harder. When we started dating and I came to visit him for the first time, I got nervous as soon as I got south of Saginaw. I don’t love driving in traffic and everything seemed so busy. I remember when I got to his house after a two hour drive he asked, “what do you want to do? Do you want to see a movie?” In Omer, the closest movie theater is an hour away. I looked at him and said, “I just drove two hours and I really don’t want to drive another hour to see a movie.” He laughed and said, “Shelly, the theater is 10 minutes away.” I looked at him and said “wow, you must go all the time!” He found this hysterical. Another time, I came down for a birthday party and I knew I had went a little too far because nothing looked familiar. I called Todd and told him where I was and I could hear the whole family laughing in the background. I heard my sister in law, Becca, say, “OMG! She is so far out of her way!” I got really nervous thinking I was going to be in Detroit soon. I frantically asked Todd how far I had passed them and he laughed and said, “Shelly, you went at least 10 minutes past us.” I said, “Seriously? That’s it? You guys had me in a panic!” They still tell this story when they are talking about my horrible sense of direction. I laugh; because yes, I did get lost and that is funny, but 10 minutes is how long it takes to get to a gas station in Omer. So, for me to have gone ten minutes past my destination, was not a serious thing. I found it hilarious that in their minds, I might as well have drove an hour out of the way.
Todd and I only dated for a short time before I moved to his hometown of Fenton, Michigan. It took me at least a year to get over my home sickness. I honestly think Todd thought I was so unhappy there that it might not work out. I hated that I knew no one. I hated that it didn’t have that small town feel I was used to. I hated that I couldn’t just stop by a family member’s or a friend’s house for a drink after a hard day. To me, Fenton is a huge metropolis. When I moved down to Fenton, my only stipulation was that I wanted to live on a dirt road with property. Luckily, that’s what Todd wanted too. For a period of time, his sister Becca lived close to us. She once said, “I hate living in the country.” I laughed and said, “it’s not the country if you can get to a target in less then 1o minutes!”
Nothing makes Todd angrier then when I say Fenton is huge. He will drive me through town and point out every store and say, “THAT used to be a corn field, and THAT use to be a corn field!” He would describe restaurants that were once there, but have since gone. Roads that once weren’t there, but are now bustling with traffic. Fenton is HIS Omer. The place he feels at home. He hated that I was unhappy. After about a year,I really started to learn my way around town and luckily, I am really close to my husband’s family, so I did have places to stop and have a drink after a hard day. They’re not the same as having my hometown friends and family, but they are pretty incredible. It wasn’t long before Fenton grew on me. People here are down to earth and have that small town feel. You can tell it was a small town that grew overnight because the sense of pride people have for their community; however, Fenton never truly felt like home until Nash died.
As everyone probably knows by now, I am a dental hygienist. For the four years I have lived in Fenton, I have worked in Waterford, Michigan. When Nash died and I became pregnant again, I knew I needed to be closer to home. I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to work again once the new baby was here. What I did know, is that I could never drop him or her off at a daycare again, and if I did, I needed it to be within five minutes of me. I never want to get that panicked phone call again and then have to drive 40 minutes to get to my baby. That is when Dr. Shumaker came calling. I had put it out there that I was looking for a job closer to home and he had a position available, in Fenton!! Words can not describe the weight that moment took off my shoulders. First, I was upset I didn’t try harder to be closer to home when I had Nash. I still get upset about that. I have to block it from my mind and just be thankful that I can do it now for this baby. I was nervous about leaving Waterford though. The girls I work with heard me talk about wanting a baby and our struggle to get pregnant. Hell, I took the pregnancy test there that told me I was pregnant with Nash. I still remember running out of the bathroom to our office manager Melissa. I was crying, waving around the test saying, “I’m pregnant!!!” I was shaking uncontrollably and they all cried with me. They were there for all nine months of pregnancy. When Nash was born, they got daily updates on how much he was doing and how much I loved him. They all met him more then once and saw every picture I had ever taken of him. Not just the girls I worked with, but my patients as well. It was at that office where I got the call Nash wasn’t breathing. The man I was working on saw my panic as I ran into to grab my purse. Marsi said, “what’s wrong?!?” I yelled as I was running out of the building, “Nash isn’t breathing!” I heard Marsi say, “oh my God!” This was followed by my patient yelling at me to leave, as I was already half out the door. When I came back to work, it was incredibly hard. For the last five years, two times a year, I saw my patients. I knew what sports their kids played. I knew if they got a part in the school play. I knew if mom or dad started a new job or lost one. I knew if a family member was sick. Your patients become your friends. They knew all the details of my life too. When I came back to work, they naturally wanted to hug me and say they were sorry. Some told me they almost canceled for fear they would say something wrong. I’m usually really bubbly. When I came back to work after Nash died, I had days where I barely talked or just wasn’t my normal self. The girls and patients never questioned it. They knew it was a bad day, and they knew why. I didn’t realize how nice that was until I started working in Fenton. With the exception of an assistant, Lisa, and the doctor himself, no one knew what I had been through. Sure, I had told them, but they didn’t know me. When I’m not talking a lot or I start crying, they ask me what’s wrong. They probably just figure it’s pregnancy hormones or something like that. All my patients in Fenton are new to me, so I have to be as uppity as I can be to give a good first impression. That’s what I miss most about Waterford. That people just knew what I was going through. I could cry through a whole cleaning and my patients would just cry with me and not ask once what’s wrong. I miss that understanding. However, there are things that happen in Fenton that could only ever happen in Fenton and that makes it special. The office I work in now is located in downtown Fenton, which I love!! It has that small town feel with little shops and restaurants. People may not personally know me there, but they know about Nash. I will call someone back from the waiting room and some will just break down crying or smile and ask, “are you Nash’s mommy?!?” I can not tell you how much joy that brings me. Sometimes, I will be cleaning their teeth and that question everyone asks inevitably comes. “Do you have any children?” When I start to answer, people get emotional, but as soon as I say the name Nash, I have had people grab the sharp instruments out of my hand and almost jump out of the chair, look at me and say, “Oh my God!!! I know Nash!!!” I don’t know about you, but to me that’s truly amazing. I get it at least three to four times a day. People will say, “I feel like I know you” and we will literally talk like we have known each other for years. In Waterford, people knew about Nash’s life. In Fenton they know about his legacy. I have had patients thank me for helping them better understand the grief parents go through that have lost a child. I had one patient tell me that her friend had lost her baby and she could never bring herself to talk about it until I did. She told me that by sharing how I had rocked Nash in the rocking chair after he passed away helped her friend. She had done the same thing, but felt it was something too personal to talk about, but now she feels more comfortable that she can also share it. I cry about three times a day at work, mainly from being so moved by people who claim I have moved them. I never meant for this, to be a voice for others. People who know me, know that I am an open book and probably don’t find it surprising at all that I share my story. To them, that’s just Shelly. To others, I am this voice that wasn’t scared to talk about things many people feel you should keep to yourself.
It’s not just work. Todd and I can’t even eat in Fenton without having our meal paid for. Countless times our waiter has given us our bill at the end of a meal and it says, “paid in full. Have a Nash day!” We always scour the room, searching for anyone we may know. We usually don’t know anyone and wonder who it may have been. On many occasions, we have been out with friends when this has happened and our friends will get emotional. One time, as a man placed a gift card on our table and walked away, Todd’s friend, Andy, said to us, ” I don’t know how you guys keep it together when people do that.” Todd and I smiled. It’s crazy because it never gets old. Every time someone does it we get emotional. What makes me emotional is that I can see into the faces of those that have done it and how personal it is to them. To Todd, there is almost a face expressing bragging rights or pride. To him, this is no surprise. This is the Fenton he knows. They come together when tragedy strikes one of their own. When I walk in a store and someone hugs me, when I come home from work and tell Todd all that happened that day and how much people talked about Nash, when we go out to dinner and someone pays for our meal, I am moved to speechlessness, which as many of you know by now, is a rare thing. My face lights up and I am moved to tears by people’s kindness. Todd just sits back and watches as I fall in love with Fenton before his very eyes. I see the people in Omer, Twining, AuGres, and Standish moved by the generosity and love the people of Fenton have shown me. They, like Fenton, come together when tragedy strikes. They love me and hate that they can not be closer. They know Todd and I and feel protective of us. They know when I post on my Facebook page things that have happened in Fenton, that we are not only taken care of and protected, but we are loved. My town is the kind of town that is very protective of locals and sometimes brutal to outsiders. I think because of this, anyone who comes up north and says that they are from Fenton, would not only be considered a local, but bought a drink and given a huge thank you. I feel so connected to my hometown. When Todd and I visit, I get giddy as we get closer. I swear I take a deep breathe in and smile, feeling relief to be around things familiar. To me, it has always been home. It’s strange now because I feel that way on our way back to Fenton. We get south of Birch Run and I smile and say, “we are almost home” When I go into a store here, I may not know anyone, but many know me. When I eat at a restaurant, I may not know the owner, but they know me. When I go into the bar, I may not know the people there, but they know me. I’m always greeted with a smile and hug, sometimes a drink, or a free meal. I am blessed to have two places to call home, two communities I would put up against any other with confidence we would come out on top. Two places our children will live and call home and two places that will always remember Nash and will always consider their community his home!