The Midwest–In Which I Give My Impressions on the Land of Your Birth

Dear Lily June,

They say that with the migration of its citizens across the landscape, America is losing the cultural markers that make each region distinctive. I don’t believe it. It’s possible that, linguistically, there are less differences in local dialects than there were before, but having lived in three separate regions and states of the country–the Northeast (in Pennsylvania), the South (in Alabama), and now the Midwest (in Indiana)–each area has, like a food, its own flavor, a taste it that lingers in the mental palate long after living or visiting there.

Being a Northeastern transplant (Pittsburgh, my heart belongs to thee) into the Midwest, I can’t say my impressions are accurate. But your father (who is a Midwesterner, born and raised in Ohio) and I are entering into our third year here, and I’d like to think that by this point, I can gauge a little of what makes here here. Midwesterners from other states or major cities (Chicago, Detroit, etc.) are bound to disagree with me, but I don’t claim any of the following to be fact–only my impressions of what it is to live in a small town (Muncie) in a Midwestern state.

***

We were blown down hallways of maize to get here. The unharvested stalks of August had grown so high, if an ocean had been behind them, we wouldn’t have heard its waves. But the Midwest is covered in ears, Lily, and they hear everything. And what they hear, they will repeat.

ZeaMays
…and it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.

We were driven along by fireflies and Amish buggies with lanterns on the lanes from Ohio to Indiana. It was a rainy night, and with the high beams blazing over the black country roads, each moth and firefly caught in the light’s wake shone like a tiny star on wings. I was so tired, I couldn’t remember “lightning bug,” calling them instead, much to your dad’s delight, “sparkle bugs.”

GluehwuermchenImWald
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” ~Mark Twain

Everywhere we looked the next morning, the path was lined with day lilies–what I (likely incorrectly) call tiger lilies–an important symbol to your father and I as they were one of the flowers in our wedding bouquets. It felt serendipitous, fortuitous, a sign that we were in the right place at the right time. It’s why I call you “Lily” in these public letters.

Orange_Lily_Lilium_sp_Rain_2000px
One of my favorite flowers in your father’s favorite color.

All that hindered our progress were the ducks and geese, whole flocks of them too lazy to engage in flight, that insisted on crossing the street like toddling children, waddling their way across major thoroughfares with rampant disregard for the red lights that shone on their wet, black beaks.

Canada_goose_flight_cropped_and_NR
Tired after their flights down from Canada, our geese stumble drunkenly around on foot.

And the longer we live here, the more certain I feel that it’s always Autumn. Some would say Winter, given the Midwest’s reputation as God’s dumping ground for snow, but to me, after living in the deep South with the perpetual hell fires of Summer (and where the humidity choked you at any time of year, made up, as it was, of the sweat of ghosts), the Midwest has been the land that gave me four seasons back. The Fall here is as pretty as almost any I’ve seen, with the deciduous trees markedly indecisive about which colors they wish their leaves to be.

Sügise_märgid
“Autumn wins you best by this, its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.” ~Robert Browning

Smoke hangs potent in the afternoon air. Leaves, garbage, wood, it’s all burned, some things for the better, some for the worse. How many bonfires have lead to first trysts here? How many of those flings, like their inspiration, have burned the hearts involved to ash?

Bonfire_on_Mississippi_River_levee_St._James_Parish_Louisiana
Some say the world will end in fire…

The moon might as well always be full; corn-fed as it is here, it hangs like a sated stomach. Things become “black and white” in the most poetic of ways (white moon / black sky) and the most horrific of ways (white cops / black men). It sharpens the senses in ways worth celebrating and worth mourning.

FullMoon2010
I spent the immediate summer after you were born not sleeping, staring up at a moon like a dinner plate, worried as I was about how you were eating initially.

The barns here are beautiful but dilapidated. Stocked with produce or harboring meth (or both), their wood beams threaten to fall under poverty’s match. Sometimes a terrifying kind of cooking takes place behind their slats. The county we’re in is labeled as one of the worst, and some part of me is always holding my breath, waiting for explosion.

Pastoral-barn
To me, this scene becomes, in equal parts, tranquil and sinister.

And everything here tastes candied or canned, with brown sugar and cinnamon sprinkled in the air. We lived in a town where everything–the hospital, the school–is named after the entrepreneurial brothers behind the Ball glass jars, and you can’t throw a stone without breaking one.

HotRedJam
That’s my jam, yo.

The campus we work at is riddled with superstition and rural “urban legends.” Look at one bronze memorial of a Native American chief too long, and you’re destined to return to Muncie, no matter where you leave it for. Kiss by the statue Beneficence, the angel Ball sister, and your true love will last forever. Visit Frog Baby, the statue of a boy holding the upside-down bodies of amphibians, and luck grants you multiple choice on an exam.

Frog_Baby_Fountain,_Ball_State_University,_May_2013
Who knows how many futures have rested on those frogs?

But off the campus and throughout the Midwest, in the farms and in the factories, grit and work ethic prevail. Mothers build engines, fathers drive combines, and America drips with their blood, tears and sweat. The parents labor, scrimp, and save to send their daughters and sons to a campus they could never afford for themselves.

WomanFactory1940s
Your Grandma Alison worked in a Honda factory for decades, and when she retired, she gave your father money from her pension just so we could afford to get pregnant with you.

Family is the name of the game and giving the rule by which it is played. When you’re here, you’re welcomed in by more than a mat, and shirts are figuratively given from the backs that literally broke earning them. I was here barely over a year when I got pregnant, and a swarm of people buzzed to me like you, Lily, were made of honey, throwing us a baby shower and raining gifts down onto the promise of you.

W.H._Shumard_family,_circa_1955
Though America’s South claims it, I’ve never known hospitality like Indiana’s: Hoosier hospitality makes you family.

Life can be as sweet or as unpalatable here as its pie–sugar cream so rich in its dulcet appeal it eats away at the teeth that are eating it. I wonder if I’ll be able to handle more than a slice. And yet, being the land of your birth, I’ll never forget sampling it. And maybe the Midwest will decide the rest of our family’s feast.

Sugar_Cream_Pie
Served cold, sugar pie is like ice cream without the good sense to melt in your mouth.

Lily, this is what your home means to me. And with the lights of the city too far to inhibit our eyes, the stars spread out like the arms of a dizzily spinning future you I dream about. And it feels like both a large and small place to live, and all I can think of are the words of one of your father’s favorite poets and former teachers:

“Part of the sky is all of the sky. The rest is wasted.” ~Larissa Szporluk

***

Picture Credits:

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “The Midwest–In Which I Give My Impressions on the Land of Your Birth

  1. corriewright2013 says:

    I love this one so much. It actually made me think about my home back in Alabama. I love the lightening bug, we chased them a lot when we were young and having fun back then was so good and innocent. This passage actually took me back there. Thank you for my walk back down memory lane.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ellie P. says:

    What a lovely, evocative piece…and peace. 🙂
    And re: “Sometimes a terrifying kind of cooking takes place behind their slats. The county we’re in is labeled as one of the worst, and some part of me is always holding my breath, waiting for explosion.”…So Muncie has nothing on Albuquerque!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s