Sometimes, I like to say I was born and raised in Decorah, Iowa, though this is only partially true. I was born there, in Winneshiek Hospital on November 24, 1986 and lived with my family on Jefferson St. until I was 2 years old. The only memory I have from that time is walking along some stone wall and eating cookies from our neighbor. (Who wouldn’t remember that?) I returned to Decorah to attend Luther College when I was 17, making my total number of years in Iowa a grand 6. But I lived 7 years in Pennsylvania, and 7 years in North Carolina, so why does Iowa win? I’ll tell you, but first! a story or two.
When I was a prospective student, I spent the night at Luther in the freshmen dorm. I was nervous about this because I had no interest in partying and wasn’t sure what kinds of things I might be pressured into. There was no reason to fear. My host students didn’t pressure me to party… in fact, I’m pretty sure what we did was just about the opposite. They offered to take me on a scenic drive, which we did. It was beautiful, and the air was so fresh! We pulled over at a goat farm and got out of the car to make noises at the goats. I remember thinking those students were crazy. They found out I had never had lefse or cheese curds, so we made the necessary stops to eat those foods. Then we went to McDonalds and Walmart because, well, what else do you do in Decorah in the late night hours? As I write this, I’m thinking that my reaction should’ve been, This place is lame! But instead, my 16-year-old self, a young traveler and cultural fiend, was fascinated by this new place, its traditions, and its spirit of community. I never felt 100% sure that it was the right college for me to attend, but in retrospect, I can see it no other way.
It became clear to me shortly after moving out to Decorah, that one of the things that drew me there was that, while it was far away from home (just as I wanted!), I was, in a sense, returning home. There were (and still are) many folks in Decorah who remember my parents from the 80s and remember me as a little toddling kid. Even my godparents are there! I can regularly walk past the house of my birth and the church of my baptism. They’re steps my parents have walked before. Something about the place feels familiar, or at least it’s what I tell myself, and I lived there with the pride of a young adult, all settled in their first new apartment.
I learned so much at Luther, though I feel as if I’m uncovering it all now. College is such a fascinating time! So many of the ways in which you grow and the opinions you make aren’t always so easy to articulate. It’s often not until later, in the 20/20 of hindsight, that you can look back and truly understand and name what it was that changed you. This past weekend, I had the joy of attending Homecoming (my 6th reunion!), and this is exactly what I felt. So many lightbulb moments: Ah, this was a lesson I learned during my time at Luther. I felt oddly reflective over the weekend, perhaps because I had the opportunity to catch up with so many friends, faculty, and mentors. And I had the blessing to conduct a piece I wrote for the 10th anniversary of my composition teacher’s time at Luther, which allowed me to connect with current students. It was a fantastic, dreamlike weekend… a bit like visiting Narnia. Decorah still has the enticement it has always had for me, goats and all.
They say 0-2 are the most formative years of your life. Add that to college, which we all know is hugely formative. And there you have it – my time born and raised in Decorah, Iowa, one of the greatest places on earth! I’m so thankful for all the reuniting I did this past weekend (to both people and places), and hope it’s not so long before it happens again. <3