You Can Take the Girl Out of the Midwest, But You Can't Take the Midwest Out of the Girl
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
I always prided myself in being a California baby. Not just a California baby, but a blond-haired, blue-eyed Southern California baby born to return to her homeland. When I was nine, my parents somehow scraped enough money together for our family to fly to California to visit some of their friends from the two years they had lived there. We explored Disneyland, visited the animals at the San Diego Zoo, and drove through the campus at Concordia College, Irvine, where I decided I was destined to be a college student so that I could become the California girl I knew I had always been destined to be.
But I wasn’t a California girl. I was a Midwestern girl masquerading as a girl from the Pacific Coast because I thought that was somehow more interesting than the girl I really was. The Midwest wasn’t just something I inherited from my parents; it was a big part of my own lived experience.
Summers cooling off in Lake St. Claire and occasional dips in the Great Lakes taught me that freshwater was far superior to saltwater. I’m significantly better at building a snowman than I ever would be at riding a surfboard. I lived in Detroit for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else and that is where most of my sports loyalties lie. And I love the change of the seasons.
Despite living in Wyoming for five years of my adolescence, the rest of my life had been constantly influenced by the Midwest. My parents and sisters and I lived in Michigan and Illinois and then when I got married my Michigan-raised husband and I moved to Indiana, where we lived for thirteen years. Even my years going to college in eastern Nebraska, technically part of the Great Plains, were colored by the Midwest. Most of my friends were from the Midwest. I traveled back and forth across the 600 miles with a car full of Michigan people. When I spent a semester in London, I was surrounded by people from all over the central portion of the United States. Most of us called the Midwest home, and when we returned and eventually graduated, many of us would continue to make it where we raised our families.
When my husband and I made the decision to move to Texas, it wasn’t a decision we took lightly. We knew it would be a significant change for us and our kids, but at the time it was what we needed. It wasn’t that we needed to escape the Midwest, but life had gotten to the point where we felt we needed a drastic change that would enrich our lives. And it did. We learned what good Tex-Mex really tastes like, we traveled across the south and saw natural beauty and historical landmarks that we never would have experienced if we had stayed in Indiana, and we met wonderful people who became good friends who stuck with us to the bitter end. We gained a greater understanding of our country’s complex racial history and learned just how devastating a hurricane can actually be. We fell in love with a place and the people in that place who made that place home.
But the truth is I was never going to be ok with carved pumpkins that started rotting less than 24 hours after being put outside. I was never going to be ok with never again putting up a fresh blue spruce in my house at Christmas. I was never going to be ok with the fact that my kids got up every morning to say a pledge to the state of Texas. (Sorry Texas friends, that is just weird, seriously.) I was never going to be ok with both of them asking for huge and expensive mums and garters for homecoming week. I was never going to be ok with the dread that every hurricane season brought, wondering if we would make it through another season relatively unscathed. I was honestly never going to be ok with the deeply unapologetic devotion to a state and the tunnel vision that it created in otherwise lovely people and good friends.
Texas will always be, for my kids, what the American West has always been for me. It is a deep part of them. It will call them back, maybe not to live, but certainly to visit. The five years that I spent living in Wyoming instilled a deep love for mountains and canyons and an appreciation for desert-dry air in the middle of summer. The six years that we spent living in Texas gave my kids a deep love for the biodiversity of the second largest state in the United States and an appreciation for being able to swim in their outdoor pool and wear shorts year-round.
But because we took the Midwest with us to Texas, it is still very much a part of who they are. We raised them University of Michigan and Colts fans because our geographic location wasn’t going to change our loyalty. We taught them that the only way to properly prepare brats was in a large pan full of boiling beer. We continued to fight against the urge to call carbonated beverages “soda” by insisting that in our house, they were still called “pop.”
And just as five years living in Wyoming enriched my life and made me a more well-rounded individual, my children will be able to say the same about Texas
And while I’m not ready to be called outside to help with the collection of what seems to be a metric ton of fallen leaves, I am ready for the fall colors and the smell of the leaves as they crunch underneath my feet. While I’m not ready for winter, for bone-chilling cold that takes my breath away and a long driveway with impassable snowdrifts, I am ready for that first snowfall that blankets the earth in a pure white, covering the dried and dead grass and leaves underneath. While I’m not ready for the false spring that pretends to appear after a late snowfall and convinces me that winter has officially passed, I am ready for a spring that doesn’t cover my car in yellow tree pollen and the budding of flowers that come up from the ground after a winter of death and decay.
Because I’m finally ready to admit that I’m a Midwestern girl. I may have wandered, but wandering makes us richer and helps us appreciate even the most mundane elements of home.
And we are home.
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