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, April 1, 2021
The #Midwessay: Kevin Finley, The Unmatched Beauty of the Place Called Home
The Unmatched Beauty of the Place Called Home
As kids, my lifelong friends and I would peddle past rows of modest two-story homes as we made our way to the river. Coloring Saint Paul’s flat as a pancake landscape and these houses' lack of distinct characteristics and architecture that would make someone look twice and wonder what does that person do for a living are elm trees whose vase shaped trunks lead to canopies of gorgeous green leaves.
Brick by brick, these houses are designed with Midwestern roots, consisting of hot dish dinners and working- and middle-class families needing to turn two-bedroom homes into three so transform musty basements and ancient attics into bedrooms.
Taking our two wheels toward the bluffs blanketing downtown, we’d bike under the shaded sections of streets the towering trees created to get a break from the humid heat. Traveling down Summit Avenue where the city’s money resides, we’d reach Ramsey Hill and take the street’s steep descend as fast as possible to feel a rush our mundane lives didn’t provide.
Navigating downtown’s crooked streets and taking one-ways the wrong way, we’d arrive at the river’s edge. Summer days were spent dipping toes in the Mississippi’s rust-colored water and being mesmerized by the fact we’d never see the same wrinkle of water again. The sight of block-long barges departing atop swirling swells and limb-breaking current introduced a question, I’d find answers to in adulthood, is there meaning in movement?
Just because the flat terrain doesn’t offer picturesque views of sprawling mountains, an ocean traveling further than the eye can see and there isn’t a bustling big city vibe, this doesn’t mean being banal translates to bleak outlooks on life. Nicknamed Saint Small, the small-town vibe, slower pace and beloved murky Mississippi are the elements people cherish and proudly displayed their affection on tee-shirts proclaiming keep Saint Paul boring.
City blocks are paved with memories consisting of maximizing the months winter isn’t covering every crevasse and emitting a gray complexion far longer than anyone cares to remember. Our positive perspectives erase feeling frozen for half the year by using the four corners of streets as bases for games of stickball that last until it’s too dark to see the ball. Afternoons are spent cooling off at Highland pool or the cheap seat theater, which had something most of our families couldn’t afford, air conditioning. Being a teenager where first kisses happen in the backseat of beat-up cars and many more occur at keg parties on various shorelines along the river. Partaking in Grand avenue’s twentysomething bar scene and bombing establishments with faces as familiar as the sound of our mother’s voice. Individuals who make those moments memorable and serve as the reason why Saint Paul isn’t a place people leave for long.
For people like me who do and figure out there’s absolutely meaning in movement. Like a child who’s loved, those lifelong unbreakable bonds pulled at my heartstrings and brought me back to the unmatched beauty of the place called home.
Kevin Finley has an MFA from St. Mary’s College of California where he was awarded the Agnes Butler Scholarship and Jim Townsend Scholarship for Excellence in Creative Writing. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Writer Magazine, Hippocampus Magazine, City Pages, Escape from America Magazine, and the St. Paul Almanac. He spent 15 years as a book publicist, and currently writes for Best Buy. Some ad copy and prose can be found at www.kevinjfinley.com.