“This is home,” 18-year-old Marcelle Collins said, crossing her arms and looking over her shoulder. Behind her, across the stubble of a fresh-mowed field, the two-story house, the silos, barns, pens, machinery, even the windmill, all said this was farm country.
But the fields said it even more.
Here in the heart of South Dakota the plains are flat and the sky runs forever. The soil is fertile but the work is hard. Here, as on family farms everywhere, life is land and work—and a clinging hope that maybe there will be enough profit to keep things going one more year.
Marcy’s parents, Al and Tonnie, don’t actually own the farm. They rent it. But they’ve lived here long enough to raise a string of children. Debra, Connie, and Dan live in the area. David, 23, is still on the farm, along with Noah and T.J., Marcy’s four-year-old twin nephews. Al and Tonnie are their legal guardians.
Before the nephews came, Marcy was the youngest. Now they seem like little brothers, some days so noisy and into everything that Marcy thinks she’ll be glad to get away from them when, in a few weeks, she leaves for college.
College. It’s a place of changes, Marcy knows. She’s been thinking a lot lately, wondering exactly what it is she’s leaving behind:
The smallness. Gettysburg (say GET-iss-burg, not get-EES-burg), a hometown more like a cluster of farms. Gettysburg High, with a student body of 198, “if you count the junior high kids on the third floor.” The Gettysburg Branch and its Young Women program, much of which has been—you guessed it—Marcy Collins.
Chores and schedules. “You live on a farm, you work,” Marcy explains. She can drive a tractor, operate machinery, grind feed for the pigs. She helps with planting, calving, cutting, harvesting. She gets up at 5:00 A.M. to be ready for seminary, goes to school, then comes home to work at whatever Dad needs help with. Or whatever Mom needs help with. Oh yes, and there’s homework too. And sleep.
But as Marcy makes her list, it also fills with pleasant things:
An LDS neighbor. Lori Thompson, only a year younger, lives a mile down the dirt road. Lori comes up each summer from Denton, Texas, to farm with her parents. “And what a relief just to be able to talk to another Mormon girl my own age,” about things like standards and testimony and spirituality. Together Marcy and Lori were responsible for their branch’s training for girls’ camp, the two of them in charge of five others. All seven certified.
A non-LDS neighbor. Sarah is learning about the Church.
Prayer. The strength of kneeling with her family.
Privacy. The sanctuary of her room, where on her own she can let off steam or study scriptures. She hangs her picture of the Savior there.
Space. The open freedom of the fields, and the beauty of a South Dakota sunset.
It is one year later. Marcy is standing in a field again. Well, not really. She’s standing in a parking lot.
“This is home,” she says, crossing her arms and looking over her shoulder. Behind her, the Manwaring Center, the library, the dorms, the administration building, all say this is Ricks College, Rexburg, Idaho.
But her classes say it even more.
Go with Marcy to the third floor of the Spori Building and watch her draw. It isn’t just a matter of sketching. It’s two and a half hours of analyzing—structure, form, shading, foreshortening. It is listening, observing, imitating as the teacher shows examples from the masters.
Or go to the ceramics lab in the Kirkham Building, where Marcy takes a lump of clay, kneads it to remove the air, then “throws” it, centering it carefully on a wheel, opening it with her thumbs, smoothing it with her fingers, pulling with equal pressure inward, outward, upward. Then, just as it’s taking the form of a vase, Marcy groans. Her fingers have slipped, and the clay twists, ill-shapen and uneven. She cuts it free, kneads it again, and starts over.
This is learning of a fundamental kind, learning by doing. Successes outweigh failures only after hours, weeks, and months. But it’s a learning Marcy is coming to understand.
A year can make a lot of difference. As Marcy stands in the parking lot she makes a list of what she’s found here:
Growth. An understanding of new places, new people, and roommates from as far away as England. A student body of thousands, but a ward where everyone is about her age, and activities and opportunities abound. “The challenge here,” she says, “is to not take the Church for granted.”
Family. The joy of letters from home. “Noah and T. J. are growing fast,” she says. “I really miss them.”
Chores and schedules. Someone has to shop and clean and cook. Someone has to do the laundry. And the schoolwork! “Some days it seems like I live in the labs,” Marcy says. Some days she does.
But Marcy can’t help but add to her list, this time a list of lessons:
Independence. “I’ve learned to rely on myself,” she says. “In college you have to. There’s a law of the harvest in school, too. You do good work, you get good grades.”
Priorities. No matter where you are, turn your life to things that matter. If you’re not with your family, have prayer with your roommates. If you don’t have the sanctuary of a private room, study your scriptures in the hall.
Friends. People who matter will always matter. Sarah and Marcy are still in touch, Lori’s back in Texas, and Marcy’s found a new friend, fellow art student Diedra Newville from Fort Myers, Florida, whose sense of adventure keeps them both from getting overwhelmed by pressure. What’s more, the people who matter most, Marcy’s parents, her brothers, her sisters, are still in the background cheering.
Not long ago, Marcelle Collins got word from her parents that the farm had been sold. They’ve moved to another small town, Faith, South Dakota, where her dad was born. A lot of people might say Marcy can’t go home now. The home in Gettysburg belongs to someone new.
But Marcy knows how to be at home wherever she is. And that’s a lesson more profound than she may realize. Long before she left South Dakota, she left another place, a place she may have been nervous to leave. But she trusted her Father, and so began her journey.
And someday, if she continues to turn toward the things that matter most—things like faith, obedience, and honesty—she’ll return to hear her Father say, “well done.” Maybe at that moment, she’ll cross her arms, look over her shoulder, and say, “This is home.”