Coming Home

I drive by miles of cornfields every day to and from work.  I watch as the fluttering leaves and straight stalks slowly grow.  I pass only two or three cars on my 20 mile commute.   I arrive at work energized, ready to meet with students, plan lectures, research, and write.  And I return home relaxed, looking forward to watering my tomato and herb garden and then cooking a homemade dinner.  On my frequent traveling adventures doing student oversight or recruiting, I enjoy the time in other places, but look forward to returning home to the peace of this place of belonging that I’ve created.   After a year of upheaval and change, I did not expect to find this harmony.  But one day, I looked around and realized that I was happy.  It was an unexpected moment of grace that has continued with me—quiet in my heart—the whole summer.

This is not the home I expected.  I never dreamt of moving to Ohio.  Never.  It was not on my list of “places that would be cool to live.”  In my mind, it was sleepy flyover country.  After I accepted this job last spring, I decided to drive from my current home in Washington, DC to my new home in northwestern Ohio.  I wanted a sense of place, of knowing where I was in the continent.  More than two hours before reaching my destination, the gps steered me off of the interstate, and I just kept driving.  There was nothing—just corn.   And I started panicking.  By the time I arrived at the University and the tiny town it is situated in, I was on the verge of tears and sent a profanity laden text to some BCC blogger friends.  Bottom line translation?  What the everloving @#$% was I thinking!?!  Emeritus blogger Amri wrote me back and said.  “Don’t worry, you’ll like it.  You can buy half a pig and put it in your deep freeze.”  I started crying.

But I did it anyways, I moved and almost immediately fell in love with my job.  It made up for the fact that I didn’t really have any friends, and that my neighbors didn’t talk to me, and that one day when I wanted to make curry I couldn’t find coconut milk anywhere in the entire town.  My students are from all over the world, and I adore them.  They are funny and smart and idealistic.  I love teaching.  I just didn’t love teaching in Ohio.  Friends started sensing that I was fraying at the edges a bit, and one by one they flew out to visit me, connecting my life—stitching together the old and the new.  (How in the world was I blessed with such kind friends?)   And I found I could settle in.  I started making friends here.  But for almost a year, it didn’t feel like home.  I felt like an alien.  Until one day, it was home.

As my Mormon family and friends have been celebrating Pioneer Day this week, I keep thinking about how my ancestors must have felt as they approached Utah.  They didn’t drive through desolation for two hours, they had been walking through it for two months.  They wound up in a place with no trees, no water, and not a lot of food.  They only benefit?  It was relatively empty, and they could stay isolated from religious persecution for 10 years.  We celebrate Brigham Young’s pronouncement of “This is the Place!” when he first saw the Salt Lake Valley, but I imagine that more than a few people were thinking “THIS is the place?  You have got to be kidding me….”    But somehow it became home.  It became home to my great-great-grandmother who walked barefoot across the country so she could save her shoes for when she arrived in Utah, only to find that they didn’t fit anymore.  It became home for my great-grandfather who traveled back and forth from Norway to the U.S. twice before he could stomach settling in Utah permanently.  But for me, it was always home.  The home I was born to.  The home I always feel safe in, because there is always a mountain at my back.  It makes me wonder, if I’m ever blessed with children, how will they think about these cornfields?

Comments

  1. Thanks Karen. Welcome home.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I can speak for your hypothetical future children. They’ll love it, as it would be home for them in much the same way Utah’s mountains were home for you. I grew up among similar cornfields in northern Illinois, and as a teenager I even worked in the fields. I love visiting out west, but for me the midwest with its abundant corn fields is indeed home.

    (You have some very lucky students. I love that they are experiencing America through you; I can’t think of a better guide.)

  3. I had similar feelings 20 years ago when I moved out of my home state. My commitment to my new home took longer than yours. I never did think of pioneer ancestors. We somehow overlook that. We paint it with joy and delight. Thanks for tying the two together.

  4. Very nice.

    Last week I picked up a newly-published book called This is Where You Belong: the Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. I didn’t realize until partway through that the author, Melody Warnick, had ties to BYU, so she’s someone with a lot of shared experiences of moving around the country. As the title says, she explores the social science and art of feeling at home. She suggests how to find a place to live within a community, and how to feel at home once you move in. Many of the strategies are things my husband and I have picked up over the years, but feeling at home can still be as much art as science: I didn’t feel at home in my current community for about a decade. That’s a long time to feel at odds with a place!

    I could go on at length, but I’ll wrap this up and say that I’m glad you found your sense of home quickly. Best wishes in your teaching and life in the heartland. And for anyone who’s moving soon, or has friends or family who are making a big move, you might want to consider this book. Lots of good strategies.

  5. Jason K. says:

    I love this, Karen, and I’m happy with and for you.

  6. I grew up in Utah and for years after moving to California missed the mountains and snow and fall leaves. How could no one know how to bottle peaches or make crafts? What passed for a mountain in the Bay Area seemed laughable. Their idea of trout and fresh corn was not up to snuff. How could the people around me not be donning cowboy hats and setting off fireworks for the whole month of July?
    But after moving back to Utah, I find myself yearning for a sight of the ocean. I miss the cool fog rolling in in the early evening. I want Persian food, not just Thai or Indian. I want rainstorms in January. I want street performers at Pier 39. I want dragons in the streets at Chinese New Year.
    I could say similar things about the year I spent in coastal Alaska. ( Seafood is NEVER the same after you have eaten it there.)
    I have once again acquainted myself with fireworks set off in the middle of the street. I possess a new heavy winter coat and snow boots. I shovel snow, scrape windows and drive with gloves on. I am enjoying concerts in the Conference Center and Tabernacle and lectures on church history in the Assembly Hall.
    Am I home? Not yet, but maybe someday.

  7. This was a great post.

  8. I loved this! Ten years ago, I moved to northwest Ohio for graduate school. I remember going in April to try and find a place to live, only to realize how isolated the town was. I stayed in a janky hotel room that weekend, and I cried every night, thinking I had made the biggest mistake of my life to leave my secure teaching job and my family and my friends. My two years of graduate school there ended up being the best two years of my life, hands down. The people I met there are still dear friends I can count on, and every Thanksgiving, even though now I get to be with my family, I am homesick for Ohio. It is a special place to me.

    My dad was in the Air Force, so I have lots of places that feel like home–as hard as moving around was, I’m grateful for it, because it taught me how to make every place I lived a different kind of home. I’m pretty much settled in now, and plan to finish my teaching career at my current school in a different flyover state, and it feels a bit weird to know I won’t move again, but also comforting to have a place with deeper roots. Thanks for your post!

  9. Such a great piece, Karen. I have loved the places that have become home to me in my lifetime, in part maybe I loved them more because they felt so foreign and unloveable in the beginning. Glad you have found a place of peace.

  10. There is nothing like driving through miles and miles of corn and soybean fields to make me feel at home. For my sons, I’m pretty sure home is bald cypress, elevated bridges over the Atchafalaya Basin, and their glasses fogging up when they leave the Winn-Dixie in August. Thanks for sharing this.

  11. I’m so happy you have found home.