Making sense

Anne Lamott, on writing ...

"We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little. But we do. We have so much we want to say and figure out.”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What does it mean to be a Midwesterner?

In the Midwest, husbands and wives go on Friday night dates to Home Depot or Sam’s Club, wearing jeans and college sweatshirts. Midwesterners tend to be frugal; we clip coupons. There exists a waste-not-want-not mentality. We cook our own meals ~ and, yes, Hamburger Helper and canned corn constitutes a meal, especially if there’s bagged salad to accompany it. We take leftovers to our cubicle jobs and classrooms. Many of us own silver thermoses and think nothing of taking one filled with Folger’s with us to work in the morning. Spending $3.50 on a Starbucks brew is a payday treat. We clean our own houses and buy clothing that does not require dry cleaning. Dining out at Red Lobster is considered a Big Deal. It must be someone’s birthday!

At the grocery, a Midwesterner can expect to stand in line without losing patience; there are magazines to read there and friendly people to consult. This is where networking happens, as in I Need a Good Podiatrist, or I'm Looking for New Childcare. Cashiers will remember you by name and that you like your groceries bagged in paper, not plastic. Apples, bananas, and iceberg lettuce are the most frequently purchased produce items. If a Midwesterner routinely buys star fruit and organic endive, he or she more than likely has East or West coast lineage ~ or, is from Old Money and lives in a mansion near the Country Club Plaaaaza.

To be from the Midwest is to live in a modest-sized house that is seasonally decorated. (Expect a lot of rubbery window decals and bulbs strung outside on the eaves.) We take our Four Seasons very seriously here. When fall rolls around high school football games take center stage, as do pumpkin patches. If you are a parent with wee ones, it is imperative that you take your children to at least one pumpkin patch and at least one corn maze. In the fall, local diners start serving pumpkin bread and pumpkin muffins. At the cashier you’ll see a festive and meticulously maintained display of pumpkins, assorted gourds, and bowls filled with complementary candy corn and Sweet Tarts. Once Halloween is over it is time to start stockpiling Christmas wrapping paper, Scotch tape, and two-pound bags of shelled pecans.

Thanksgiving tables feature real roasted turkeys (Tofu turkey? Anathema.), homemade stuffing, real mashed potatoes, and a Jell-O/marshmallow concoction called Heavenly Hash. After the meal the men retreat to a family room with a big-screen TV (football’s on, you know!) and the women end up in the kitchen washing and drying 428 dishes and pans. But they’re happy because this is annual female bonding time and there’s a lot to talk about: Aunt Angie’s hemorrhoid surgery, Cousin Mike’s addiction to Internet porn.
Besides, once the dishes are done, the women are going to sit at the dining room table with the ad circulars and compile their Day After Thanksgiving shopping plan. This can take upwards of three hours. If there is snow on the ground, which is likely to happen, the kids go outside and construct elaborate snow forts and igloos whilst their mothers and aunts construct consumer buying strategies. When they come in hungry, it’s time for turkey sandwiches made on store-bought white bread with Miracle Whip. (Here in Missouri, mayonnaise is Miracle Whip.)

In the Midwest, parents use layaway programs to buy their children’s Christmas presents; they take off work to deliver homemade iced sugar cookies to classroom holiday parties; they attend Christmas concerts whereby children still sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night.” People still say "Merry Christmas!" when they part ways. Yeah, yeah, they know they should be PC and say "Happy Holidays!" instead, but there's a stubborn streak that snakes its way through the Midwest like the Missouri River.

There’s a lot of religion in the Midwest. Here in the Bible belt, Baptists attend services on Wednesday evenings in addition to Sabbath services; their children attend Sunday school beginning at 9 a.m. At home there will be a pot roast waiting, along with roasted potatoes and green bean casserole. Catholics move into Catholic neighborhoods and bury St. Anthony statues in their yards if they’re trying to sell their house. Statues of the Virgin Mary are sandwiched between low-maintenance Zone 5 bushes.

I have lived in the Midwest all my life and it is a place that I call home. It has made me the honest, hardworking, sensible, semi-judgmental Catholic woman that I am today. I have grilled thousands of cheese sandwiches in my lifetime; I have played hundreds of SCRABBLE games during blinding snowstorms; I have raised three children in public schools that did a darned good job of educating them; I have taught in public schools for more than a dozen years and I have done a darned good job of educating my students.

The Midwest is not a perfect place, but it is a good, decent place to work and raise a family. It is called the Heartland for a reason, you know!

No comments: