It’s as if my move to Cincinnati, or, should I say Loveland, Ohio, was written on the wall all along.
by Theresa Budnik Combs
“So, why are you here?” I am inevitably asked by lifelong Cincinnatians after I disclose that I was born and raised in Alaska. At first it struck me as odd that the inhabitants of the town I moved to in January of 2008 couldn’t fathom that a person would move across the country, to a new city, solely for a job, even if it was to their own beloved hometown. But what at the onset seemed strange, is now second nature for me.
It’s as if my move to Cincinnati, or, should I say Loveland, Ohio, was written on the wall all along. After spending my first 22 years of life in Alaska and upon finishing college, I was ready for adventure. I had played it safe by going to an in-state college. When Outsiders would “ooh” and “aah” over the mountain scenery, I felt nothing. It was time to gain perspective and, apparently, fulfill my own type of manifest destiny.
If cable television has taught me anything, it’s that Alaskan life is fascinating. And, my hometown of Palmer doesn’t fall short. The story goes something like this: Its history takes a sharp turn in the 1930s when part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal sent about 200 families from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota (and one family from Oklahoma) to Palmer to start a northern breadbasket. The various commemorative plaques served as a backdrop to my childhood and many descendents of these pioneers still live in the area — shaping it with Midwestern-like values.
[quote_right]Stepping into the house I had only previously seen in pictures was like going home. The comfy recliners. The worn carpet. The potholders I crocheted as a kid for my grandparents.[/quote_right]That’s clue number 1. Clue number 2 comes from my mom. She was born and raised in the flyover states. Many of her seven brothers and sisters still reside in the state of Illinois, where my grandparents lived until they passed. The first time I went to my grandparents’ house, I was 22. (I should clarify that traveling in and out of the state of Alaska tends to be costly, a luxury I couldn’t afford.) Stepping into the house I had only previously seen in pictures was like going home. The comfy recliners. The worn carpet. The potholders I crocheted as a kid for my grandparents. The outdated school pictures still proudly displayed on the wall. It was like I had always frequented my grandparents’ house, it was that familiar.
[quote_left]But if you believe in signs, this was a fluorescent one.[/quote_left]Here, I’ll throw in a couple more small signs: My dad spent part of his childhood in the Columbus area. In college, I encountered at least 3 people who had ties to Ohio. No other state racked up that many acquaintances. At the time, I didn’t pay any attention, but if you believe in signs, this was a fluorescent one. Also, my grad advisor at portfolio school told me she thought I would get along well in the Midwest—that I had a sense of optimism she had observed and came to conclude was authentic. (Side note, I was a tad offended that she thought my optimism or persona could be faux. Who would do that? This is probably yet another trait that sent me straight to Ohio.)
Clue number 3 was the big one—the one that brought me here. After spending 6 weeks in Portland, Oregon trying to find my future (and meeting a couple more people from Ohio), I received a job offer in Cincinnati. My plan was to be at the job for 3-5 years and then reassess. I didn’t count on falling in love with my husband (a lifelong Ohioan from the Cincinnati area). And, I sure as heck didn’t count on falling in love with the place, including my chosen town, Loveland.[quote_right]I sure as heck didn’t count on falling in love with the place, including my chosen town, Loveland.[/quote_right]
Last summer, my older sister and her family, who were living in New Jersey, moved back to Alaska where she and her husband originally met. College and jobs took them to multiple states in the Lower 48, but after more than a decade, the stars aligned and they decided it was time to go home. But not before a quick stop in Ohio to visit. You can bet your buttons this made me not only miss my home state, but my family that still resides there. We took my sister’s family to my in-laws’ house for the 4th of July barbeque they host annually for family, friends and friends of friends. My sister and her husband’s comments after the gathering? “Everyone was so nice and had that Midwestern demeanor.”
How can I not enjoy this place and the people? The comfort, the fun, the pure pleasure of life. That’s why I live here. I now have a hard time fathoming moving elsewhere—especially just for a job. Despite my Alaskan beginnings, or because of them, I am a Midwesterner.