Coming home, more native than her parents

A few weeks ago we wrote about the “Brain Gain,” the phenomenon of people moving to rural Minnesota, as explored by a University of Minnesota Extension researcher.

After two years at Bard College in New York, Stearns County native Marna Macgregor is coming home, too. Here’s a guest post she wrote for Ground Level about the mixed feelings she has.

“Tammy was talking about Linda Rose today as if I know who she is,” my mother said.

We were in the midst of a common conversation about home and belonging. Strange as it sounds, this topic has risen many times in my childhood, wondering how I fit into a place I call a childhood home but which my parents do not.

My parents moved from the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area to the small town of Fairhaven, Minn., 25 years ago to buy 50 acres of corn and convert it into fruit. Although Fairhaven is the only place I’ve called home, it became evident my relationship with the area differed from the Schmidts, Scheiders, and Keuchles at Kimball Elementary School, families that had lived on the same soil for generations.

After two and half decades, my parents are still considered ‘out-of-towners.’ So although my mother and I have spent the same amount of time in Fairhaven, Linda Rose is where our experiences differ, because, of course, I know who she is.

“Mom,” I responded as if it were obvious. “She’s that plump woman with the straight cut bangs. She’s Michael Rose’s aunt and drove Lindsey Pramman’s school bus.” It seemed like common knowledge. As is routine at this point in the conversation, I wondered where I belong in my relationship with Fairhaven, caught between native and newcomer.

marnamacgregor244.jpgStearns County native Marna Macgregor

The discussion arose when my mother asked about the coming school year. After two years at Bard College in New York’s picturesque Hudson Valley, I am returning to finish school at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities because of financial stress. As I confront the fact that I will once again be living in the place I call home, I’ve begun to wonder how much it really belongs to me.

While I am not a Schmidt, a Schneider, or a Kuechle, I am certainly not an outsider. I was born here! I rode in the town parade dressed like a strawberry munchkin and spend my Saturday mornings vending at the farmers market.

Yes, I left. Now I dress strangely, and eat more kale than steak, but never had I felt more like a central Minnesota native than while away in New York. In fact, I spent most of my energy those past two years creating an identity around my Midwestern roots.

I became known as “That Girl from Minnesota” who put New Yorkers in their place when they referred to Middle America as a “cultural black-hole,” and insisted that “being liberal isn’t that hard when you’re from Brooklyn!”

But when I imagine my return home I wonder if I’ve been tainted by abstract thinking, poisoned by hyper-liberal academia and severed from the ‘everyman?” Were my first-generation roots too weak to survive the cross-country transplant?

After 1,299 miles in the car, traveling from Annandale-On-Hudson NY to Annandale MN, my mother and I headed north on Minnesota 55. The thought of what I had left behind in the Hudson Valley still consumed me, yet that familiar route home was the most gorgeous and comforting sight I’d seen in months.

As I dare to imagine next year I remember some advice a friend passed on to me that she herself received when leaving her childhood home, “Go see a new geography, live in a new geography. Go for a year and you can come back. People have done that before, you can come back.”

And even as I reiterated these words a sigh of air that had been erupting inside my chest, fed by a fission of guilt and loyalty was finally released from my lungs. At this point I realized that this struggle between where I physically belong and where I socially fit in is essential to who I am.

That’s not to say I understand the magnetic pull I feel towards this landscape. But for all the pain, anxiety and confusion this struggle has caused me, I would rather grapple with its meaning than settle for something easier.

The Ground Level blog is happy to consider written contributions on community issues in Minnesota. See some of the topics we’re interested in here and contact me here.

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