“Something has spoken to me in the night...and told me that I shall die, I know not where. Saying: ‘[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.’” ― Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again
I have always been fascinated with homecomings and reminiscent about one’s home. A sense of place is vital to my being. I first read Thomas Wolfe in my junior year while at the University of South Carolina – Sumter. In my little provincial town, when I read this, I knew that this quote captured my need to leave. I wanted to explore the world and be able to establish a presence in another place. As a single person, I have few entanglements and I am highly portable. I have minimalized my personal life since in Iowa by consolidating my belongings and selling my Minnesota home. Even though I am portable, I look for home in the places I live. The community is as important as the position. When I left South Carolina, I vowed that I would not be returning. Recently, I visited South Carolina for my vacation. I stayed with fifteen of my family members in a house on Myrtle Beach. We stayed together for a week and the closeness of family gave me a sense of home once again. I would like to think that I can come home again, but until then I need to find a home away from home.
When I am with family, they often ask me about the weather and the racial relations in Iowa. My people have no concept of Iowa. When I tell them about the people, the schools, the churches, and the community in which I live, they are at ease because they know that I have found comfort in Iowa. As I enter my fifth year in Iowa, I often reflect on my favorite saying which is, “If you embrace Iowa, Iowa will hug you back.” Recently, I read a poem by Charles Sawyer, a University of Northern Iowa alum who has passed away. He lived in California and each time he came back to Iowa, the poem reflected his sentiment.
Though many miles keep us apart,
Fond memories dwell within my heart,
Where long ago I had my start,
My native state of Iowa.
Where rosy cheeks are all aglow,
From summer rain and winter snow,
And friends are everywhere you go,
In Iowa, dear Iowa.
Ghosts of pioneers abound,
In country graveyard hallowed ground,
And bugles call without a sound,
Among the hills of Iowa.
By mighty rivers doubly-blessed,
Mississippi east, Missouri west,
And in between the nation’s best,
That’s Iowa, yes Iowa.
Her children learn the Golden Rule,
On Sabbath Day in Sunday School,
And use it as their daily tool,
That’s how they live in Iowa.
The pheasant greets the frosty morn,
In frozen stalks now shed of corn,
Amid wintry skies dark and forlorn,
But it is still my Iowa.
In spring the apple blossoms bloom,
And fill the air with sweet perfume,
New blades of grass are seeking room,
To cover fields of Iowa.
A barefoot boy with string and pole,
Sits by his favorite fishing hole,
And dreams a future lofty goal,
It’s summertime in Iowa.
When Autumn leaves begin to turn,
Their blazing colors later earn,
A crackling fire as they burn,
Their smoke encircles Iowa.
No matter where I chance to roam,
On dusty ground, or ocean foam,
There’s only one place I call home,
You probably guessed – It’s IOWA.
By Charles Sawyer
San Diego, CA
So after four years, I am embracing Iowa and finding my home away from home, but also I am finding more affinity with my home state due to the similarities in Iowa. When I was home in South Carolina, I realized that I have seen many things, ventured to foreign lands, interacted with all types of people, and found friends who were greater than the ones I left. Unlike Thomas Wolfe’s quote, I do believe that I can venture back to my home state being well traveled and enlightened, but also comforted by my history and heritage. Those of us in the academy often have to make decisions that are aligned with our positional attainment. We have to find home away from home. Those of you who are new to Iowa will begin to embrace Iowa and it will indeed hug you back. As you nestle into that embrace, please remember your home places and bring the richness of those places into your current space. Your geographical diversity will enrich our learners and our Iowa-grown learners will enhance your knowledge base as well.
Dr. Dwight C. Watson, Dean College of Education University of Northern Iowa