I counted it up. Over my lifetime I have lived in eight different places in the Midwest (I exclude Missouri from this count). So no wonder I felt the need for a Midwestern party! The planning stage for this party actually extended over a year as those of us who had grown up in the Midwest discussed what constituted a Midwestern party. How could a party be flat in terms of terrain but multi-faceted in terms of experience? What should make up the menu? And what were the boundaries of the Midwest? In other words, which students should be invited to join us?
We finally focused on the heart of the Midwest—Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana—the “I” states. Being “nice” Midwesterners, we became concerned over the one student at my New England institution from Idaho. Would that student feel left out? That took some time to sort out.
Next we had to decide on menu. Again, after much discussion (months actually), we decided we need breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches, scalloped potatoes, corn on the cob, multi-bean salad, a seven-layer salad (frozen peas, salad dressing, lettuce, cheese…), apple pie and ice cream, pop (not soda), and ants on a log. For those of you who are unfamiliar with ants on a log, it is celery and peanut butter with raisins placed on top. It was a big hit. The breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches were a challenge. Our catering service was confused. At one point they called to talk about the order and were looking at Encyclopedia Britannica to try to figure out what we were requesting. Encyclopedia Britannica?? Britannica?? This is a Midwestern United States party rather than a British Midlands party! We ended up with something that involved breaded pork tenderloins…
And what is quintessential Midwest? Several individuals brought jello salads. Initially there was some fighting over who got to bring the orange and carrot jello salad, but soon everyone returned to being nice and sorted it out. We skipped the lime and celery version of Midwestern cuisine.
What do Mid westerners do when they get together to relax? Well, we quickly retired to the tornado shelter. Thankfully my finished basement serves as my tornado shelter so it was quite comfortable. Several activities filled the evening beyond eating. We talked about what we missed about the Midwest and the craziest questions anyone has asked you about the Midwest.
We missed straight roads on a grid pattern, the sky, and REAL pizza (as in deep dish pizza). Also we missed Steak N Shake, Maid rite, and Culver’s restaurants where you probably could get a breaded tenderloin pork sandwich is you wanted to without consulting Encyclopedia Britannica. We missed people accepting our being nice and friendly in public. As one person pointed out, when you rode mass transit in the Midwest you were expected to introduce yourselves to everyone when you got on and you often left with at least 5 telephone numbers. We miss everything you can do in Chicago.
What were some of the crazy comments people ask us or make about the Midwest? “Is the Midwest in California?” (OK—Middle of the west coast?) “You must really miss the ocean when you live in the Midwest.” (Let me see…Lake Michigan alone is 400 miles long by 90 miles wide with better beaches than you will ever see in New England!!).
Typical self-deprecating humor played on “hick” stereotypes of the Midwest such as a story about a father who won the national tractor pull contest and a friend who won the Illinois State hog-calling contest.
We also formed teams to compete in a Midwest quiz. Being all above average, all the teams achieved above 90% percent in their scores, including a 100% score on knowing where you can find a submarine and coal mine next to each other. Everyone was nice to those on the one team that missed only one question and won the candy corn.
Near the end of the evening there was a sigh and quiet when someone talked about missing the smell of the earth after the soil was freshly turned in the spring, and how there was nothing like the tomatoes that grew in the heat and black soil of the Midwest. Measured against the Midwest, there is nothing that passes for soil elsewhere in the world.