“This is warm,” they cheered.
“If this was warm, what is cold?” I inquired, a smirk on my face.They assessed me with blank stares, like, ‘We don’t do humor and sarcasm.’
“You don’t say, Missour-ah,” a colleague commented. “Or do ya?”
“I don’t know. Show me,” I said. I might have winked.
“We drove through Misery on a trip awhile back,” he said. “Horrible place. The Ozark mountains. Steep, narrow roads, hillbillies.”“That’s not the area of Missour-ah I’m from,” I said with a glint in my eye. The irony was lost.
d. Lovingly told
…Mea. That’s one of the coldest places we have in our country.b. Laura Ingalls Wilder lived there.c. You might have to learn to love ice fishing.d. Are you sure?
The people of Minnesota have: Closed-in three-season porches, like a vestibule to the front door. It’s often confusing to know which door to knock on. If you’re invited. And invited, you must. Minnesotans do not appreciate the ‘pop-over.’ [This is the first time I used the word ‘ante-room’ in conversation. In Minnesota, it’s where the snow boots, and house shoes are stored, the coats, gloves, scarves, mufflers, hats]. “A Tavern, you mean?” We found a few good ones. Run by a British guy. With a Ploughman’s plate and Irish dancers on Friday nights. They didn’t have Anheuser-Busch, but we began to enjoy Summit and Schell. No caves. Unless you count that ice fishing thing my mother mentioned. [See 3-c-c above]. Very few red bud trees and dogwoods. Do they have sweetgum trees? Do they have any trees that flower? Very little. Lilacs. But not until May or June. Honeysuckle? I don’t think so. Locusts?  In the trees? In the red-earth ground? What’s red-earth? Mostly, it’s mosquitos. Because Minnesota is ‘the land of ten-thousand lakes.’ The mosquitos can be as big as the seventeen-year cicada I loathed. They are feared as much. The “Twin Cities” where outdoor art sculpture presides: a giant cherry on a more-giant spoon, but not the arch. You can also see the tiny little spot where the Mighty Mississippi starts, just a trickle, really. You can jump over it. It’s not the same as the Archfront. At all.[8, 9] Attend local Lutheran Church* and stay for the fish fry. They will serve lutefisk, not Imo’s pizza or barbecued brisket. Or barbecued ribs. Or barbecued anything. But if you’re lucky, you might get a delicious cookie salad or something made from a canned Pillsbury product. Remember: you must be invited. Minnesotans keep to their own kind.*In St. Louis, I grew up within a stone’s throw of about 809 Catholic Churches, soccer leagues, and peers in PSR. [Parish School of Religion]. In Minnesota, the predominant religion appeared to be Lutheran ELCA, and sometimes: Methodist. Being Catholic was more…unusual.
a. “Ya took geography, eh?”[Yes, ma’am. I’m from the middle of the country]b. “Did ya bring your ‘sneakers’ to phyed?”[pronounced ‘fi-ed,’ not ‘fiz-ed,’ as we said in Missouri, or even just plain ol’ ‘P.E.’ Note: what are sneakers? We call them tennis shoes.]
a. Sometimes I was fully immersed in my new home.b. Other times, I felt I was on the margins, trapped between being “a Southern Belle” and a Viking. Was I oozing sweetness and naivete or standing firm and stoic, a little bit stubborn, maybe? A hybrid Missouri-Minnesota girl?c. I made a life there.d. Two of them, in fact. They emerged with red hair and blue eyes.e. And I emerged, too. Fully grown. And changed. I knew the lingo, the place names. I made friends. I saw how the Midwest was divided into ‘upper’ and ‘lower,’ a construct I never once realized.
a. Strongerb. More resilientc. Charmingd. Inventive
Like fellow Midwesterner and incredible essayist Sonya Huber, I loathe the harmful writing advice of “show don’t tell.” Yet, I am also a writer born and raised in the Show Me State. While Missouri is steeped in Southern front-porch storytelling, the Middle West’s characteristic pragmatism, understatement, and complicated* past and present are perpetual in our prose. We want it both ways: to show and to tell, to be Southern and Midwestern. Ultimately, there’s a certain resilience and toughness Missouri essayists must harbor because we can’t assume you, dear reader, share our points of reference or understand why we stay or live in this place, however long. Ultimately, though, describing what others do not know or have the words for makes for wilder, more inventive stories. The Missouri essayists in this project share the very Midwestern joys and terror of what it’s like to be in a state with “no particular place to go.” What constrains and releases us may surprise you.
Missourians: we'd love to have more essays riffing and rumbling on the #Midwessay! Contact me at michaella.thornton at gmail and I'll be happy to include your thoughts and insights in this project.
* And by “complicated,” I mean openly racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, and more. We have a lot to unpack and improve on here.