According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, people in the United States move on average more than 11 times over their lifetime. For some, those moves are within a few miles of their birth, or, in Ashland parlance, from "in town" to a house on one of the numbered county roads. Our first major move on our own tends to be when we head off to college or the military, and while some move back home, many others chose to settle in their college town or head off to parts unknown to take that first "real" job.

What do we miss when we leave? For me, it’s symbolized in food. Ted’s hot dogs and Anderson’s frozen custard from Tonawanda; pasties from a tiny storefront in Wharton and ice cream at the Dairy Maid in Dover, N.J.; cheesesteaks from D’Allesandros in Philadelphia; shopping at the West Side Market in Cleveland; Taggarts’ ice cream in Canton; pie from the Lyn-Way in Ashland – my mouth is watering as I type the words. The body remembers!

In Ashland this week for the monthly writers group at the Kroc Center (second Monday of the month, 7 p.m. — all welcome), I had to order perch and French fries (for me) and Coneys (for Larry) at the A&W. Could it taste as good as I remember? Wiping the grease off my hands, I smiled. Yes indeed!

Since we moved to Canton to be closer to family, I’ve missed Chauntae, my hair stylist at Sheila and Company, the meat counters at Gerwig’s White Barn and Cleveland Avenue Market, and cheering on the AU basketball teams in person. Dan and Becky, our youngest son and his beloved wife, were telling me how much they miss the times of worship at Park Street Brethren Church — me too. Not sure which one of us said it, but it’s so true: "You don’t fully appreciate what you have until you don’t have it anymore."

For some, the pull of missing their hometown is strong, and they return. They’ve experienced the bright lights of L.A. or the Big Apple, the quest for the unknown, and the culinary joys of the world around them, but home is calling, for family reasons, for quality of life reasons or just because. Poet and rural advocate Wendell Berry has even coined a name for them: the homecomers, people who have been away but choose to return to their rural or small town roots.

Writing in the New York Times this week ("Go Home to Your ‘Dying’ Hometown"), Michele Anderson tells of moving home to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, a community of 14,000 people surrounded by open prairie. She muses: "I feel conflicted about my role here. Rural places like this one are facing countless questions about the economy, about identity and about the environment. It’s hard to know what we need to be stewards of and sustain, and what we need to let go or confront, to build a strong future."

An oft-repeated narrative is that rural America, small town America, is dying. That may be true for some areas, but about half of our rural counties are gaining population, not losing. Anderson wonders: "Simply panicking about the ‘death’ of rural America gives those of us who care about and live in these places very little to learn or build on. Is there another way to think about it?" Instead of sounding a death rattle, what about offering small business incentives for homecomers, gap year projects for students, homecoming residencies for artists and opportunities for bold creativity?

For those invested in the future of Ashland and communities like it across the country, Anderson’s thoughtful article is worth a read, especially for its conclusion: "Both urban and rural people share a future far beyond whom we elect as leaders. That shared future is what drives us to live meaningful lives, and what will make us the best stewards of the earth that we can be, no matter where we choose to live."

What might it look like to intentionally raise a new banner in Ashland, "Homecomers welcome here"? If it includes the promise of pie at the Lyn-Way, you never know what could happen.

JoAnn Shade, author of "Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant," can be reached at gracednotesministries@gmail.com.