My uncle began teasing me about it when I was seven. I was riding with him in his combine, watching stalk after stalk of corn slip through the heavy outermost blades, when he said, “You’re going to be one of them starving artists, aren’t you?”
I denied it. Starving? Not me. But his words stuck with me, lingering, as if a suggestion that the dreams I had might be less than ideal.
I come from a family of farmers. Pragmatism is a common trait, as well as straightforward intelligence (contrary to the stereotype, farmers cannot afford to be stupid). Our legacy is a plot of 160 acres that has been in our family for generations; it will be mine and my sister’s someday. Growing up, I anticipated “Corn Day” each summer, which involves the back of a pick-up heaped with green ears and an entourage of relatives - grandparents, aunts, curly-headed toddlers. Uncle Steve used to take obvious delight in teasing me with writhing corn earworms while the 25-pound farm cat attacked the backs of our legs.
My immediate family is something of an anomaly. We live on an acreage, but do not farm. There is a 40-foot high barn in our yard, a local landmark of sorts, and fields surround us in every direction, yet both my parents commute 70 miles a day to Lincoln. I have always wanted to leave.
Granted, this feeling may have begun as mere mimicry of all those girls in books or on television continually proclaiming, “I can’t wait to get away from this place.” It would be tantamount to giving up some inner sense of teenage decency to admit otherwise. But a city like Chicago or New York is more of a center for the arts than Nebraska, and I knew that was the kind of place I wanted to be. I can’t imagine staying here my whole life; my sister can’t imagine leaving.
Only recently have I come to harbor a strong affection for this place - the prairies, the old roads, the buildings. There’s a kind of subtle poetry about it. I find myself drawn to books by Willa Cather, and laugh knowingly through Ted Kooser’s Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, all too familiar with the idiosyncrasies of old farmers and wild roses, barn swallows and icicle-style light decorations.
I find I like it here much more than I ever have, especially as a seven-year-old paying only grudging acknowledgement to the setting of the Little House series. I used to ache to leave; now I want to lounge around on the porch and write about how the gravel road looks when the sun is rising.
I wonder what it would be like to leave. I wonder how hard it would be to develop a similar affection for Chicago, or New York. Not impossible ... it’s just hard to know how to go on from here. How can I be, and do, all the things I want, and not forsake this place and the family that I come from? Is it worth it to try?
I think so. I think it’ll scare me at first - probably a lot. But everyone gets their sea legs eventually. And what I finally, absolutely know is that no matter where my aspirations take me, Nebraska is a good - no, an excellent - place to come back to, and in the back of my mind, to keep as home.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.