We know the saying, and for me, it rings true. Folks, I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Because Kansas doesn’t have cinnamon-coated mountains (and some with frosting on top) nor river water so dark green the hunter himself couldn’t recognize; or the colors of the Maori; or pastures that seem to forever roll into infinity. Kansas can’t compare to the Kiwi phrase “Kia ora”. Nay, Kansas isn’t Colorado with a wrap-around beach.
After approximately 21 hours served at 30,000 feet, I woke to calm morning light pouring through the oval windows of an international aircraft. It was 10:00 pm on Sunday, September 25th as I set off from LAX and now Tuesday the 27th approaching 9:00 am. September 26, 2011 will evermore be recorded in human history as a day I never lived. The pilot announced we were starting our descent into Auckland and right there, among other passengers of multiple nationalities, I wept. A concerned flight attendant ran over, “Honey, everything alright?” And looking back to her with a grin which stretched from ear to ear, “Happiest moment of my life.”
I had two more short flights, to Christchurch and then to Dunedin in the South Island, before I officially arrived to meet my host family. Graham found me soon after I claimed my luggage by a curious twist in his head and asked hesitantly, “Stephanie?”
Many of the farmer profiles I knew in the States, particularly Tennessee, tended to be men and women who wore frayed overalls with gloves in their back pockets, work boots, flannels that rolled up to their elbows and hats that always shaded their faces – even on public outings. But if I placed this expectation on them, it was a misguided mistake. He had on a sleek collar shirt with slim black pants and dress shoes. And Giselle, whom we caught up with later, was clothed in a blue-white dress with sleeves and dark boots; she got in the backseat of the truck, placed her hand on my shoulder and said, “Hello, Stef. How are you?” Once all together, my first impressions were they are a couple constantly on the move and didn’t tarry about breaking the ice with newcomers. I was immediately asked essential questions about myself: what I studied, where I was from, my hobbies, familiarity with farming/gardening, how the journey was, etc. This did not exclude more serious inquiry as well, like health problems, nature vs. nurture and other general conversation on subjects that are normally deemed sensitive at the dinner table.
We laughed and ate and spoke to each other without fear or judgment. It was as if the two of them simply had not known there existed a definition like stranger, as if they were champions at creating a tension-free environment for anyone willing to enter it. Their friendly gestures and admirable hospitality briefly tricked me into believing I was back in the Deep South, and the only evidence lacking was the accents. Because from minute one to the moment I fell into one of the farmhouse beds exhausted from travel, which they graciously allowed me to use for the first night, I could not help but already feel most at home.
So then again, maybe in that sense, I hadn’t really left Kansas at all.
“See the world/ Find an old-fashioned girl/ And when all has been said and done/ It’s the things that are given, not won/ Are the things you want.” ~Gomez