My Big Fat Midwestern Life
It's one of those textbook late summer mornings here in the Milwaukee suburbs. The lawn is dry and embarrassingly brown, and the cicadas are singing loudly even though it's not even ten o'clock. It's feels wholesomely peaceful- which I realize is a fool's paradise given the unrest that continues to smolder just a few miles away.
I married into this Midwestern life almost four years ago, and it's been one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. Every time my other half Rich and I return to our little 1950s prairie-style house here in Wauwatosa, which is monthly, it's like pushing a giant reset button. Suitcases get unpacked, laundry gets done, I get to cook in a real kitchen, and the pace of our lives slows down a bit, if only for a few precious days. We reconnect with family, friends and neighbors and get to live a life that so many folks probably take for granted.
We see people we know at the gym in the mornings, and the manager of our local supermarket even recognizes me now. He calls me "a snappy dresser," even if I'm in a Packers sweatshirt just like everyone else. Go figure. After the gym, we have breakfast at one of two local diners that we like and then settle in at our desks. Rich does his webcasts and teleconferences from a bar stool at the kitchen counter; I set myself up at a little built-in desk in the den- the very same kind we had in the first house my family ever lived in, a 1950s split-level in West Hartford, CT.
It's probably because Wauwatosa resembles West Hartford so much that I feel so at home here. It's a leafy town dotted with Tudor-style houses, craftsman bungalows and the occasional post-war ugly duckling like ours, which is ironic considering that we were just asked to be on the local historical society's annual house tour. Things like house tours, rummage sales, kids' soccer games, school concerts, neighborhood "home and garden" cocktail parties... like marriage- I never thought that these conventions would ever be a part of my life. But I am forever grateful that they are.
From the safety and supposed security of this desk, I can't help but think about the issues that brought Milwaukee to its knees this past weekend. So many of us are so lucky- we came from supportive families and received good educations and got good jobs early on. We had clear paths to follow. Yet as we drive through the "rougher" parts of the city, which we do often, as Wauwatosa sits on the city line, my heart aches for those who have little chance of climbing out of the war zones created by poverty, inequality, racism and violence. There's a palpable feeling of helplessness, especially here in the rust belt where bad gets worse and the scale of urban decay is so expansive.
Bitter with the sweet, sad with the happy- that's sort of the Midwestern mindset. Unlike the East, with its unrelenting aggression or the West with its loopiness, I do find a certain comfort here on the shores of Lake Michigan. That's because in spite of the hard issues that permeate our country well beyond the charred corner of Sherman and Burleigh, Midwesterners have this unique ability to face their troubles with solid resolve, and figure out what needs to be done. At least I hope so.