Friday, August 1, 2014
Sometimes I Miss My Nebraska Heimat
Tuesday I received a letter in the mail from my parents that contained an ariel photograph of my grandparents' old farm. That picture pricked something inside of me, reminding me of my distance from the land of my childhood. There's also the fact that my grandmother passed away last November, and now the farm is in the possession of a family member who has been feuding with my parents. I wonder if I will ever get to set foot on the old farm ever again. Little did I know that when my cousin and I took a short trip to walk around there last November that it would be my last time in a place so full of such happy memories.
That thought perhaps drove me to take my girls out to a local farm this week where we picked our own sweet corn and peaches. The peach picking was a lot more fun for my daughters, who scrambled for fallen peaches, grinning the whole time. I much more enjoyed picking sweet corn, since it was something I had done a lot growing up. We would drop in at a farmer friend of the family's place or my uncle's farm and walk into the rows with my mother, looking for good ears to break off. I later spent my teenage Julys in the corn fields as a detasseler, sweating it out under the hot sun to have dough for books, CDs, and games of NBA Jam at the arcade. (If you don't know what detasseling is, read this.)
Standing this week in tall rows of corn on a cloudless July morning brought me back to the land of my youth, a place that I rarely get to see anymore. There's nothing quite like being in the middle of corn field on a beautiful morning, you feel surrounded by teeming, boundless life with a neverending sky above. Driving down the highway the corn fields by the side of the road may seem boring or monotonous, but if you see them up close they can be awe-inspiring. During the week every summer that I spent at my grandparents' farm, I swear that I could hear the corn growing at night as I lay in bed. The fields themselves seemed to have a life of their own, as if they were their own singular organism.
Due to my odd career trajectory, I've lived in many different places, which has revealed to me the great regional variation in this country. Smug snobby jerks do violence to regional diversity and its treasures whenever they use the hateful phrase "flyover country," as if everything between New York and LA is the same. I'd like to suggest a more meaningful word to add to our lexicon when describing America's provinces. English has borrowed German words (Zeigeist, Schadenfreude, etc.) but I would suggest that it could use another: Heimat. This German word could be loosely translated as "home region," with the understanding that our connections to particular regions and their local cultures are an important part of our identities.
My Heimat is central Nebraska. It is a unique place with strange folkways, like "salads" made up mostly of mayonnaise and a religious devotion to the University of Nebraska's football team. I was desperate to leave there as a teenager, and wouldn't want to go back and live there full time, but there are days that I miss it intensely. I have embraced New Jersey with a fervor that many of my friends and family find amusing or incomprehensible, but be that as it may, there are times when I really do miss the old Heimat. I miss its plain-spokeness, the relative lack of shallow materialism, and its wide-open skies. I miss the people, especially my family. It's good to know that there are corn fields in the Garden State where I can stand and let the soul of my Heimat speak to me again.