This week I had an essay go up at The Other Journal (which you should click over and read if you haven’t, please!). In it, I talk about how since my teens I’ve wanted to be a truck driver. I’ve always been scared of settling down, living a conventional life, growing roots in any one place. I’ve always wanted to be on a road trip.
But four years ago, Jack and Rosie and I (and a teeny tiny embryo) moved to rural Indiana to work at a university. This year, the students who were freshmen when we arrived graduated, and I began thinking of myself as a graduate of a sort, too. It was the first time since I’d graduated from college myself that I’d survived for four years in one place (previous to that: 3 years in Seattle, 1 in Arkansas, 1 in California, and 2 in Southeast Asia). And while I’d lived in many places, the Midwest had seemed as mysteriously foreign as any of them, a distinct culture in its own right for me to observe and interpret.
I found in an old journal some notes I made this summer as I reflected on the four year anniversary of our move to Indiana. If I were a graduate of four years in Hoosier Land, what were the required courses I’d taken? What had I learned?
Bachelors of Arts in Being Midwestern (with an emphasis on Small Towns)
Clothing optional. Operating your riding mower in a bikini is not only comfortable, but good for your tan.
Winter Conditions (survival)
When you get your car stuck in the snow, it’s best to do it in a church parking lot while MOPS is underway. Small blond women will shock you with their maneuvers.
Attendance at the Labor Day Parade is mandatory. Buying all your kids’ clothing at the town-wide rummage sale that weekend is optional, but recommended.
The Easter dress is a nice idea, but don’t expect weather warm enough for it until May. Or June.
Culture and the Arts
I think I will get myself into trouble no matter what I say here.
This is corn.
These are soybeans.
No one knows what Pad See Ew is, but I hear the pork tenderloin sandwich in town is real good.
When you walk your child to preschool, people will be confused. Why walk the mile through neighborhood streets when you could drive?
Physical Education (advanced)
Find the local lake and stay there all summer, reading books while your children swim.
Making friends with the librarian is required. Don’t be surprised to get a voicemail like this one: “Hi Amy, this is Barbara. I just noticed that you have some books overdue. I’m going to go ahead and renew them for you. By the way, I still have the headband Rosie left here after story time. Just come in whenever you can. See you soon.”
For women, the appropriate topic for small talk is your children. For men, it is highschool football.
The internet does not work. You can only succeed in learning the farmer’s market hours and location, finding a ballet class, or even buying a house by knowing the right people. Learn the fine art of small town gossip if you hope to survive.
Family first. I mean, first after your work. And if you’re not working a full-time job and also growing, canning, and preserving all of your food in addition to volunteering at the school or coaching little league, what exactly are you doing with your time?
Family values (advanced)
The 40 year old woman at the park is probably the kid’s grandmother, not his mom.
The Right to Privacy
When your daughter cuts her head open at the park, the policeman you've never seen before will arrive on the scene within minutes of your 9-1-1 call. He'll say, "Now you live on Bragg Ave, right?" You won't mind that, somehow, he already knows that.
Movies have lied. Basketball and race cars are always second to football and baseball, which your children should begin playing at age 3.
Farm animals are technically forbidden within city limits, but if, say, you have some six week old chicks in your backyard, the cop's 9-year-old daughter will come over and name them all for you.
Farm Animals (advanced)
Weasels can squeeze through chicken wire. Weasels will kill chickens.
Corn and Decorative Gourds
If you happen to throw a gourd into your compost, it will grow.
If you put the compost gourds on the corner during the Labor Day Rummages, they will be gone within the hour.
It is always tasteful to display your gourds.
And you, like a gourd, can bloom in whatever compost you find yourself in.