Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The #Midwessay: Morgan Haefner, Stale Pralines and Deviled Eggs

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                


Stale Pralines and Deviled Eggs

Morgan Haefner

When I lived in Chicago, I once met someone from Massachusetts outside of a bar in Logan Square. I offered to share a cigarette with him, telling him I was from Wisconsin. He said he hated the Green Bay Packers. I asked him how he liked the Midwest.
     “Isn’t everyone nice here?” I said. He scoffed. “I don’t think people from the Midwest are actually that nice,” he said. “I think ‘Midwest nice’ is an insecurity, an aversion to confrontation. At least on the East coast, people say what they think so you know it.”
     His observation hung in my ears as I took a long drag and blew out a silent line of smoke. I didn’t add anything. I excused myself and went back inside. Hindsight tells me my reaction wasn’t out of loyalty to the Midwest, but embarrassment. I sat down, thinking of how many times I’d used my tongue to push around ice cubes in a horrible drink instead of using my tongue to say I didn’t like it.
     How many times have the words I wanted to say dissolved in the urge to publicly please? I think back to a poignant time in my life when I had to say hi to a lot of people, even people I didn’t like. It was my dad’s funeral. I remember each of my toes turning to pins and needles as aisle after aisle of pews filled with everyone I had spent the past two and a half hours welcoming. People I never knew. Some I didn’t want to know. At that moment, I didn’t tell anyone that I had to sit down. I didn’t tell anyone to stop comparing me to my dad, someone indelible. I stuck to complimenting suit jackets and scarves. After everyone was seated, I took my first step after 500 smiles. My knees buckled. 
     Thinking back on that day, I wonder if I could’ve done what I really wanted to do: Sit down, and ask one of my dad’s aunts if they thought the same rural Wisconsin town he and most of the people in the pews were from has a cancerous river. And if that river is why my dad and his cousin and another local man all died from the same type of tumor. But I didn’t. I haven’t openly floated that idea until now.
I’m sure the real conversation with my aunt was filled with polite I’m Sorrys and Thank Yous and praisings of all the stale pralines and deviled eggs waiting in the reception room. 
     So often it’s in the things we don’t actually care about that we find the most room to speak.
     The Midwest essay, then, is my room to speak. It creates a setting where it’s ok to speak assuredly—absurdly, even—about what I think. Conflict is more comfortable in my notebook. My “Midwest nice” can be footnoted, erased.
     Confrontation, the heart of the matter that Midwesterners like to push to the margins, can find a home between four of them.


Morgan Haefner is a news writer and editor who left her Midwest home for the first time in 2020 and currently lives in The South. She now thinks too much about Southern hospitality. 

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