What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond. These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors
Thursday, March 4, 2021
The #Midwessay: Delany Brieback, Tell Me You’re from Iowa Without Saying You’re from Iowa
Tell Me You’re from Iowa Without Saying You’re from Iowa
As a child, I hated it here. Nothing to do in a small town. Not the kind of small where there is one main drag with little shops and one restaurant surrounded by nothing but farmhouses and corn fields for miles. Small, like your mom bumping into someone she grew up with and chatting for what felt like hours at each place we went. Small, like the lack of desirable activities there were to do. Small, like the handful of public pools that residents would flock to each day of the steaming-hot summer, crowding around the watering hole as I imagine animals in the desert do.
A flood swept through my town in 2008. They call it a five-hundred-year flood. That gave me a sense of security as a pre-teen, knowing that type of devastation wouldn’t reappear in my lifetime. I wouldn’t have to see my town carried downstream again. After the town recovered—which took years—our collective trauma evolved to a fixer-upper mindset. The places that were hit the worst were not left to rot into dilapidation. A kiss from death breathed new life into the New Bohemia neighborhood—my neighborhood—now one of our hot-spot attractions. I have to admit, though, it bothered me when other-side-of-town people commodified New Bo, as if it hadn’t existed before the flood.
I hated this small-but-not-small place less and less the older I got. I loved my state being the butt of the joke. I had developed pride for being smack-dab in the middle, hidden where coastals rarely batted an eye in our direction. They could never see it like a native. The four seasons. Rich, lush green under the summer sun, flourishing crop between ragged stalks and leaves. In the fall, emerald fades to pale gold and dries to a crispy crunch. Winter, white and questioning why you lived in a place that could easily be mistaken for the Arctic on certain days. Spring, all of the tractors come out of hibernation. Ranch as a condiment rather than a dressing. Busch Light as the beer of choice. Ope! Sorry, let me sneak right past ya, as the courteous way of saying “excuse me”.
August tenth. 2020. The familiar moan of the tornado sirens wailed through the darkening sky. Water had been backing up in our basement, so Dad thought he’d try to clean the gutters “real quick” because we were expecting a lot of rain. Mom and I held the fully-extended ladder tight as Dad reached the last rung. The wind started to pick up, so we retracted the ladder and pulled the trash bins inside. We no more than closed the door when the Derecho sank its teeth in. We quickly made our way down to the basement and watched as trees were ripped from the earth, flying by our window. Lights flickered and buzzed out. The sink gurgled and the house groaned under the pressure of the wind. Suddenly it sounded like a pack of wild animals were running around upstairs. I thought, This might be how we die.
It lasted forty-five minutes.
When we emerged from the basement, the town was flipped upside down.
In conclusion, straight-line winds had reached one-hundred-and-sixteen miles per hour right through our city. We were without power or running water for ten days. The town lost seventy percent of its tree canopy, forty-five percent of state-wide crop, and three citizens to the jaws of the storm. But we banded together as a community, as neighbors—just as we did before.
I still cry every time I drive back into town. It doesn’t look like my home. I am reminded by the still-remaining damage that we were devastated by another natural disaster and received so little help. But we are strong. We will recover. We will evolve again, just as we did before.
Delany Brieback lives in Minneapolis, recently transplanted from Iowa. She works at a Montessori school but loves to freelance design and recently started a print-at-at home greeting card shop on Etsy.