Recently, I was traveling when someone asked me a question that took me by surprise: have you thought about moving? I’ve had plenty of time to think about the question, and I’m ready to answer it. Never mind it’s been weeks.
I wish I could say I was one of those glib people who can respond to the unexpected with a funny one-liner or an instant shutdown. I am not. I’m more likely to stutter or, worse yet, say nothing at all. I can’t remember if or how I answered the question, but I do recall saying something about Minneapolis, as if proximity to a big city justified my location. (Actually, Omaha would have been a better answer; it’s just two hours away.)
What bothered me, besides my own inadequate reply, was the latent assumption that something is wrong with where I live. Of course assumptions abound about South Dakota. I’m far more likely to hear what it doesn’t have than what it does: it doesn’t have a sports team, it doesn’t have a metropolis, and it doesn’t have networking opportunities.
It surprises people I meet that I’ve lived here my entire life, but it doesn’t surprise South Dakotans. For us, it’s not unusual to know people whose families have been here for generations. I can go back over a century in a thirty-minute drive to Garryowen, where my relatives, determined to bring an Irish-Catholic church to the community, are buried. My father is buried in the family plot near Centerville, an area I’ve heard stories about all my life. There’s the gravel pit where my uncle almost drowned, the farmhouse where my great-grandfather died, the bridge’s name I know not because of a sign but because of the old landowner: Willy Boom’s Bridge.
The prairie is vast and, years ago, was difficult to traverse. It’s possible that my ancestors didn’t have much choice in their decision to stay. But certainly I have a choice, and to say I’ve never thought about leaving would be a lie. The trouble is place; it gets into your blood. Or maybe it gets passed down.
There are those exceptions, the people who do leave, like my grandfather. Restless by nature, he moved west to ease his health problems. He died young and is buried in California with my grandmother, away from the entire family. I understand that, probably more than I like to admit. In fact, it might have been the thing that gave me pause when asked about moving. Some days, when I read about conferences, classes, and author talks, I wish I lived in a city where those events take place.
But most days, I’m content reliving history, raising my own little South Dakotans, hoping the movie Fargo will be less popular when they grow up. The accent, the assumptions, the isolation—they come with the territory. Everything else? That’s a different matter entirely, a matter of the heart.