Thursday, October 2, 2014

Credit where credit is due

I was born and raised in the Midwest of the USA.

Well, strictly speaking, I always thought it should have been called the "North Central," since Minnesota is as far north as one can possibly get without crossing into Canada, and--going east to west--also pretty smack in the middle.  When I mentioned this, they laughed at me and told me that we lived in the Midwest.

What does that even mean, Midwest?

I would have deduced that "Midwest" was somewhere around Eureka, CA.  This, I would have arrived at because "west" suggests California to me, and "mid" suggests halfway up or down the west coast, measuring north to south.  But no.

Midwest is actually the center of the United States.  It includes states like Ohio, which to my Minnesota bred mind is really quite eastern, but during the time I lived in New York, I heard many a soul say something like, "Oh, they moved out west, to Ohio..." Upon hearing such a statement, I always wondered what they would think if they ever drove across Wyoming.

There is quite a cultural difference between different parts of the country, this good old USA.  I lived in NY for 25 years.  My time there represented more than half my life, by the time I moved out.  I felt strange there, misfit, not quite right.

I was happy to get to the Midwest.  Illinois is Midwest, as Midwest as it gets, the top corn producing state in the nation.  I love the expanses of flat land, the wide blue sky, the long straight roads.  I love how open and friendly and kind many of the people are, the farm people in particular.  I even enjoy the violent storms and the way you can watch the lightening from miles away.  I am happy here, and I have an unexplainable sense of peace, despite the foreboding distance we now live from most of our children.

The Northeast never really felt like home, but I have to give credit where credit is due.  There were nice things about it.  For starters, it really was the Northeast; that is a very accurate geographical description.

Here is a list of good things about New York (particularly Central New York, which also is an accurate description, geographically, of where we lived).

  1. Fall.  Fall is beautiful in Central New York, almost unbelievably beautiful.  I met a woman who had moved to Syracuse from the south, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  She'd arrived in town in late September.  Week by week as I saw her, through October, she'd just exclaim with delight, "I don't think I've ever seen a place as pretty as this!"  Cornfields turning golden are majestic here in Illinois, but the beauty of Northeastern hardwoods with their leaves changing color on crisp autumn days, especially over an Adirondack lake... there's just nothing like it. 
  2. Apples.  Apples are another part of fall.  Apple picking at an apple orchard is a delightful way to spend an autumn day.  Afterwards, you can make crockpots full of applesauce, and giant pans of apple crisp.  You can make apple pies.  You can sit at the kitchen table and just slice up apples of different varieties and compare them.  Fresh, authentic New York apples are supremely delicious, special, and I miss them, the way we'd bite into a huge one, right out in the orchard, and it would crack loudly, exploding sweet tartness inside our mouths while the juice ran sticky down our chins.  
  3. Route 20.  New York Route 20 is a scenic drive.  It is especially scenic in the autumn, although it is also nice in spring and summer.  You can drive down Route 20 and visit many an apple orchard on a Saturday afternoon in early October.  The off-the-beaten-track orchards are often the best.  I was partial to the one in Navarino.
  4. Waterfalls and gorges.  There is a plethora of state parks in New York, and many of them have gorges, which means waterfalls.  Some of my favorites were Fillmore Glenn State Park, Buttermilk Falls State Park, and the crown jewel: Robert Treman State Park. 
    Shawn at Robert Tremen State Park circa 2008
  5. Italians.  There are so many Italians in Syracuse.  Italians are beautiful, family oriented people full of passion for life, the joy of artistic expression, and the ability to cook delicious sauce.  I am thankful that I learned how to make a good red sauce while I was there.  I should also be thankful that I moved away from the land of pasta and Italian bread right before I found out I can't eat gluten anymore.
  6. New York people.  All New Yorkers are not Italian, but there is a distinct flavor to the New Yorker.  I never became one; I just couldn't pull it off.  My kids are New Yorkers, especially Jonathan.  He has it down.  One day while he was working here at his parking garage, a man passed by and Jon said, "How ya doin'?"  The man stopped, pointed at him, and said, "You're from Upstate!"  I will never be identified in that way.  I was never able to become "one of them."  But I lived among them, and I learned to understand and appreciate them.  When I see a news story about New York, and I see the New Yorkers on TV, a feeling of familiarity wells up in me.  "I know those people," I think, "I have lived among them!"  And I am proud, proud to have lived there, and proud of them, for their grit, their determination, their tough sense of humor, their ability to bounce back from anything, their indomitable spirit.  I never was able to become one, but I love them nonetheless. 
  7. Good education.  Not going to lie.  My kids got a great education from the state of New York, and an outstanding music education.  I am so thankful.  Yes, I sent my kids to public school.  They were blessed with many wonderful teachers and opportunities.  It wasn't perfect, but it was good.  
  8. Wegmans.  No list of the good things in New York would be complete without mentioning The Best Grocery Store in the World.  If you've lived in Wegmansland, you understand.  If you haven't, okay; just please don't tell me to try Schnucks.  Schucks is not anything like Wegmans.

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