I love to fantasize about having a life in both France and in the States. In this fantasy my children are bilingual; they have French friends and American friends and go back and forth with ease. In my French life I have a small, simple place in the south of France. I read, I cook, and I sit outside in the sun and entertain friends late into the night and the sound of Ella Fitzgerald’s voice floats through the night air. I wake in the morning drink coffee and go for a trek in the mountains or discover quaint shops in a nearby village.
In reality I live in Blue Springs, Missouri, a suburb about 20 minutes east of Kansas City. Topographically, it is beautiful here. The soil is rich and fertile. The lay of the land is hilly and rocky. There are a lot of trees. 1/8th of very cent paid by Missouri tax payers goes to the Missouri Department of Conservation. We have outstanding outdoor resources and wildlife conservation, our lakes are breathtaking.
I often imagine that living in Europe might have been a better “fit” for me. I imagine that socially and politically I might not have felt a stronger sense of belonging. I find that my way of life and my philosophy about life is frequently in conflict with those in my community. My learners often say, “But you are not really an American”. However, if the truth be known, I really love the life that I have in the states. When I reflect on my childhood I can’t imagine a more delightful place to have lived.
I grew up in Lone Star, Kansas. The first settlers arrived in the Lone Star area in 1854. In its height it had a bank, a post office, a general store and a barber shop. By the time I was born the only evidence of that fact were the empty structures. The area was mostly farmland, there is a small lake built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939. The land consists of rolling, wooded hills, sweet, grassy valleys and creeks and streams that babble like happy children in the spring then grow stagnant and slow in the summer. The area is far enough from city lights that the deep, dark night time sky is illuminated by stars. Wildlife is abundant, in addition to a variety of reptile and fowl, there are deer, raccoon, opossum, squirrel, skunk, coyote, fox, bobcat and rumored panther sightings.
The air is fragrant with the smell of fresh cut grass and often with the dusty aroma of whatever crop was in harvest. One of my most fond scents is that of silage. Silage is made up of trimmings of the unused part of a combination of harvested crops such as oats, wheat, corn or milo. The cuttings are chopped, mixed and placed into a silo where it ferments and is then used to feed to livestock during the winter months. The smell is earthy and sweet and just short of offensive. In the late summer, as hot days end in cool evenings, I long for the smell.
The Lone Star community was made up largely of Brethren Farmers. The Church of the Brethren is the offspring of a very traditional Old Order Brethren Church that at first glance resemble the more known Amish. The Brethren, although much more modern, embrace the tradition of simplicity and pacifism. They are known for their full water immersion in baptism. They are sometimes known as Dunkards.
The people in the Lone Star community were my extended family. They accepted me into their homes, invited me to share meals and in many cases offered me a picture of the “Midwestern American family”. The Brethren have what I now know to be a unique sense of community. They are a service oriented group of people. When I say, “service”, I mean they are “in service” to one another. If a neighbor experiences misfortune or sickness, they work as a community to help. Meals are prepared, pies are baked, work is done and clothes are offered. If there is a natural disaster, a flood, a tornado, the Brethren are often the first to respond. I like to think that this is a core value that I have retained in my adulthood. I believe that although I long for a bigger world I am rooted in my beginnings.
Today, my work is performed from my home. I telecommute to the offices of my learners and when they tell me about a weekend in a small village tucked into the Pyrenees, I ache with longing. My husband occasionally travels for work and it sometimes angers me when he tells me he is leaving for India, Japan, Singapore, China or Chile while I stay home and take care of the children and the dogs.
A few weeks ago when my husband traveled to Shanghai, the temperature began to change and I realized that our nine year old son needed warmer clothes. After a lot of coaxing I dragged him to the department store. He was very uncooperative and uninterested in trying on another pair of jeans. In exasperation, I surrendered. We climbed into the car and decided to relax and take the long way home. We drove the road between two lakes as the sun was just beginning to set. The leaves had just begun to change and the setting sun and fall colors reflected in the water. Eli, the old soul, opened a Journey CD and inserted it into the CD player and turned up the volume. We put the windows down and felt the slight bite of the cool air. I turned to look at him and saw that he had leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes to listen to Steve Perry’s voice. On his face was sheer bliss.