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Sunset in North Platte, Nebraska (c) 1982 Trina Lambert

I’ve lived out over half my life here in Colorado since I left my hometown of North Platte, Nebraska more than 27 years ago. True, there are times when I return—to anywhere in my state—that I feel like a stranger to the world that was once all I knew. And, oh, doesn’t it sound a lot more “sophisticated” to be from Colorado than to be from Nebraska?

But I’m not from Colorado, even if it’s been my home since back when Madonna was just beginning her career as the latest shock pop star.

Sherman and my kids, of course, are Colorado natives who could all qualify for the Colorado pioneer license plates. Still, they’ll all tell you there are times when my inner Nebraskan comes out, especially when people who know nothing about Nebraska like to reduce it to a stereotype. Which they—whoever they are—do all the time.

First of all my family settled on the Nebraska prairie long (OK—on the prairie a few decades matter!) before Sherman’s family made it to Colorado—to live in the even more sparsely-populated and more arid prairie lands of Colorado. However, Sherman’s father is no city kid who believes his homelands are superior to mine.

But for all many know who have never left the suburbs of the Colorado Front Range or for those who hail from more sophisticated regions all over the United States of places such as eastern Colorado and the whole of Nebraska, those locales could be stuck in some permanent replay of episodes from the TV show Hee Haw—which, by the way, I only watched when forced.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I was in high school I was yearning to break across the boundary of the Missouri River to see more of our country, but I didn’t really care if where I went was that high on the sophistication meter. It wasn’t so much that I had to leave Nebraska as I had to go somewhere where people didn’t assume they knew who I was—based on my family, my past, or what they thought they knew about me.

So then I discovered that when some people found out where I was raised, then they made new assumptions. Honestly, I was amazed by how ignorant people around this country were of life in Nebraska. Sure, growing up in a town of 24,000 was nothing like living in California or New York City, but it didn’t seem that different from coming of age in so many of the suburbs portrayed in television, movies, or books.

I didn’t think too much of a certain Ivy League-educated New Yorker’s intellectual skills when she seemed genuinely shocked that my father was a professional and not a farmer. “But why would you live in Nebraska if you aren’t a farmer?” she asked. The best I could get her to understand was that my pharmacist father and those in other professions were needed to serve those in agriculture who came to the towns for goods and services.

Try explaining to someone like that that many farmers have agriculture degrees and those who don’t still pass the fallow seasons doing research, managing their businesses, and strategizing for future seasons. Hey, farmers are the original day traders—only they spend most of the year prepping for those few days that will either turn the profit or turn their business itself under the soil.

And, what about the girl from the fancy suburbs of Cleveland who could not believe she had not guessed I was from some place in Nebraska? Why, I dressed and talked no differently from others at college. I gathered she expected me to stand out by wearing overalls, sporting a hayseed from my mouth, and walking bare-footed across campus.

The people I met in Nebraska weren’t so different from people I’ve met everywhere else, except for the most part they don’t seem to be so big on assuming how people are based just on where they come from—although I won’t speak to assumptions some Nebraskans might make based on what football team someone else roots for—guess we better keep sports politics out of this discussion!

Over the years of living here in Colorado I’ve heard a lot of the jokes, you know about the “N” on the Cornhusker helmet standing for knowledge and about the winds being associated with crude terms such as sucking and blowing, especially when the Colorado Buffaloes were competitive with the Cornhuskers. (Whoops, back to that sports politics theme!) For the most part, I just roll my eyes.

But when nationally-based journalists try to paint a picture of my hometown that is just a little too folksy, I think that’s just prejudice combined with lazy journalism even when I believe their prejudice may be unintentional and that they think they are being complimentary versus patronizing.

Someday I’ll get around to reading Bob Greene’s tale about the legendary North Platte Canteen, but I have a hard time with how he paints a picture of the place with his statement that “North Platte, Nebraska is about as isolated as a small town can be.” (See pg. 6, Once Upon a Town, William Morrow Paperbacks, 2003.) Oh, it may be far from Denver and Lincoln and Omaha, but it’s right off I-80—I worked college summers at Fort Cody Trading Post and have met people from all over the country who remember North Platte because of their Fort Cody stop on the way to somewhere else.

Before moving to the boomtown of North Platte when I was ten, I did live in an isolated Nebraska Sandhills small town. North Platte is only isolated to people who come from bigger places—usually further east whether that’s Omaha or the east coast. Ask my father-in-law if he thinks North Platte is more isolated than Cheyenne Wells, Colorado.

And today’s diatribe is brought to you courtesy of my re-reading ESPN’s 2011 tribute to Danny Woodhead’s hometown—which is also my hometown. Full disclosure: I don’t know Danny Woodhead, but I did know his mother when I was in high school.

I’m glad that kids still get to be three-sport athletes there, but I don’t believe it’s because the school can barely fill its teams—these kids have always hungered for competition despite the often harsh weather conditions. Don’t forget that many of the athletes raised in that demanding four-season weather are the descendants of those pioneers who were tough enough to prove out their homestead claims.

The author also writes as if it’s a given that Woodhead would be raised by a Christian dad who works a couple jobs and a Christian mother who bakes cookies. The North Platte I knew had many churches as well as many kids who were not that interested in following those dictates as well as many types of parents—Woodhead is blessed that his mom Annette was one of those who always lived out her beliefs and witnessed to the rest of us.

All I’m saying—at least some of what I’m saying!—is that Nebraskans are not some archaic stereotype. Though they may share some common characteristics, they are not all the same. They can be intelligent—or not, moral—or not, tough—or not—just like people from anywhere else. They are both more and less than the national perception of them.

While you can take the Nebraskan out of Nebraska, you can’t take Nebraska out of the Nebraskan. Watch what you say about us . . .

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