July 20, 2013

Like Cattle, We Were Raised for Export

In a recent interview, Robert Rebein talks about his homeland — western Kansas, particularly Dodge City.

I think a couple of lessons have come [from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s]. The first lesson is that Kansas as a place is never going to be Texas or Colorado or Ohio. It’s too dry, too far from everything else, and the businesses that do best there—farming, ranching, energy exploration and production—do not require a lot of people. The other lesson is that if you do want to draw people and businesses to the state, you better try. You better understand that the lingering image of your state is a mix of the Dust Bowl, Superman, and The Wizard of Oz. If you want businesses to buy into you despite all that, you better put your best foot forward.
Here is the Vimeo trailer for Rebein's book, Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City.

A west-Kansas blogger, Jeffro of The Poor Farm, was impressed by Rebein's book: "He has captured the essence of teenage prairie living, and in fact, life on the prairie, period, for all ages."

This passage hit him hard:
Wyatt Earp, the historical figure, really didn't make a dent in our lives. The street probably had more influence on us. But another observation Rebein makes really hit home for me:
What is it about growing up in a small town in the West that breeds such bravado, such innocence and blind faith? Was it our isolation? The vaunted self-reliance of the region? The fact that our parents and teachers praised us inordinately or that acceptance into any of the state colleges was a fait accompli? Maybe but I have another explanation:  we were leaving. And not just for a year or five years, but forever. Like the region's cattle, wheat and corn, we'd been raised for export, and most of us had learned this at about the same time we learned that Santa Claus was a fiction.  
We'd been raised for export.

It's true. Since day one, most of us knew that our parents wanted something better for us, that we were to get an education away from cattle and farming, and leave. Find a job we could love, get married and raise kids in a more forgiving climate.  

He has decided to stick it out, however. Some people do.

Not me. I go out on the prairie for hunting, for archaeological visits, or just because I must cross its expanse. Sometimes I just want to see the big sky. But I always feel a little like I am leaving a harbor in the foothills and sailing out onto the sea.

That probably comes of living as a kid on the "big island" that is the Black Hills, surrounded by wide-open country. The prairie is familiar, but it is not home.

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