Monday, August 17, 2009

Growing Up: You Can't Go Home Again

Once or twice each month, I will take a trip down Childhood Lane. This is not nostalgia or putting a hand in the face of those bitter Tekamah years. This is more of a way of giving everyone an idea of where I came from, why I'm here, and what, I think, made me go from Point A to Point B. And hey, maybe they'll be somewhat entertaining to read.


I grew up in a small town in eastern Nebraska. There is no question that Tekamah is a farming community. It is nothing less and certainly nothing more. A drive through town on US 75 is an enlightening, if not forgettable, experience. The town's most beautiful building is the court house, which is across the street from the twisted, mangled halls of Tekamah-Herman Schools.

The grass is green on the lawns of the town. Not the residential green color of the uppity neighborhoods of suburbia and not the run-down greens of the decrepit shacks that dot the poverty lines of city after city across the nation. This green has the stench of artificiality, the putrid smell of appearances outlining the wide open curtains of a small town with ears leaning toward the windows and mouths next to the phone.

I was never a fan of Tekamah, and this is well-known to everyone I grew up with. In the halls of the school, it was commonly overheard that I believed Tekamah was the epicenter of hell's next construction project. But, like most people's memories of youth, there was a lot of good amidst the bad. In the years just after high school, I often focused on the bad and brought as much distance as possible between me and the town that made me. Now, it is a little different. The bad things are reminders of why I'm here, and the good things are the angels constantly telling me what to strive for.

One of my favorite things about growing up in rural Nebraska was its openness to the world. A view in any direction was endless, and a view upward was commonly a natural masterpiece. I spent many days in my front yard looking up at the contrails from hours past disintegrating at a painfully slow pace. An occasional flock of swallows chattered high in the air, and a neighborhood cat would walk up to me asking for its next meal of whatever I could find.

There was a view of the sky in my front yard that is forever etched in my mind. One block west, the land buckled upward in what could only be described as the molehill of Tekamah. City trees were everywhere, which lined the western sky in a sinusoidal pattern that was best observed in the flashes of lightning at night. My view out of my bedroom was to the south, and when a storm approached, I would have the images of the silhouetted tree "spokes" piercing the brighter white-blue light strobing in my head like an acid trip.

There was neighborhood football, in which I would play the quarterback for both teams, and I would see the football in slow motion almost camouflaged in the trees of autumn. I remember the faded Christmas lights outlined like a scatter plot on the lowest level of our house, and a tall evergreen only lit to about two-thirds of the way to the top. An occasional snow angel was drawn by the neighborhood kids on our lawn, which looked like ghosts in the dimly lit corridor of Main Street at night.

Going to Tekamah each time I return is a chore of psychological proportions. I remember things visually in ways tainted by the memories I had and the memories I've made since then. My life has been a series of contradictions, of living in places I sincerely do not belong out of necessity for attaining a life I have so far only dreamed of. I live in a perpetual middle ground of happiness with work and a constant disdain for where I am. It is quite likely that when the negativity of home is gone, I will never be encouraged to move again. So, interestingly, I almost see this middle ground as a blessing. Being satisfied so early in life is undesirable to me, really. If I'm happy and satisfied, what else will I have to live for?

If growing up in Tekamah has taught me anything, it is that if you never like home, you can't go home again. You don't even want to. And that's a good thing.