My husband and I are raising our four kids exactly 41 seconds by car from my mom and dad’s driveway, on the same street I grew up on. My brother and his family live around the corner, and—surprise!—my in-laws are all just a few minutes away, too.
We live a typically Midwestern life here in the family-centered Midwest.
Many of us grew up in smallish communities, went to smallish schools where we knew all of our classmates, and attended smallish colleges within an afternoon’s drive of the comfort of our childhood beds. A fair number of us married people from the same area, too—and it’s not unusual for those spouses to have also been our high school sweethearts. Our kids often go to the same schools we did as children, and Grandma and Grandpa are our babysitters of choice.
To some of you, that all sounds a little Mayberry. But our lives are full of family and familiar faces and places, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Don’t get me wrong: I love visiting other parts of our great nation and experiencing metropolitan living now and then. You have proper beaches. In-N-Out Burger. Decidedly superior fashion sense. But we have hotdish. And Taco John’s. And guaranteed white Christmases.
Perhaps the best things about living in the Midwest, though, are the people who call it home.
Six years ago, my hometown of Minot, North Dakota flooded catastrophically. Two days before the water overtopped upstream dams, we knew the disaster was coming. That meant residents living in the valley—some 12,000 of us—had 48 hours to pack up whatever we didn’t want washed away by floodwaters and flee to higher ground.
In those hours, when families scrambled to empty their homes of everything that mattered, there was no such thing as a stranger.
I remember standing in my house with my two-month-old son in my arms and my world crumbling, feeling helpless and broken. There was just so much to do. Just then, a woman I’d never seen before walked in my door, announced she was there to help, and packed my entire kitchen. Then, before I could thank her properly, she slipped out to help the next person.
It’s the kind of thing Midwesterners just do.
A couple of years later, that same woman stopped by our rebuilt house to see how we were doing. I finally learned her name, got to give her a hug and tell her what a difference her kindness had made on that awful day. Pat waved my thanks off with a shrug and a smile. “I was just happy to help.”
People are kind all over the country, I know. But folks in the Midwest have a particular brand of friendliness that’s simply not found anywhere else. Maybe it’s the cold winters we endure. Maybe it’s the warmth of so much family living nearby. Maybe we just believe a little bit more in the goodness of others.
Maybe it’s the hotdish.
Whatever it is, it makes me proud and grateful to call the Midwest “home.”