Love, Rural American Style

By J. Basil Dannebohm

This is a story about love. It begins with a little girl falling in love with the dream of city life. It ends with a young lady falling in love with a man, their child, her profession and her prairie home.

Amber Harris moved to Meade, Kansas just in time to start kindergarten. Like so many young people who grow up rural, Amber fell victim to the myth that she was deprived from all the luxuries of “city life.” She told herself that once she was an adult she would move to the city and never move back to the Kansas prairie. As it turns out, however … she was wrong.

After graduating from Meade High School in 2005, Amber moved away in search of greener pastures, better opportunities and more excitement. Three years later, much like Bono, she still hadn’t found what she was looking for. Amber decided to move back home, uncertain what life had in store. It wasn’t long after returning to Meade before she met … the one.

To a young woman, the allure of the city is no match for a knight in shining armor. For Amber, her knight was a cowboy and his armor was a shiny belt buckle. His name was Erik Harris, a third-generation farmer and rancher who grew up in Plains, Kansas, just 14 miles down the road from Meade. It was love at first sight.

A few years later Erik and Amber had a son, Kutter. Amber, who worked in a hospital, knew that she wouldn’t be able to spend much time at home with her son. So, like many other families of the prairie, Erik and Amber found a way to adapt. With a 9-week old baby at home, Amber decided to go to cosmetology school in Dodge City. The days were long and the nights were short, but they pressed on.

After 365 of those long days and short nights, Amber finished cosmetology school and began working for a woman who owned two salons – one in Plains and one in downtown Meade. It wasn’t long before she needed a stylist in Meade full-time. This was Amber’s opportunity to shine – she bought the salon in Meade and became an entrepreneur. Never had she been so nervous and yet so excited at the same time. Now, just seven months later, Salon 54 offers massage, a full-service hair salon, and tanning, and Amber stays busy with an ever-growing clientele.

Like Amber, Erik has faced his share of challenges. He too left his hometown, and obtained his bachelor’s degree in animal science. After spending some time working on farms in North Platte, Nebraska and Canyon, Texas, he returned home where he met the love of his life.

As a farmer and rancher, Erik could have lost his business in the drought that has plagued the plains for the past three years. Instead, Erik chose to adapt; he converted his business from a cow-calf operation to a stocker/feeder operation and has diversified his crops, growing wheat, sorghum silage and hay. The ranch is home to 300 stocker cattle and a few cows. Erik also works at Plains Equity, where he helps his fellow farmers by spraying crops in five counties.

In a few short years, Erik and Amber will be sending their son to school. They are looking forward to being able to send Kutter to elementary school in Meade. They know that he will receive a good education and will be safe from the school crimes that we too often read about in the headlines.

The one thing that remains constant on the ever-changing plains of Kansas is the support of a small town. A number of Meade residents have walked into Amber’s salon to thank her for help in keeping the community alive and for having the courage to open a business in Meade. Every time Amber drives to her salon she sees someone she knows, and she’s always greeted with a friendly wave. Erik, Amber, and Kutter are now part of a big family: Meade, Kansas.

It didn’t take long for Amber to realize that, much like the father figure in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, rural Kansas has a way of welcoming home with love those who wander away in search of bigger and better things.

You can’t really describe the love a small community has until you have experienced it. I wouldn’t trade the world for being able to grow up a small community, making great friends and living a great life,” Amber says.

Too often, young people leave rural communities in search of the excitement and convenience that they think they will find in the city. Unfortunately, for many the city offers more competition, fewer jobs, and far less safety and community support. But there has been a resurgence of young leaders who, like Erik and Amber, appreciate what the plains have to offer and know that if they weather the storm, the fruits of their labor will be bountiful.