For more than a few years, desperate to leave California, I wondered what it would be like to move back to the Midwest. Maybe not St. Louis, since it had fallen on even harder times. I heard at my 50-year, high-school reunion that salvaging old bricks from condemned buildings was a major export.
After being left high and dry after Clinton’s NAFTA scheme to move manufacturing out of the country, Walmart moved in and destroyed most small-town merchants. The people I knew and interviewed for the local newspaper, really didn’t care all that much that their homeland was called flyover country.
Despite how negatively Missourians were being categorized in the early 2020s, I came to more and more appreciate growing up there and in many ways regretted leaving. They called it the heartland for good reason with a sense of pride. I’d been shaped by kind, realistic people, with excellent bullshit detectors.
Finding a caring, helpful community is what made my time at the farm such a rich, learning experience. And why it felt more like my summer in Kenya and more recently in Cuba. They had community and stepped in when other governmental resources failed them.
What I came to believe is that geography really is destiny, but sometimes it’s so subtle we don’t notice. Digging down to find our roots is more like gardening than we sometimes think—just don’t kill the plant while we’re at it.
In 2018 I rented a car and drove down to California for a long overdue visit with friends and a kind of commemorative tour. I wanted to see my old house that took forever to remodel and was still unfinished when I left after a divorce.
Another day, I walked for an hour on Limantour Beach in Inverness where my kids and our dog Molly would race along the water’s edge, daring the waves, bursting with energy. Later that beach provided a place for my mother to feel free to talk about her life and I could help her become the woman she couldn’t be during her fifty-year marriage to my father.
I stayed for a week with a friend, had lunch with a few colleagues from my HMO days, and coffee with my therapist who had retired and become an equally competent artist. And of course, the variety of restaurants, even north of San Francisco, threw shade over what we called hot dining spots where I lived. But the traffic, the press of people, the pace quickly became too much, and reminded me of why I’d left the golden state.
On my last night, as I was packing to return home, my hostess knocked on my bedroom door.
“Come in,” I said. “You don’t need to knock. I’m just trying to not be sad now that our time together is coming to an end.”
She handed me a heavy plastic bag to open. I pulled out a lovely yellow three-ring binder full of all of the Journals I’d published, starting at the farm. I’d written and paid for the printing and postage costs for the Journal to a growing list of subscribers.
“Oh,” was all I could say before I burst into tears, put the binder and the bag on the bed, and hugged her and then hugged her again. In a way, her saving them was more emotionally satisfying for me as a writer than seeing one of my books on a shelf in a bookstore.
I didn’t really know where my box of Journals were at home; probably in the catchall closet in the third bedroom used as an office and art-making space. I hadn’t thought about them in years.
As it turned out, by the time I’d mailed out the last Journal, there were possibly three-hundred in circulation if I counted others sharing and photocopying them for friends. Once I was at a party in Brooklyn when I overheard a woman telling a group of friends about this “lady who moved to a farm and wrote this fun account.” It had to be me. I stepped into her circle and said, “I think I’m that lady.” Not bad for a stone-age communication method.
Every now and then I will flash on something that happened at the farm,
Or any number of memories from my time working/living in NYC as an intern at Wigwag magazine where I actually met him on the subway.
Or my time in Kenya and Cuba, where I actually shook his hand.
I love thinking about and am grateful for the life-changing adventures I’ve had.
Photo credits: Midwest landscape – dave-hefler, Barn – spec photops, Bull – hans-eiskenon, Shovel in garden – andres-siimon, John Lennon postcard – Bob Gruen (1974).