My three-week road trip to America’s heartland has ended. I hope you have enjoyed my writings as much as I have enjoyed scribing them.
What do I come away with from this trip?
As usual, the trip reinforced a long held belief in the value of travel.
- The exposure to new or different locations, people, situations, history, cultures and idiosyncrasies.
- The chance to reflect on a number of issues which we all wrestle with to some degree or another. And to do this reflection while being in a different place from where we normally are. This potentially allows one to have, at a minimum, a different perspective.
- The opportunity to learn and to be educated about anything and everything.
- A reminder about how important the seemingly little things in life are.
How am I different today from what and who I was three weeks ago? A question that I ask myself.
For one thing, I sure have a better understanding of what most Americans call our Midwest. As has been pointed out by a few of my readers, this is really a misnomer. My guess is that the Midwest got its moniker a century or two ago. At one point in American history, Ohio was considered the West, as David McCullough so well describes in his book The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. (note: sadly David McCullough passed away three weeks ago – a tremendous loss) Then came the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, and the “go west, young man” mantra. If America’s far western border was the head waters of the Missouri River, then the 12 states that make up our Midwest today would be naturally called the Midwest, halfway between the Rockies and the eastern seaboard. But today, with America’s continental border at the Pacific Ocean, the states that we call the Midwest are not truly in the middle of the west. I, like others, have come to embrace another term for these states — America’s Heartland.
A second thing. I come away from this trip with a strong feeling that we as a nation are very fortunate to have America’s Heartland. I have a feeling of gratitude for the people in those states for what they provide for themselves and also for the rest of America. The region is a huge contributor to our dairy needs (milk, beef, hogs), as well as the source of many crops including corn and soybean.
But even more importantly to me is these states are where many of America’s values are so much on display. They seem so deeply rooted here. There are values and characteristics that just jump out to me. The people are honest, straight forward, and down to earth. They value hard work. They have close family ties. They want to do what is right. They care for and contribute to their community.
While I talk about these values and characteristics of the Midwest, the more I ponder this the more I am thinking that what I am really talking about is not the Midwest, but rather small towns in this great country of ours.
When I review the last three weeks, almost all of the time was spent in small towns. Only once did I go to what you might call a big city – that being Milwaukee. All the other 20 days or so were spent in very small towns.
So the big “ah ha” for me on this trip may be that what I experienced in America’s Heartland (“the Midwest”) was really an experience in America’s small towns, no matter where they are located geographically.
For those of you who read my blogs, you may remember the one that I wrote some 9 months ago entitled “Small Town America.“ Here is the link to it: https://neilstrips.com/small-town-america/ That story took place in a small town. However, the town was in California, not in the Midwest.
When I think back on my last three weeks the first thing that comes to mind are moments with individuals. For example, after taking a four mile hike along the shoreline of Lake Geneva in Wisconsin in the early evening, we knew we needed a ride back to town. I did not want to hike back along the shore in the dark four miles. I called Uber. They could not find a driver. I called a taxicab and they said they would come get me but they were not sure when. At this point I had no idea what time the cab might come, or really whether the cab would come at all.
While waiting a man appears in the distance walking his dog. As he approaches my traveling companion, Marilyn, just naturally can’t resist moving toward the dog to make its acquaintance. Before you know it, the two of them are talking about the dog, and in the process getting to know the individual who is walking the dog. I join the conversation. We had a long chat with him, just getting to know each other.
Then, he says, unprompted by us at all, “would you two mind if I drive you back into town?” We were shocked. We in no way suggested this whatsoever. We were very happy just waiting for our taxi. But, his natural instinct was to offer to be helpful even though he only knew us for some 15 minutes or so, and even though it would be an inconvenience for him. This is what they call “Midwest nice.”
One more example, we were in Stoughton Wisconsin, a Norwegian community founded by Luke Stoughton, whom I am a direct descendent from.
Needless to say I was anxious to see as much as I could about my ancestor, but unfortunately we were there on a Tuesday and the Historical Society Museum only opens between 12 and 3 on Saturday afternoon. when we toured the Norwegian Heritae Center, one person on the staff there, when she heard about my connection with the founder of the town, offered without prompting to see what she could do to find a way to open the Historical Society Museum special just for us right after the Heritage Center closes at 5 pm. Sure enough, she said to me, meet me at the back entrance to the Historical Society Museum and you can come in and explore the museum to your heart’s delight. And we did just that. She not only suggested the idea, she also was able to get permission to open it just for us, she was able to go get a key, and she stayed there for the entire time we perused the museum’s artifacts and memorabilia. Wow. This is so far over and above what any human being should expect from another.
These are examples of what I keep experiencing in small towns in America — the people and their values.