Somewhere in Middle America…
Well, I’m here. I’ve been here for a while now.
You know… Omaha Steaks. The Cornhuskers. Wait, they’re in Lincoln. But Omaha has the College World Series. And umm… Omaha Steaks.
My family moved here when I was in seventh grade, but we (my mother, father and sister), have each since scattered to stake claims in other states across this vast country. My mom is currently conquering the arid, rugged, natural beauty of the west; my dad is likely freezing his nuts off in the frigid north; my sister’s getting sun-drunk on the sandy surface of our southernmost beaches; and I’ve been hugging tight to the east coast for quite some time now.
Justin’s family, on the other hand, is still here. His parents were born here (or thereabouts), and many of his siblings will likely stay here and raise their own kids here and their kids will probably grow up to raise their own kids here as well.
It’s that kind of place.
It eats families like mine alive, but the strong ones – the ones with a backbone and the will to survive – tend to thrive in a place like this.
You know what I forgot until I came back? Everybody here is all cornfed and happy. They’re polite. Seriously. You’d be hard-pressed to find a rude Nebraskan. And Omaha is positively exploding with culture. It may take a while for the trends to get here, but once they do, the citizens are not deprived. Even the vast suburban expanses are peppered with strip malls and commercial developments offering every convenience imaginable, from sushi and pad Thai to acupuncture and pedicures. You can usually find what you crave within a fifteen minute drive.
The homes are huge.
It’s truly the epitome of the typical American Dream.
I’ll let you decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing.
But I will tell you that for me, just for today, it was a good thing. Because I had a craving. A craving that could only be filled by a restaurant franchise found here in Nebraska, with maybe one or two that have wandered into a couple of the surrounding states.
Yes, it’s fast-food. But I’m still in full-on Christmas Vacation binge mode and you can’t make me feel guilty. I won’t let you.
And this, my friends, was pure indulgence.
Picture, if you will, a fluffy pastry pocket. Warm, doughy, and baked to perfection. The pastry pocket is stuffed with a variety of ground beef, cheeses, and any other ingredient they have available whose taste you wish to explore. Today for me, it was a lovely mushroom and swiss combination.
And the fries? Crinkled perfection.
This is a Runza sandwich. (For some reason mine was split down the side instead of the traditional pocket. If any native Omaha-ans are reading this, could you please explain this phenomenon? Is this a new thing they’re doing, or is it some freakish accident unwittingly prescribed to my sandwich by a knife-wielding Runza kitchen newbie?)
If you ever find yourself inexplicably wandering around this flat state I once called home, you simply must go find yourself a Runza restaurant and buy a Runza sandwich.
Then you must eat it.
But now that the Runza is safely (I hope) making its way through my digestive tract, I’m discovering there’s not much else here for me. To Justin, this is still home – the place that fills him with feelings of nostalgia and warmth and recognition every time he returns. His parents still live in the home in which he grew up. The familiar smells of his dad’s cooking are still found in the same kitchen; the lighthearted sound of his mom’s laugh is still found in the same halls.
If this is something you have, then you know what I’m talking about. If this is something you don’t have, then you really know what I’m talking about. Missing something you can’t get back is a bit harder than missing something you can. And it’s a hell of a lot harder than missing something you never had.
I lose a little interest here every time I come. I never drive past my old house. I don’t visit the same bars or restaurants. I don’t see anyone from high school. My phone doesn’t ring anymore when I’m in town.
Is that strange? Or is that healthy moving on?
I don’t know how I feel about it anymore.
I don’t feel about it anymore.
In their song so aptly called Omaha, I think the Counting Crows said it best about this place that to me, once felt like the center of the universe – a thriving fairground with bright lights and brand new roller coasters and the best funnel cakes in three states but has since, only in my mind, turned to a state of dilapidated neglect and disrepair:
I think you better turn your ticket in
And get your money back at the door.
Some will say “you can never go home”. I prefer the saying, “home is where you hang your hat”. It’s all a state of mind. We determine how “happy” we will be…wherever we’re at.
Just keep this in mind when people like us start dealing with those feelings of nostalgia: it’s the memories you make in the places of your youth that help you determine how you will make your memories as an adult. And its those experiences, regardless of how bad or good, that shape who we CAN become.
“it’s the memories you make in the places of your youth that help you determine how you will make your memories as an adult.” Thanks, Christie. Those are wise words. Wish I would’ve realized that about 8 years ago… :)
Well hon, the stubborn, mule-headed people (me included) that forge their way through all the crap that life throws their way (and SURVIVE), are ironically the very ones that are forced to learn things the hard way…usually through many many mistakes. Somehow, we always make it through. Coincidence? Cosmic joke? Entertainment for the Fates? I think not!
Don’t be so hard on yourself for not “learning things sooner”. You aren’t suppose to learn something before you’re ready. Maybe it’s all of your life’s experiences coming to head and now you’re ready to deal with them. Unfortunatley, it seems like they’re all coming due at the same time. Regardless…you CAN handle this…you ARE ready…and you WILL find your path!!! Now repeat it 20 times a day in the mirror. Good girl! :-D
The same professor who told me that it’s hard to write without an audience also remarked that, when our parents leave a place, it ceases to feel like home. We met up for lunch on my last trip home, a year after I’d graduated from college and he retired, and I told him my parents were planning on moving to TX. He said, “Well, sadly, this may be the last time you visit Indiana.” He went on to explain that, after his parents passed away, he found it hard to find reasons to go back to Missouri. He was right – that was 2006, and I’ve never gone back.
I think “healthy” varies from person to person. For you, it may be moving on from a past that wasn’t strong enough to hold you. You’ve forged new friendships – per The Avett Brothers’ “The Perfect Space,” “I wanna have friends / that I can trust / that love me for the man I’ve become / not the man that I was.” I’m pretty sure you have those :-)
I think your professor was right as well. What is it about parents that make a childhood home a home? :) And, more importantly, what would we do without the Avetts? Those are some wise, wise boys. Thank you Stacy. :)
I was sincerely sad when, after a week in Omaha, Becca and I didn’t eat once at Runza… It’s now one of my major motivations to get back to Omaha. Is that bad?
BTW, nice post!
Yeah… I might’ve had it TWICE! So I feel your pain. :)
Oh sad! My parents still live in the same old house in the same old town. I still like going back… but this year was very strange since I was only coming back from Boston and not back from abroad and somehow that made me less enchanted with the whole thing. I couldn’t wait to leave! And then it snowed and I had to stay longer than planned…
But the french fries look really good!
There is something special about coming home to people who love you when you’ve been gone awhile! I can see how it’d be less enchanting to come home for Christmas when you already live nearby. That said, I would’ve loved to sit in on your family Christmas jam. There’s nothing better to me than sitting back and listening to people make good music. I hope things are coming together for you in Boston!
And yes, the fries were really, really good!
Sister, sundrunk, southernmost sandy beaches- arresting alliteration!
“you can’t go home again” (at least without a little heartburn).
So, so true. Thanks Anna. :)
Lived in Omaha for 4 years- I loved it and you are right they are the most polite and nice people I have ever come across in the 44 years on this earth. I love downtown and all that it has to offer. If it weren’t so damn cold – FRIGID there in the winter I’d go back in a heart beat.
Oh Tammy, it was so, so cold! It’s funny because you got more snow in NC while we were gone, but it was definitely colder in Omaha!
[…] while stationed in Omaha, Nebraska, had tried these crazy little Hot Pocket-esque sandwiches from a local chain called Runza, and she pretty much expressed that she thought they tasted like warm snot-filled […]