Place Where You Live:

Corn, Oklahoma

Janzen homestead in Corn, Oklahoma.

Once each of the last four years I’ve visited my family’s 1894 homestead in Corn, Oklahoma. It’s a place my grandmother dragged me to more than once when I was a child, and more than once I was bored to tears. Along the way we’d stop by older family members who would speak low German and further aggravate the situation. When my grandmother passed away I began collecting whatever no one else wanted from her home — old photos, newspaper clippings, even diaries and memory books. All led me on a search to discover where my Mennonite family was from in Russia, Poland, and the Netherlands. I found out about tornados that took churches, homes, garages, and barns in Oklahoma — about rattlers in house walls and chivarees gone bad and how each family’s windmill had its own distinct cadence. I am the now the keeper of family stories like I never dreamed I would be, but likely that my grandmother hoped for. I enter the deteriorating barn on the homestead and imagine my grandmother, her parents, her immigrant grandparents walking in with me. Even the wheat is their ghostly progeny, a crossed and recrossed echo of the Turkey Red seed they packed in cedar chests that sailed the Atlantic and arrived on Santa Fe railcars in 1874. Just two decades later the Southern Cheyenne reservation opened for the last of the boomers, and my family purchased outright their first bit of America — rooting themselves in a landscape full of uprooted human, animal, and prairie cultures.