How do I know this, you ask?
Because when I saw a couple of John Deere tractors drive by in the recent Labor Day parade, my heart skipped a beat.
Because county roads that take time to warn of potential deer crossing but then don't bother to illuminate said deer with street lights are not uncommon for me.
Because I consider eating funnel cakes at county fairs to be my birthright.
Because, if you were to cut me, I'm pretty sure I would bleed John Deere green.
I can't change where I'm from, regardless of what my return-address labels may say.
I have lived in many places. From my golden years playing on the beaches of Southern California, to the year spent holding my breath near the breweries of Milwaukee, and eventually to the memorable chunk of my life devoted to that dusty village in Thailand, I have been around. But, no matter where I have lived, I have never been able to change the fact that I am a Midwestern girl.
Not that I would want to.
When you are from a place, you're not just from that place. You are that place. You take it with you wherever you go.
And Illinois follows me around like a lost puppy.
Whether it's my flattened vowels ("What is that thang?") or my strong sense of community ("That's my favorite restaurant because I grew up eating there on Sundays"), the Midwest courses through my veins.
Here in the Midwest, we talk to the people behind the counter at CVS. If we shop there often enough, we know how many kids they have, and they know when our dad had his knee surgery. We can get the best sweet corn you have ever tasted (before we ship it out to the rest of you), but we'll have to wait 'til next year before our stores will carry the fashions you're already getting tired of.
Most of us have never seen a beach. Not a real one, anyway. With an ocean. We console ourselves with the Great Lakes, which do a nice job of pretending to be "a beach," but just cannot compare to "the beach" on either coast that so few of us have managed to visit.
And when summer finally decides to make its way into our neighborhoods, we run around like crack addicts in need of a fix. We are fueled by the sense of desperation that comes from knowing summer won't last as long as our favorite TV series. So we run off to barbecues, block parties, farmer's markets, county fairs, live music at the band shells, picnics, boating, swimming, and walking our dogs (who have a worse case of cabin fever than we do).
By the time September rolls around, we are so exhausted that we are actually a little relieved when it starts getting dark by 7:00 again (although we would never admit it). We love our summer, but we secretly love our hibernation too.
For six long months we stay locked up in our houses and stare out our windows at a cold, lifeless world. Once in a while, when the skies soften enough to shed a little snow on us, we get excited. Then we bundle up and head outside, thankful for the change of seasons our counterparts in California and Florida know nothing about. But all too soon the snow melts down into a dreary-colored slush, and we retreat back into our houses wrapped in quilts, drinking hot cocoa, and waiting for April.
In the spring you can find us hiding in our basements from the constant threat of tornadoes. We will be busy in the summer catching lightning bugs. The day after Labor Day, we will be in a tizzy over pumpkin everything. And I do mean everything. When winter rears its ugly head, we will once again resign ourselves to scraping ice off our windshields whenever we are forced to leave our homes.
This is the life that is lived out somewhere in between New York and Los Angeles. The center of the central time zone that produces the majority of the food for the rest of the nation.
This is me.
When I introduce myself and say, "Hi, I'm Beth," the Midwest is the punctuation surrounding that simple phrase, clarifying who I claim to be.
This is where I'm from. This who I am, and who I will always be.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.