Where to begin…. This is, in a way, a love letter to Nebraska and an essay about a Southern woman’s transition to Nebraska living. I originally envisioned this to be a fun look at all the differences and challenges I was facing while learning how to become a Nebraskan. When I started writing, I had no idea that COVID-19 would change so much of our world and, in turn, change this essay.

I believe that our family always was fated to live in Nebraska. My husband and his entire family are from the Cornhusker State and so we always have had Nebraska connections. We have spent weeks at the family farm on ATVs exploring pastures and fields. We have had family reunions, Fourth of July parades and, sadly, we have had to come back for funerals, too. Nebraska has been a constant in our lives and so it was no wonder that when my husband accepted a job in “The Good Life State,” we would consider it a coming home of sorts ... for my husband that is.

I, myself, have never lived this far north or west. I was born and raised in North Carolina and, even though my husband and I have moved three times to three different states, they were always moves to more Southern destinations. Until now.

Did I have reservations about the change in locations? Darn right I did! I was concerned that a tornado would scoop me up and I would never be seen again. I think I may have a slight obsession with the weather, but I digress.

Our first months in Nebraska were glorious. The weather was perfect. Then, we began to have summer thunderstorms. These, I learned were where my husband will stand out in the rain and watch the biggest clouds I have ever seen roll in. Every gust of wind was a twister coming to get me or our five cats. I feel that the tornadoes must have somehow known I was not from around here and did not quite belong. And, while we’re on the subject, let’s discuss that Nebraska wind, shall we? Y’all, this wind is no joke. I now have replaced the cushions on our patio set three times because the wind has carried them off to heaven knows where. Our poor old dog even got blown over while doing her business and I swear I once witnessed a lady on a bicycle with a little dog in a basket blow by.

Summer brought with it a heat wave by Nebraska standards and a flood. While living in Louisiana, I learned how to deal with the heat. I was ever so grateful for the cool basement and air conditioning we have here, but a flood was not something we anticipated. We were humbled and filled with pride when our new community rallied around the victims of the flood last July. I saw people out helping one another to get standing water out of homes and businesses. Our son helped his girlfriend’s family fill sandbags to keep the Wood River at bay. I think that the flood was when I knew that Nebraska Nice wasn’t just a cute T-shirt slogan.

The rest of the summer and into early fall was filled with me learning to use a tractor to mow our 10 acres, catching fireflies that seemed to be everywhere at night, and also trying to figure out how to do the one finger wave. Can I just say that, as a Southern woman, I appreciate a good greeting as much as the next gal and that one finger wave is a delight! Why, I have even one finger waved at cows as they grazed near the fences on our country road. My husband says I am too enthusiastic with my waves, but I just think of it as my Southern flair.

This winter/spring will obviously go down in the books for the COVID-19 outbreak. But, for me it also will be remembered for the generosity, love and support of the friends I have made here in Nebraska. You see, in December I was diagnosed with an immunodeficiency. Starting on March 5, my husband and I went into quarantine to keep me safe. Since then I have not been able to leave my house or even hug my son, who brings us supplies and leaves them in the garage to quarantine for a few days before we can bring them in and wash them.

But, in the midst of this pandemic, I have discovered the strength and backbone of our Nebraska community. They are the friends who deliver fresh vegetables and leave them on the front porch so we don’t get scurvy. They are the friends who drop off fresh strawberries to cheer you up. They are the friends who send cards to encourage, conduct FaceTimes and calls for updates, and even provide a bottle or two of wine on the doorstep for “Quarantine Date Night.”

Those not from here, please know that these are not exceptions either; this is in the nature of the people of Nebraska, and I loved them from the outset. I feel so blessed to be a Nebraskan Southerner. I don’t know how this will all shake out, but I DO know that while Nebraska isn’t for everyone, it IS for me. Thanks Nebraska, you are a blessing. Please stay safe out there.

Love, Tonya