Posted by: mesabimisadventures | April 20, 2009

Not “Home on the Range”


Powerful little word – warm word, a cuddling sort of word.  House is cold, concrete, sharp off of the tongue.  But home kinda’ snuggles you when you say it.

Where is home?  Where is your home?

Social networking sites always have a spot where you put your hometown – I inevitably blank out when I’m faced with that blinking cursor.

I simply don’t know the answer.

I joke that I’m homeless, but then feel like an ass when I think about the real homeless people like the one Lindsay and I saw in Minneapolis Saturday sleeping tucked up underneath the bridge. 

My last name instantly labels me as an outsider up here.  People can’t make a connection to me based on it so they always ask me where I’m from. 

I’ve considered making up a fake answer, going online and finding some random podunk town in the middle of Nebraska and calling it home. 

Mostly because there’d be no follow-up questions.  If I answer Barnum/Moose Lake, there’s a chance that they’ll ask me if I know so-and-so and chances are better that I won’t.  I’ve been gone for 13 years.  And I really wasn’t paying that much attention while I was there.  If I say Duluth, which is the city I most closely identify with, they’ll ask where I graduated from as if an event that happened 13 years ago almost matters.  When I say I didn’t graduate from there, they’ll bluntly tell me that I’m not from there. 

As if it’s their call as to where home is for me.

And God forbid, I try to say I’m from Virginia (for 6 years) or Side Lake (1+ years) because before I even finish saying that’s where I call home they will glibly tell me that I can’t.  I wasn’t born here.  I don’t get to be “Home on the Range.”

Never mind the fact that I’ve paid my share of taxes, I’ve beautified my neighborhood by tearing down a should be condemned house next to mine, planted pretty flowers, volunteered at the local elementary school, smiled at damn near every person I’ve met on the street (seriously, why can’t people smile back?) and much more.  I’ve contributed.

It’s hard not to be an insider. 

I would like to feel like I have a chance at someday calling this home.  But the more I learn about the culture up here, the more I realize that this is a slim chance.

I wish people knew how much it hurts to be told that the place you’ve invested your time, talent and money doesn’t consider you one of theirs.



  1. I can feel your pain. We’ve lived here in bush Alaska for 7 years and are starting to be accepted by local folks but every now and again some one’s comment makes it totally obvious that, “you’re not from here and you never will be”. We also have the fact that we’re some of the few white people in town staring us in the face. One look and it’s obvious, we’re outsiders. However, our son, is totally accepted. There’s something about starting out life in a place that makes you one of them. Even (as in our son’s case) if you’re Guatemalan in an Eskimo town.

    My point is, I guess, that your situation isn’t unique to the Iron Range. Acceptance is tough to attain in many places.

  2. You make a really great point AnnMarie. I’m realizing after lots of discussions with people that as a species, we’re very tribal and very inward-looking. I’m sure there’s a reason for it, but it makes me question how ready we are for world peace 😉

    Wow. I’m thinking of your situation and realizing that the area you’re in is probably even more suspicious and wary of outsiders than we are…

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Amazingly – I just heard someone talking about this exact thing just last weekend – down to the children born there being accepted, but not the adults. It seems so narrow minded, yet a small part of me makes some sense of it. I am a “ranger” myself, but have never consciously had this feeling. Very interesting to think about.

  4. As cliche as it is, home really is where your heart is. Don’t let other people’s opinions of the word make you feel like you don’t belong.

    Some people don’t have anything better to do, no adventures to talk about, no other lives to remember, so they cling to the pride that generations of themselves have done as they do, and that is sit on the range. Be proud that you branched out a bit.

  5. I always thought I was born a Ranger being from Grand Rapids. Then, when I moved to Eveleth to both teach band and coach hockey, the town’s pride and joy, I realized that Grand Rapids wasn’t even close to on the Range. I never ever felt accepted in the community… and to be honest, I think I was just too square, and even too well-rounded. I lasted just 2 years and then I left. Now 8 years later, here I am, back on the Range, but in Hibbing, giving it another run in the name of family closeness. With my husband and kids in tote, it is now far easier to make this area my home. I no longer depend on the community for my happiness because I find everything I need within the walls of my home.

  6. Being a transplant myself, it was really difficult moving to the range (we’ll save the whole is Ely *really* part of the range discussion for a later date…).

    Your tribe analogy is very astute. All of these people know each other, their parents knew each other, even their grandparents all knew each other. Its hard breaking into that. All of the “inside” knowledge that you just will never be able to have.

    True story: about six months ago I had an argument with someone at the bar about if I was really from Ely simply because they didn’t “know” my last name. Never mind the fact that they were 7 when I graduated.

    Not everyone is like that and you will find people that are accepting and warm. The rest of them can go back and interbreed some more.

    Lindsay is right, whatever feels right to you is what is right for you.

  7. Well, you’re lucky you’re in Side Lake, then. It’s probably the most welcoming community in the area. If you want to become part of the community, I suggest seeing if there is an opening in the Bocce league (organizational meeting was Tuesday at the Riv, but you can contact the organizers – ask at the Riv). This winter, you should make a concerted effort to get involved in the cribbage or smear leagues. You may also want to be part of the 4th of July parade – I hear they are looking for someone to help organize it.

    Being part of a community is a two way street. The established locals here will welcome in a newbie who makes the effort. There are few communities anywhere as willing to take in a stranger as here.


  8. CAT – many people are open-minded. Unfortunately the ones who aren’t tend to be the most vocal. I’m pretty sure that’s life in general 🙂

    Lindsay – Thanks, but sadly I’ve never moved out of the 218 area code :/

    Heather – Home is what you make it, right?

    Jason – I need to hear more about the Ely thing!

    Steve – Thank you for the welcome! You’re definitely right about the Side Lake thing – it’s a pretty friendly community and once I get used to not having a Target within 5 minutes, I’m sure I’ll like it 🙂

  9. After having been born and raised on “da rench” I left the area in 1982 and never looked back. My last visit was in 1992. It’s sad that “once a packsacker, always a packsacker” still reigns supreme as a range ethos. Some things change, but on “da rench” things never change.

    • There seems to be a generational divide on it, I’ve noticed. 40 and under are pretty accepting of new people and have made me feel welcome, but as always, a few meaner comments greatly outweigh the nice ones!

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