I have been reading, "I Should Have Seen It Coming When The Rabbit Died," by Teresa Bloomingdale. It's an Erma Bombeck-esque book; Bloomingdale is the mother of ten (that's not a typo) children and raised her family in Nebraska. She had her first child in 1956 and her tenth in 1969. What I have found most fascinating so far are the parallels to motherhood today and fifty years ago. The stories of baby food, toddlers, lost mittens and hats and sleepless night are not so different than the stories I am sharing today.
I have had rural economic development on my mind this past week, and there was something Bloomingdale said that struck a chord with me. She was talking about the joys and blessings of having a big family - again, ten children.
"...What's it like being in a big family? It's a little like living in Nebraska. Nobody in their right mind would want to live there except those who already do, and they know it's a delightful state to be in."
Insert Kansas for Nebraska, and the statement remains true.
There are not many people who choose to live in Kansas; especially rural Kansas. In fact, out-migration is one of the toughest issues facing rural places today. The best and brightest leave home for an education and do not return. Decade by decade, our population dwindles. And our communities spiral downward from there. With the population go the jobs, the businesses and services, and - the toughest one for many - the school.
So what am I still doing here? I, like Bloomingdale, know this is a delightful place to live and have chosen to make it my home. Unlike the others, I got my education and went back to a small town.
Sometimes it feels like I took a step backwards. I compare myself to my peers from college - the places they live and the careers they have seem so exciting.
I even remember a conversation I had with my mom during my senior year of high school when we went on a college visit. She said to me, "What if you get this education and then give it all up to have a family?" Premonition only a mother could have.
Taking a look at my life now, my education is what I have to stand on. Somehow, it defines me. And because I opened my mind and my heart to an education, that keeps my wheels spinning even today as a household manager. I have so many ideas for the next phase of my life - and so many opportunities because I stand firmly on my education.
And beyond that, I want to help others see that this is a delightful place to live. I am involved locally in community development efforts. We are seeking ways to not only attract businesses and population, but more importantly, to retain what we do have.
Living here, in the middle of the country, is just enough for me and my family. There's just enough people to have a crowd at church and the high school ball games; there's just enough businesses so that I can get what I need; there's just enough people that I can have a few friends and not know the entire town.
So here's to you - Nathan, John, Britney, Trudy, Sarah, Katie, Matt, Bernie, Ryan - and so many more of my fine friends who have made the choice to make a delightful rural place their home. You are the living examples that you can really have it all - an education, a great place to raise a family, fresh air and open spaces. Cheers!