For a greater portion of my life, the small town was all I knew.
I lived the first month of my life in an incubator. My elated and nervous dad could fit his wedding ring all the way up my arm. My mom tried to heal from the surprise C-section and couldn’t stop smiling. They bottle fed me frequently and transported me in a cushy shoebox. My parents and family wondered, waited, and prayed, all the while I began to thrive. I started to look less like a malnourished monkey and more like my parents. After a month at the hospital, I was released to go home. That is how my being began.
My parents enthusiastically transported me home, to the farm, and began the efforts of guiding a person into this world. The process of saving for a college fund commenced, alongside tactics of tolerating a writhing creature with colic. My first pair of cowboy boots was awarded me by the time I learned to walk, and despite being terrified of Santa Claus, I took to animals nicely. Identifying ticks, picking the correct plants from Grammy’s garden, and building outdoor forts became some of my specialties.
Dozing off in the cab of a tractor midday in July, forgetting to feed my rabbits, and crafting toilet paper accessories for my dolls became the foray into my personhood. I watched line dancing on TV, determined to become good at it, and developed a particular affinity for the country singer Garth Brooks. Devoting each new cassette he released to my memory, I will never forget the Christmas I got a cowboy hat like his.
Now I was a true farm person, with a belt buckle to match.
Officially outfitted, I could claim your land and all its gifts as my home. I feel in love with the small town.
With your vast open spaces and manure-stained or sweet grass-stained air.
Your soil and plants and groaning animals and buildings popping up interrupting the terrain. You, with your ways you give back to us: plant and animal nourishment, pure air, trickling streams, grasslands spotted with woodlands, rocks with which to rest upon, and truly simple space.
Your lush areas and quiet, quiet spaces provide respite. Nothing is rushed with you, you go at your own pace–living on God’s unmeasured time and not man’s rhythms. You cultivate presence with your presence and your vast, peopleless expanses provide safety. You, Country, are really quite lovely and I am inspired by your ways.
You are also laden with ways that make life harder.
Your distance from populated areas is both life-giving and isolating. Working with the land is slow, and animals don’t always cooperate with our agenda for them either. Your harvests are not dependable, ye, nor your soil.
The sun and wind can abuse my skin and the cold can sting my very bones. The time is slow, sometimes so slow it seems endless and the provocateur of boredom. Somehow you manage to provide both shelter and complete exposure to the elements, to all created things.
There is a harshness and severity to you, while simultaneously you keep us close to your bosom. We depend on you, we need you, and we are crippled in knowing how to live without you.
Honestly, live without you I must.
I am writing you because I have to be truthful about that. Somehow, in both your goodness and your flaws, I have reached a dead end inhabiting you. My young adult life is overwhelmed with curiosity about the world and it’s people.
Having an insatiable appetite for discovery, I am afraid I have to tread elsewhere for awhile. Exposure to other environments, both good and bad, are necessary for my sense of personhood.
It is no sort of divorce, but I am admittedly unsure if I will return.
Your opportunities outside of beautiful land and animals are limited and I just sense that I am made for discovery. I can begin to fathom life outside of you, but I have no sense of what it could be. I need to know, to quest, to at least tickle the margins of what could be.
You have crafted my sense of home, but too left me exposed to wonder.
I moved to the nearest big city to our farm–a pleasant four hours away–as soon as college was upon me. Gawd, it was liberating–the thrill of the lights, the downtown skyline, the diversity of people and food and places and OH!
There were some timid feelings about not knowing where to park or how to identify different languages or how time seemed to rush forward faster in the city. But I had great pride in my abilities to adapt–more pride than I did in the place where I came from, and I embraced the frenzied city and all it’s beautiful offerings with whole-hearted awe and flirtatious jest.
A friend and I went spelunking in the sewers, I ate food I couldn’t pronounce, and I went to the store at midnight simply because it was open past eight pm. People who didn’t look or act like me became my friends, and just as importantly people who did look and act like me became my kindred spirits.
I learned how to get around by getting lost over and over again. Parks and diners and the Mississippi River were run amok by my bare feet and curious spirit. College classes were their own form of fun, both imbibed and spit out with an overwhelming need to explore. It was so different from where I came from, I wondered if I could call it such. The city, though, it elevated my sense of selfhood, and I haven’t left it since I got here.
How, now, do I live? How do I provide both opportunity and room to breathe for my children? How do I sit at the threshold of where I can function and what I need to function? How do I claim what I value from both urban and rural spaces? What does location have to do with living well?
As I take a deep, stained-particle breath of city air, I begin to accept these as possible permanent questions. I grin at my neighbor who is a different race than me, gladness overwhelms me. I am learning to accept what home looks like. It is a molasses-like discipline, learning that home is wherever I craft it to be, and that the comforts of home are always being redefined.
Wherever I go, where ever I trod, wherever I end up, I know this: the story of my youth is mine, and like the land, it is home.
Dearest Country, you have crafted my sense of home, but what else might home be?