Would I have turned out liberal? How liberal?
I rejected the religious prejudices of my mother when we moved to New Jersey and my best friends were Jewish and Catholic. The racism I observed in Port Norris, my father's boyhood home in the salt marshes of southern New Jersey, combined with televised images of violence and courage during the civil rights movement started me on a very long journey to understand our nation's tragic racial history. I met my first openly gay and lesbian friends in college in the late 60s, working in the university theater. I can't even recall my first Muslim contacts, but it was probably during the 80s, when my department had two faculty members who had immigrated after the revolution in Iran. I have had at least one transgender friend in my social circle for at least twenty years, and my research into clothing and gender has been powerfully influenced by LBGTQ family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, artists, and writers. The one important omission in this list is Native American rights; I do believe I would be better informed about that history and current issues if I had lived in Nebraska instead of living in a series of states with lots of indigenous place names and not much else. (The exception: knowing the leader of the Iroquois Nation, Leon Shenandoah, because his day job was the custodian at the Syracuse Drama department.)
Where would I belong in North Platte?
Some of the lessons I learned in New Jersey and later might have come my way somehow, anyway, because I believe I was already inclined to be open to them.The more I learned -- the more I have learned -- the harder it would have been to return to that bubble. I would have yearned for the sky, the land, the tastes and aromas of home. I would have missed the open friendliness. But I would have also known that beneath that friendly neighborliness was often a wary distance. The bubble is preserved at the expense of real communication. My mother was like that, bless her heart. It was impossible to have an actual heart-to-heart with her about our differences. If you touched on a sensitive topic, she just slid away. I would find it hard to live and work in that bubble.
Now, maybe I am wrong. There are people like me in North Platte, and they have found a way to be there and not give up themselves. That's a question for the next visit, I guess.