I grew up in a historic Victorian farmhouse next to an old-fashioned, red, wooden barn where we raised about 50 sheep for their meat and wool, a handful of egg-laying chickens, and an occasional rafter of thanksgiving turkeys. Although we rented most of our land to a nearby dairy farmer, we still had acres to play on and a large garden where our family of five organized rows of edibles from sweet corn to popcorn. From previous owners we’d inherited a burgeoning asparagus bed, wild rhubarb, and a thicket of raspberries my parents used for jam and we kids used for afternoon snacking. We canned, we pickled, we lived off our land.
Writing that today makes it sound so perfectly quaint. I suppose it was. But at some point during my childhood I caught a glimpse of the city, and I knew instantly that’s where I’d rather be.
It’s ironic, then, that despite my best attempts to get out of the Midwest (oh of course the Midwest has plenty of large and wonderful cities, but I somehow still equate “flyover country” with farmland) I would end up here.
Jill and I were both living in Baltimore when we met over 13 years ago. The city has become almost mythical to us now; we were so entrenched in its gritty, urban, eccentric culture that we spent our summers selling Chesapeake blue crabs out of an old pickup truck on the side of a busy road, chalked up John Waters sightings at Club Charles as no big deal, and eventually bought a city row-house together.
Despite the extraordinarily heavy problems the city had, and still has (there’s a lot of truth behind The Wire, unfortunately), I appreciated and loved living tucked away amidst the tall buildings, weird neighbors, outsider art, and thriving gay population.
Then Jill applied to grad school. She was accepted to a Big Ten university just 75 miles away from my old quaint, stifling life and I broke into a three-day case of head-to-toe hives.
I think what mostly filled those bumpy welts was the fear of being gay and in the Midwest. Close to my conservative extended family. Close to conservative people from high school. Close to all the conservative farmers and politicians and Catholics and, well, small-town Midwesterners.
The hives disappeared, and we moved westward. It was an adjustment; we pined for the city, for a lesbian hangout, a more courageous art scene, alleys, 24-hour convenient stores, a reason to get dressed up. But we were fine. We settled into our plaster-walled, 125-year-old bungalow. We met Josh and Travis, and a few other regular midwesterners who will surely be lifelong friends. We actually enjoyed living close to my family, and even my elderly Catholic Nun of an aunt blessed us with congratulations when we announced Otto into our family. Granted, she was completely confused about where he came from, and when I mentioned “sperm donor” she comically shooed me away with her hands.
I still think being gay in the heartland is rife with challenges, but possibly no more than it is just being gay in general.
Now here we are seven months into a new Midwestern, university town. And you know what? I like it. I don’t love it, the way I did Baltimore, at least not yet. But I have gladly resigned myself to living here, living here happily, and raising my family to be generous, kind, and responsible Midwesterners.
We spent some of the holidays in New Jersey with Jill’s family, and like one point five zillion other people, were there a bit longer than planned due to the colossal snowstorm. Finally reaching our little home on our quiet street never felt so warm or so perfectly right.
While I can promise that I will never, ever, ever, ever live on a farm (ever!), I am thinking about planting a few vegetables this spring. Which, for me, is a big step in the dirt of both my past and my future.