Leaving The Farm
April 16, 2014
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville describes the restlessness of Americans, “In the United States a man builds a house in which to spend his old age, and he sells it before the roof is on; he plants a garden and lets it just as the trees are coming into bearing; he brings a field into tillage and leaves other men to gather the crops.” My family is the opposite of this. My ancestor, Joseph Bornhorst, came to Minster, Ohio from Dinklage, Germany when he was 16 years old. With the money he made from working on the Miami and Erie Canal, he bought 80 acres. By the time he died in 1900 the farm consisted of 160 acres. The farm has been in my family for over 150 years. This is an American anomaly. In an age where land changes hands quickly and people move away from the land they grew up on, the farm is still a vital part of life in my branch of the Bornhorst family. The farm is defined by the family and family is defined by the farm.
I never lived on the family farm, but like several of my paternal ancestors it is where I milked my first cow. It is where I spent a good deal of my childhood playing kickball in the lawn and making forts in the hay mow. I fed the calves with my cousins much like my father and his father did before me. Besides blood, the farm was something that connected the Bornhorst family. This connection to the land is not only between my grandparents, their 14 children, over 60 grandchildren and almost 15 great-grandchildren, but with those that lived there before us. It is something that most Americans do not have.
All my father’s siblings live within 20 minutes of the farm. Most of my cousins live the same distance. I, however, was voted “Most Likely to Never Come Back” by my class in high school and I sprinted to Ashland University without looking back. To this day I have no desire to return to live in Minster. I am more enticed by the busy streets and skyscrapers of the city than by the silos and fields of my hometown. Perhaps it should be easy to give up a small town in favor of the great big future, but I have always been a Minster girl.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “As families remain for centuries in the same condition, often on the same spot, all generations become, as it were, contemporaneous. A man almost always knows his forefathers and respects them; he thinks he already sees his remote descendants and he loves them.” In leaving I know I am distancing myself from this. But I will leave the farm. In doing so I am destroying that part of my identity. In leaving I will still be able to look back and see my ancestors, but will my descendants? My childhood at the farm and growing up in Minster gave me something in common with mine. I am snapping the connection between the past and the future. I doubt my descendants will ever milk a cow or even go fishing in the canal that helped create what they will have. If they have roots, they will be shallow.
When I am in Minster I am sitting on a 200 year old established name. It would be easier to stay because I already am somebody in Minster. I was somebody from the day I was born because people knew my last name. I was Alyssa Bornhorst, emphasis on the Bornhorst. Like the youngest boy in the family constantly being referred to as his older brother’s younger brother, I was always a Bornhorst girl. This was comfortable, but confining. I should have been better at sports because I was a Bornhorst. It was okay if I was a bit ornery because I was a Bornhorst. I was placed in a definition. I take pride in most of the virtues and even some of the vices of the definition. But outside of Minster none of this matters. In the wide world being Alyssa Bornhorst has nothing to do with what it means to be a Bornhorst. It has everything to do with my own actions, not the actions of people before me.
It is important for me to leave Minster because a square mile town does not have a lot of opportunities for the ambitious. Leaving Minster and living in Ashland for two years has given me plenty of opportunities. In Minster I went with the flow and followed what everyone else was doing. In Ashland I am comfortable with myself. In Ashland it is about what I like and what I want instead of what they want for me. I demand more out of myself. I am more responsible and thoughtful. I know when to say yes and more importantly when to say no. By leaving Minster and coming to Ashland, I have really come into my own. I know that I have become an Alyssa Bornhorst that I am happy with, but always improving. This is not something that I think would have happened should I have stayed in Minster. It’s what I’m doing that makes me happy and more fulfilled. The activities I do and the people I have met have challenged me in ways that simply do not exist in Minster. All of this has helped make me into a better person, a person I never would have become if I would have stayed.
I know the decision I made. I chose the freedom to be who I wanted to be outside of Minster and improve my condition. I hope that my posterity will someday stop by Minster to see the farm and have an appreciation for past, but this is not as important to me as knowing that they will never feel limited by their last name.