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Country and Western

By Maralise Petersen

I’ve lived in three states in three diferent regions of the country. I was raised in the West with big sky and big dreams. As an adult and young mother, I moved to Maryland, arguably the narrow entrance to the northeast. And now I live in a small house that sits on a small hill next to a small river in the heart of the South. I admit that my sensibilities are softened to the openness of the West, the genteelness of the South and offended by the coldness of the Northeast, scarred by limitless possibilities and big city life.

I guess I’m a country girl at heart, prone to the privacy of a house in the middle of a piece of land with neighbors that know everything about you but nothing about the color of your walls, feeling comfortable with the growing paradox of needing a Target within a half-hour’s drive and the freedom of not having to shop there.

When I’m honest with myself, the soundtrack of my life begins with the Oakridge Boys and the Statler Brothers, continues with Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, interludes with Dolly and Kenny, and continues with whatever they play on my local country station. My dad, a drugstore cowboy, always called the music of my childhood Country and Western. And I think for some reason it’s the title that sticks with me when I think about my home.

But now, my literal home is illusive. It varies because of my husband’s job, where the endless paths of his dreams lie, where my “family” is. But, I’m continually torn about where my home is. Is it the ground of my upbringing, the metropolitan areas where money and prestige wait with expectancy, or the fertile and lonely, tree crushed land of my current residence? Hjumpa Lahiri’s character Ashima describes her experience of being a foreigner as a lifelong pregnancy, “a perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts. It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been an ordinary life” (The Namesake, 49-50). And I feel it. I feel something that I longed for as a girl who moved once in her childhood to a home down the street. I feel different. And although I’ve only been pregnant twice, I feel the pregnant feeling of foreignness tire my back, flatten my feet, and create a growing sense of unease, a feeling only matched by the need to make it stop.

A couple of years ago, I was flipping through the channels after putting my babies to sleep. On one of the local stations, I was arrested by what I saw. There were mountainous peaks and clear valleys. I could almost feel the dry air and the sparse shade from the trees. I warmed in the arrid sun and joyed in the crisp cool of the breeze. I stayed there, transfixed by this gift, this gift of what I thought was a vision of my home in the West. And then a baby cried, and the dirty dishes called, and I went back to my life.

But everytime I hear Johnny Cash’s “The Legend of John Henry” or Willie’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” or the Oakridge Boys’ “Thank God for Kids,” I suddenly remember where my home is. It’s here, in my memories, in my music, in my life. And as always, it’s illusive. But not too far away to ever quit the search.

What’s the soundtrack to your life?

About Maralise Petersen


5 thoughts on “Country and Western”

  1. Your words colorfully illustrated the homesickness I sometimes feel. Thank you.
    I just posted my love for country music as one of my weirds….my mom played guitar and sang country music, and she could gather a crowd. She was definitely part of many life soundtracks as well as mine.

  2. Deseret Rain. I grew up in the rainy northwest–in a small farm town that was mercifully close to the home of a large university (best remembered for their recent humiliation by the Cougars). It was the best of both worlds. Now I am a transplant to the desert of Utah. I love the red rocks, but I miss the green. I enjoy the snow–for awhile–but I miss the rain. What I miss the most, however, is having roots.

    I have new roots, but they're not quite as established as those of my childhood. The great thing about where I live now is that it is in a part of Provo that feels somewhat self contained and has generations living on the same streets, in the same ward, etc. It feels like a small town (with mostly just the charming aspects of a small town–and not too many of the annoying ones) but Target is less than 10 minutes away. And every day I pull out of my driveway and come face to face with the majestic mountains and I honestly think how blessed I am to be live here.

  3. I've been in Utah longer than I've lived anywhere else, but Michigan will always be dear to my heart. It was where I really "grew up". I miss the snow and the fabulous rainstorms.

    But my home is wherever my family is. Cheesy, huh?

  4. My soundtrack is the music I grew up with; consequently, it is actually my parents' soundtrack. We listened to the music they loved–Roberta Flack, John Denver, and yes, Barry Manilow. When I hear those songs I can almost smell the old van we took our family road trips in. The music creates a pleasant sort of ache because it is the same but my life is so different, and being grown-up just doesn't feel like I thought it would.

    Thanks for the lovely post, Mara.


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