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LJ Idol: Where I'm From

But way back, where I come from,
We never mean to bother
We don't like to make our passions other people's concern
So we walk in a world
Of safe people
And at night we walk into
Our houses
And burn

      -- Dar Williams, "Iowa"

I come from a place where most people prefer 18 inches of personal space -- 24 if we can get it -- which is a bit at odds with the 10-12 inches preferred by most Americans, at least according to my fellow professional anthropologists.

Midwesterners are well known for being "nice" (although if you actually know anything about the infamous "Minnesota Nice" phenomenon, it's actually less nice that it seems). We're the kind of people who show up at your door with a snow shovel, a basket of zucchini from the garden, a set of jumper cables, or a tater tot casserole when you need it. We're the kind of folks who wave at other people in traffic, including those with our state license plates when we're driving out of state. We're the type of folks who take forever at a four way stop because we're too achingly polite to be the first to go if we're not sure we actually did get to the intersection first.

I'm from a place where people have long, long conversations with short, short words that include long, long vowels. I'm from a place where "youbetchya" can mean anything from "Sure, I'll pick up a gallon of milk while I'm in town" to "Yeah, I'll be at the pancake supper next Sunday" to "It was no problem at all to make 300 egg salad sandwiches for your mother's wake." (If it comes to that, I'm from a place where egg salad sandwiches are considered appropriate food for a wake, which, incidentally, we refer to as "the visitation.")

I come from a place where we don't let people too close to us -- not physically, and not emotionally, either. We're sometimes described as being distant or reserved, and that's probably true, at least on a basic level. We're not so big on the physical touch -- it would mean allowing someone inside that 18-to-24-inch bubble of personal space. Even family members and close friends refrain from hugging on all but the most emotionally charged occasions, and only for an alotted 7-10 second count. That hug is likely to be finished off with a firm pat or pound on the back, just to reinforce that the huggee is still solid and strong.

I come from a place where we keep a lot inside, and so people think we don't feel much. Stoic is a favorite word to describe us. Buttoned up is another. (But for real, it's -45F out there. You'd be buttoned up too.)

And yet I come from a place where the sky reaches to the horizon, and where there are still more coyotes than people. I come from a place where, on a clear day, it's like you can see all the way to Heaven and back, and if you just stand still for a moment you can hear the prairies breathing.

I come from a place where sweat and dedication are still valued, and where an honest day's work in the soil is as respectable as one spent in an office.

I come from a place where there is so much to feel that it can overwhelm you. A place where you end up using those short, short words with those long, long vowels and those even longer silences because there's no way to adequately describe in human language everything you feel, hear, sense, know.

Where I come from, you learn early that there's no use trying to describe it, because those who know, know. And those who don't know, well, you'll never be able to make them understand.

But those that do get it? Those that do understand everything that's packed into a single "whatchyagonnado" or "...yup...."? Those are your people. They burn inside the same way you do. They'll never tell you. They'll never let it show. But they'll pour you a cup of coffee and give you a slice of rhubarb pie, and that says everything that needs to be said.

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Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
eternal_ot
Feb. 1st, 2017 01:07 pm (UTC)
Lovely! Well described.
kajel
Feb. 1st, 2017 03:13 pm (UTC)
This was beautiful.
suesniffsglue
Feb. 1st, 2017 03:21 pm (UTC)
Having grown up in the Pittsburghese culture, this was really fun to read. Totally different place, but similar understanding of one another. Nice job!
garnigal
Feb. 1st, 2017 08:55 pm (UTC)
I know we aren't from the same place (not even the same country), but I definitely know those people of what you speak.

Also, egg salad is the sandwich of choice for visitations and funerals.
penpusher
Feb. 2nd, 2017 10:11 am (UTC)
This serves to remind that where you're from isn't necessarily the geographic location, but the people that populate it. Very good.
majesticarky
Feb. 2nd, 2017 08:34 pm (UTC)
You brought up a lot of things I didn't know about Midwesterners. Fascinating!
j0ydivided
Feb. 2nd, 2017 09:05 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful!
bleodswean
Feb. 2nd, 2017 09:34 pm (UTC)
This is very, very strong. Your use of the poem works perfectly to prepare the reader for all the observations you make! A truly thought-provoking piece!
dmousey
Feb. 4th, 2017 12:11 am (UTC)
I can't express how much I love this! What a fantastic piece! Love the voice you give to this! It reads like the beginning to John Irving novel. Hugs and peace~~~
halfshellvenus
Feb. 4th, 2017 08:43 am (UTC)
The poetry excerpt was really striking, and so well suited to this piece. There's a sense here of emotional and physical distance, and yet a solidity and community loyalty that is very strong and supports those who might be sinking even when on an individual basis you might feel uncomfortable intruding that much.
murielle
Feb. 4th, 2017 06:00 pm (UTC)
Lovely! Wonderful!

A beautiful description of a people you know inside out. Filled with love and respect, and humor.

Great job!
rayaso
Feb. 4th, 2017 11:16 pm (UTC)
This was a great description of the Midwest, with great use of details, like the egg salad sandwich and "visitation" instead of wake. Very well done!
dee_aar2
Feb. 5th, 2017 09:49 am (UTC)
The narrative is beautiful here ..... The realness and naturalness of people around you have been explained so well. The insight is well appreciated. Well Done
alycewilson
Feb. 5th, 2017 09:41 pm (UTC)
Wonderful depiction of your hometown.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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