Being new in town we've heard the phrase, "Welcome to the Midwest!" quite a lot recently. It's awfully nice of folks to welcome us here, and yet I find the phrase curious and unexpected. The Midwest?
My mother is from North Dakota and my father grew up in Minnesota. I started grade school in South Dakota and my sister Brooke was born in Wisconsin. I have relatives in Illinois and Ohio. My brother-in-law is from Michigan. I thought I knew all about the Midwest. Then we moved to Southeast Missouri.
Here in Poplar Bluff, people say "ya'll," not "you guys." Farmers in the region grow cotton, not sunflowers. It is 76 degrees today, and we are in the month of NOVEMBER. Does that sound like the Midwest to you?
In the Midwest that I know, iced tea comes unsweetened, 50 degrees is considered "shorts weather" and November in Minneapolis? Well, let's just say those urban Minnesotans are thankful for the skyways.
But Southeast Missouri is an interesting part of the country. I can't blame people for being a bit confused. I've heard people refer to this region as the Mid-South. I think that is an apt description, part Southern, part Midwestern. Because there are certainly days when it does feel Midwestern. Especially when I get out of town and onto the highway. The landscape is unceasingly flat. The road is stubbornly straight. It seems I could drive for hours without a single turn of the steering wheel.
Southeast Missouri is a bit like a Chevy El Camino. It's hard to know how to describe it to your friends. Is it a car, or a truck? Am I living in the South or the Midwest?
Maybe it's okay that people here are regionally challenged. Maybe that's part of what makes me a good fit for this place. Throughout my life, if there was ever a question people could stump me with (or get me to tell them way more information than they ever wanted to know) it was this: Where are you from?
Gulp. Pause. Well ... I was born in Atlanta. But I do not consider myself from Atlanta. I lived there for less than a year, when I was a baby. Growing up I went to five different elementary schools in four different states. By sixth grade, my dad had earned his doctorate and my family settled in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. I lived in Fairfax County from the age of 12 to 20. When I was 20 I moved to Massachusetts, where I met my husband, was married, had my first child and graduated from college. I lived on the North Shore of Boston until I was 29, when our little family of three, soon-to-be four, moved to Tennessee.
Three years later we landed here, just north of the Missouri Bootheel. (Which, by the way, I recently learned was originally to have been part of Arkansas. It makes sense. The Arkansas border is just 29 miles from Poplar Bluff.)
But I am glad to find myself here, amongst all these Southern Midwesterners. Everyone we have met so far has been wonderful. Good people. Go to church on Sunday and Wednesday night-type people. Bring your neighbor brownies (and mulch their leaves with you super-duper riding lawnmower) -type people. The perfect blend of Southern friendliness and good ol' fashioned values, mixed with a little bit of Midwestern modesty and industriousness.
If this is what the Midwest looks like, I'll take it.