A few weeks ago my in-laws came to North Dakota.
They had wanted to visit ever since their son started to get serious with a Midwest farm girl who had an unbridled love of below zero temperatures.
I had wanted them to visit ever since they told me they’d never seen a tractor.
So when my husband Jason and I traveled home for my cousin’s wedding, we all decided it was the perfect opportunity.
As I’ve mentioned before, my family is mostly made up of Norwegian immigrant farmers (or at the very least, Germans.)
My husband’s family is an entirely different story.
My father-in law, Ron was born in Tucson, Arizona and spoke Spanish until he started school. My mother-in-law, Lynette, was born in the heart of San Francisco to an Italian mother and a French Basque father who owned a French laundry.
In other words, our cultures were worlds apart.
After landing in Minneapolis and navigating their way to my parent’s house with directions that included “go ten miles before you see a stop sign” and “turn by the large tree” they were finally here, safely in our Midwestern clutches.
The next morning, we stopped to get some fresh lefse and then headed out to the North Dakota farmland on which I’d grown up.
The entire drive to the farm Ron and Lynette ooh-ed and aah-ed in all the right places and I felt a hot surge of pride at the unending flat land where the crops sprouted healthy and green.
After a few two-lane highways and then a one-lane gravel road, we arrived at my families’ farm.
My cousin’s dog ran out to greet us and the air smelled like wide open space. Eventually the owner of the dog – my cousin Ross – and his dad Leif came out to give Ron and Lynette a private tour.
I think they were excited to show my in-laws around but because they are male, Norwegian, farmers, I couldn’t be sure.
Ross let Jason drive the combine in the yard as Leif and my father explained to Ron and Lynette what a combine was. Lynette snapped pictures and they both asked all the right questions.
Later, we all gathered around Apple Kuchen – making sure my in-laws got to experience a little of the German side too.
As we drove back that night, exhausted but happy, I looked around at everyone in the car and thought about what a motley crew of cultures we were.
Jason and I both had grown up in families who still brewed in the traditions of their native homelands – separated by just a generation or two from the old countries of our ancestors.
If Jason and I have children, only a few slivers of each culture will run in their veins. They will visit their Norwegian relatives on a farm, travel to San Francisco to see their Italian and French families, and arrive in Arizona to visit their Mexican cousins.
They will steep in no particular culture other than that of the country in which they were born.
They will be Americans who happen to like lefse. Americans who have a soft spot for San Francisco and long for a chilaquiles Christmas.
It is both exciting and heartbreaking. To our ancestors who came here hoping their children would learn English more quickly and blend more easily than they ever could, our children would seem like the achievement of the American dream. But there is something sad about letting go of the purity of those traditions. A loss that breaks a little piece of my heart while it moves me forward.
If Jason and I have children they will not have as strong a tie to our heritage as we did. They will belong here, in the U.S., completely melted into the pot of the American dream. They will belong here even more than Jason or I do – more than our great-grandparents ever did.
And when we tell them the story of when their paternal grandparents first saw a combine, my hope is that they will smile and think what a long time ago that seems. A time when cultures could still live so separately.
A time before they bound us all together.
This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum. You can find them (and me) here.