There is nothing like home sweet home

Published 7:55 pm Sunday, February 3, 2008

By By Tray Smith
My mother, who is alive and well at 97 today, often says if she had known I would stay in Washington for the rest of my life when she brought me here as a page in the summer of 1960, she may have reconsidered and kept me in Sacramento.” -Donald K. Anderson, former clerk of the House, Sept. 2, 2007, United States House of Representative’s fall semester page orientation.
Since 1960, the page program has devolved into a system based on semester, rather than multi-year, appointments. The former system allowed pages to complete high school without leaving Washington, D.C. The current system requires them to come home for a brief respite between paging and graduation. Some pages from yonder years, like Mr. Anderson, went on to graduate from college, live out their dreams and retire in the nation’s Capitol. Many never made the homecoming trip that I made last Saturday.
Yet, for all the tears shed when I left my fellow pages, for all the sadness associated with leaving the beautiful U.S. Capitol building one last time and for all the wonderful memories I have made and friendships I have forged over the past five months of my life, I felt happy as I rode through town last Saturday afternoon, looked up, and saw that very meaningful Welcome to Atmore sign with the knowledge that I was, at last, back home.
I believe that some of the disconnect in our nation’s capitol today is caused by leaders who go there at a young age as an intern, a page, a college student, a staffer or even as a member of Congress, and become so entranced by the glory of the city that they do not think enough about “home.” But for me “home” is not just a place, it is not just a physical location. “Home” is a way of life. Because for me, my “home” describes my values and my beliefs, the culture in which I was raised and the roots from which I grow. And my home is, and always will be here in Atmore.
I think it is having such a good, close-knit home that kept me aware of my city and its values while I was gone. As I return now after spending more time away from home than at any other point in my life, I have a greater knowledge of the world, of people and of government than I had before I left. I have had several experiences that most people will go a lifetime without ever getting to witness. I have met and befriended people from distant parts of the country and I have experienced what it is like to live with peers raised in a different atmosphere than my own. More than anything else, these events have made me appreciate the background I have here, in a small, rural and diverse southern community of God-fearing people. I know that my community means more to me than my fellow page’s metropolitan areas and suburbs meant to them.
My goal for the next year is to turn the knowledge I have gained from the activities I have participated in into service for my community. One of my favorite activities in the page program was getting to learn about other people, other communities and activities that those individuals participated in within their communities. I heard many interesting stories and ideas that I hope to be able to utilize in giving something back to this community, which has given me so much.
One day, between two hectic series of votes, I sat with a colleague of mine just outside of the House chamber in the Republican cloakroom. There, Congressman Bonner walked up and began a conversation by looking to my fellow page (R-Mississippi) and asking if I had told her about Atmore. “Of course,” she said. “ And I hope to come visit sometime.”
A few weeks later, after the pages had already gone home for Christmas, the Congressman stopped by to tell my work supervisors in the cloakroom about Atmore’s award winning Christmas lights. I introduced them to our town, but Congressman Bonner kept them informed about the news while I was away. Congressman Bonner is a good salesman for our district, but only because he is first a proud resident of south Alabama. He never forgets about home.
I would like to thank the Congressman for the trust and confidence he placed in me by awarding me with the incredible honor of a House page appointment. It was a truly unforgettable experience that I hope will serve as the foundation for an eventual career in Congress, where I hope to follow in Jo Bonner‘s footsteps. When he made his selection, Congressman Bonner could have chosen any junior in the entire district, from T.R. Miller to U.M.S. Wright. But he chose a Blue Devil from Escambia County High School. Of all of the people in positions of power today, Congressman Bonner is one who has not, and will not, forget about Atmore.
I regret all of the negative things that have been written about him on this page since I left by people incredibly removed from events on the House floor, where no district has a greater champion than the Alabama First. I hope to offer a different, more accurate perspective on his leadership and service now that I am returning to my post as a weekly political columnist for the Atmore Advance.
Tray Smith is a political columnist for the Atmore Advance. He is a student at Escambia County High School and can be reached at tsmith_90@

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