Looking For The Midwest

Husband and I left Brookings, SD yesterday to get back home to Southwest North Dakota. We typically go north from Brookings through Fargo, and then west on I-94, but there was a pesky snow storm in the James River Valley in Jamestown and Vally City that would have been distressing to drive through, so we chose a southern route on Highway 212 to Gettysburg, SD and then north to the Interstate just east of Bismarck.

Husband grew up in Wisconsin. He misses the Midwest with its small farms and rain. He spent our time through South Dakota gauging where the red barns ended and the terrain got flat. There, he declared, was close enough to the 100th Parrellel to say that is where the Great Plains begin, and his Midwest ended. I don’t know where the last of the red barns comes into this. I was just glad to be back home, no matter what colors the barns were.

For where do you yearn? Where do you think the Midwest is? What snowstorms have you driven through?

46 thoughts on “Looking For The Midwest”

  1. I am a displaced Southern Californian, retired to western Michigan. The “line” that means most to me is the Tehachape range of mountains, which runs east-west across part of California, delineating “southern” from the rest of the state. The light is different, the weather patterns are different, and the culture is different there. It’s good to have mountains… they are much more apparent than red barns, or the absence thereof.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Welcome to the trail, Aboksu. I’m curious how a citizen of Taiwan who considers himself a displaced Southern Californian ended up in western Michigan?

      Liked by 6 people

    1. We purposely avoided Aberdeen, SD, yesterday, where L Frank Baum lived for a while, as we have a strange dislike for it, as it is ugly, it takes too long to drive through, there is nothing appealing about it, and it was storming there.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. We took several routes to Bowman. Best was down to Worthington, to Belle Fource and north. 212 was not bad for us, but we too hated Aberdeen. Everything you said was true about it plus lots of non congenial people. Hamlin Garland I believe homestead in the area. We counted old threshing machines.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Out of curiosity, I consulted my biography of Garland. His father, Richard, homesteaded in Ordway, which was about twelve miles from Aberdeen.
          In 1883, Hamlin Garland and his brother speculated on a piece of acreage about 20 miles west of Ordway. Theirs was a preemption claim—the land had not yet been surveyed—and they couldn’t sell the claim until after it was surveyed. Garland spent a brutal winter in a makeshift shack on the land. After that experience, he sold his claim and moved east to Boston. (This was a very truncated synopsis.)

          Liked by 4 people

  2. I cannot say why, but I have to agree about the “red barn boundary”.

    But this makes me wonder what the eastern border is in that case.

    Most memorable snowstorm driven through was from eastern Iowa to western one Thanksgiving with my brother. I-80 was a parking lot due to several jack-knifed semis ahead of us. People were getting out of their cars and visiting with each other.

    Back in the days of no cell phones. Forget my child, I wonder how we managed much of what we did without them.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Well, there are those who consider Ohio “the Midwest”.

        I’ve personally taken a liking to the idea of “the Upper Midwest”, which I’m pretty sure has to be defined by some winter temp metric. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what that is, but “I know it when I see it”.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The barn in the header is the barn my father built, flipped 180 degrees. It is now gone.
    As you travel from eastern SD through MN through WI down into northern Indian and into OH the types of barn changes. WI barns are more often white. Red paint was not the best choice. It was made with lead, which the cows will lick at and eat and then get lead poisoning.
    I have drawn or painted the barn of my childhood many times. I loved the barn. It was my best place.
    I think the land changes in character alonmg most of the MN/SD border, but usually somewhere east of the line on the map. Of HWY 14 this is especially true.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. When my younger daughter was in her teens, she was a competitive Scottish Highland dancer. Once a year we would take the ferry across Lake Michigan to Ludington, then drive to Alma, Michigan, where the regional championships were held. Driving through that part of Michigan, I noticed that, while most of the barns were red, most of them also had emphatic white arches painted around the barn doors—not just the trim around the door but an arch several inches wide. I’ve never seen that anywhere else and I was never able to get an explanation for it from any of the locals.

      Later, that same daughter went to college in Wooster, Ohio, so we became accustomed to making the drive through Chicago, across the top of Indiana, and through Toledo and past Cleveland to Wooster. In Ohio, I noticed there were many large barns, usually white, that were doubled. Sometimes those took the form of Siamese twin barns—two identical barns side by side and joined where they met. Sometimes the two barns were set crosswise and joined at the middle—a configuration that must have made for some complex roofing since the barns were generally round-roofed rather than faceted.

      Liked by 5 people

  4. This all reminded me of an idea I had 20 years ago for a set of stories. Could not figure out where to take it. It is long I know. So blow it ff as you wish.
    “I am a concierge to cows!” Harmon awoke the barn.

    The heads of the cattle in their long row looked at him just the same as they did every morning, waiting for their hay, just the same as they did every winter morning. Boredom does not infect cows. If they were privileged to be one of the milk cows. some also waited for a three-pound Arco coffee can full of grain. Or if they were the work horse. Or if they were being prepared as meat for the family table.

    “I am the maitre d’ of the barn,” he shouted, which produced no more of a response than his first sally. “May I show you to your stanchion?”

    As he started to fork hay out of the chute from the haymow, he added, “How come I know words like concierge an’ matre d’, huh?”

    Harmon stopped and waited for an answer. No one said a word, except the horse down at the end of the line, who snorted in disgust that his much larger manger was still empty. Harmon for his small revenge fed the horse last, very last. Very last. With ellipses before the last. Harmon and the horse did not always get along. Harmon’s father said it was Harmon’s fault. Harmon thought otherwise.

    Perhaps you, unlike the livestock, are wondering why a ten-year old boy in Northeastern Minnesota in 1952 happens to know words like concierge and maitre d‘. It was only because his seventeen-year-old brother Marvin helped him break rules at the local library.

    Children, whose proper domain was in the basement, were not allowed to check out books from Upstairs, Upstairs with a capital U. Indeed they were not supposed to be Upstairs, lest they become corrupted by an evil influence, which was unlikely since the most evil influence on hand was Grey’s Anatomy. Marvin would bring Harmon with him and tell the Upstairs librarian that he was taking care of Harmon and had to keep close watch on him. The librarian, who was usually a congenial soul, would cast a sidelong glance at Harmon, wondering what kind of miscreant needed such careful watch.

    Marvin would then pick out a Zane Grey for himself and follow Harmon, who was scanning the shelves, preferably around corners out of sight from the front desk. Harmon picked out books that might appeal to his advanced reading ability and interest, but they had to make it look as if Marvin were the one searching and Harmon was being herded.

    One day Harmon picked out a novel set in Paris. Reading about France was surely an evil influence for a farm-raised ten-year-old. Harmon, however, did not know to look for evil influences. He did discover a world of new things: big city life, subways and streetcars, eating in cafes right out on the street, eating in fancy restaurants with maitre d’s, and apartment buildings with their intriguing concierges. Imagine having a person downstairs to take care of your problems for you. (I did not say it was a particularly realistic novel.) Imagine living in a very different place, a whole different country, in a big city with a big river running right through it. The local small town has a river down the hill from the library; it is called Groundhog Creek.

    Imagine being a concierge: living at the front door of a large building, watching the rich people coming and going, knowing all about their lives and secrets. Harmon liked the thought of being able to solve people’s problems, even if they were rich, not that he thought he would be good at it. Even more he liked the thought of being a secret watcher. Harmon liked being quiet and watching. He trained as a silent and still watcher by studying animals in the surrounding woods, a skill at which he was very good. But he never tried to solve any animals’ problems.

    Harmon did not imagine being a maitre d’. It sounded suspiciously like woman’s work, despite what the book said. So maybe there was an evil influence in the book, which Harmon had managed to escape.

    When Harmon called out to the cows that morning, he did not say concierge. He did not say maitre d‘. He had only read the words, not heard them. Phonics was not an international discipline. Rather he had shouted, “I am a con-ker-gee to cows!” “I am the may-I-tred of the barn.”

    They were very polite cows and did not correct him. The horse would have corrected him, but he was a dumb horse and did not speak French.

    When all were hayed and grained, Harmon sat on the front of the manger with his feet in the hay in front of a young heifer, who would be bred for the first time that spring. “Mary” was her name, and Harmon had named her from a character in a book. He would have named her Laura, but Harmon’s older sister had named a calf Laura a few years ago. Laura was now the first cow in the line, the first to not correct Harmon’s mispronunciation, or tell him about his split infinitives, not that Harmon would have cared about split infinitives, since he did not even know what they were. He was, still for all his reading, only ten years old.

    Harmon leaned forward and peered directly into Mary’s large dark eyes. Mary looked back. What else was she going to do with his head a foot away from hers and his feet in the hay she was trying to eat?

    Concierges must write novels, he thought. They must have many stories to tell. The book he just read was a murder mystery. He had read a few mysteries and not solved anyone of them before the ending. He was not sure in this one that the detective had solved the mystery either. It seemed the concierge had really solved it and the detective took the credit. He was, however, a rich detective. Rich people always got the credit, and everything else, according to his parents. Was that true? Did Harmon know any rich people? How much money made you rich? What was it like not to work? Ever? The murderer lived in a houseboat in the novel? What was it like to live in a boat? Was the Seine River like any of the rivers that ran into Lake Superior? Harmon thought of the river as being pronounced Sane, like the seine nets he knew about from local fishing.

    Mary pushed at Harmon’s face, drawing his attention back to the present. She reached out her head to be scratched under her chin and down her long throat. The boy obliged and let his mind drift off to France.

    Mary turned her head in her stanchion to rub her head against a post, scratching at the point where her horns had been sawed off the year before. Harmon watched her. He asked, “Mary, where in all the whole world would you like to scratch your head ‘gainst a post?”

    Mary said, “France sounds good. Can I meet a nice bull there?”

    Mary did not really speak. This is NOT that kind of story. At least not yet it isn’t. Maybe it will become such a story, but not yet. And Harmon did NOT believe she spoke. This will not ever be that kind of story. Harmon knows reality from fantasy. He lives in the reality of 1952 Northeastern Minnesota, but he can imagine, as you will see, he can dream, as you will see, he can worry, as you will see.

    Harmon, lost in thoughts about bulls and the peculiar sensitivities of the human females in his life, did not answer the heifer. Mary persisted. “Hey, you, will I or not?”

    He knew the answer. He knew there were no nice bulls anywhere. But he did not want to disappoint her. He answered. “Maybe you should ask your mother.”

    “My mother? Whose my mother?” (I know that’s supposed to be “who’s,” but Mary is weak on spelling.)

    “Laura, the last one down at the end there.”

    He pointed, and Mary really did look down the line. Harmon giggled. Mary appeared almost offended at his laugh.

    “Who you talking to, then?” Harmon’s mother shouted over the backs of the cows as she came in the door carrying pails to start the morning milking.

    Harmon shouted back. “Jus’ Mary.”

    “Is she talking to you, too?”

    “”Yes she is. Good ol’ heifer that she is.”

    His mother laughed. “That’s nice. A talking heifer is a good thing to have. But it’s time to start the milking.”

    Harmon patted Mary’s head as he climbed back off the manger. Soon he and his mother were milking cows comfortably. She asked, “What was Mary telling you, the price of oats?”

    “She wants to know ’bout bulls in France.”

    “Well, so, what did you tell her then?”

    “Nothin’. She wanted to know if they are nice bulls in France.” He added in a stage whisper, “I didn’ wanna tell her bulls are not nice anywhere.”

    The mother was neither surprised by talking cows nor a conversation about French bulls. She said, “I think you should consider that cows do not feel the same way about bulls as you do. Why is she interested in French bulls? What’s wrong with a Minnesota bull?”

    “I tol’ the cows I was a con-ker-gee for them and how they have those in French buildings.”

    She thought for half a minute. “That’s pronounced con-say-airzh.”

    Harmon was not embarrassed to be corrected. When you read adult books you often do not learn how to pronounce words unless somebody corrects you. Nor did he give any thought to his mother’s ability to pronounce the word. He repeated the word quietly to himself several times. It was a tasty word to drip off your tongue. Its rhythm matched the rhythm of milking, the airzh part sounding like milk splashing in a metal pail. The mother was not surprised he knew such a word. It was she who had put Marvin up to helping Harmon check out adult books.

    Maybe you are not as surprised as you should be that Harmon would learn such a word, or that his mother could pronounce it. Right now you cannot imagine just how isolated a place it was on a small farm in the woods in Northeastern Minnesota in 1952. It was not long after World War II. Life was not full of conveniences the way it is now. People were still being careful not to waste or to spend money that they did not need to spend. You may not believe this, but they patched their clothing and darned their socks, or rather the mother did.

    It was before television. They did not get many movies in town, and the family could not afford to go to many movies. The library did not have all the books you would see in your library today. But it was not a bad library, despite its silly rules about children not reading adult books. And few of those books were set in other places in the world, like France. Not many were set in imaginary places either, except for children’s books. And Harmon liked books about imaginary places. But Harmon did not like children’s books.

    The family did have radio. Some nights they listened to funny shows and crime shows and westerns. Some strange people think radio was better than television because you had to imagine what was happening and what people looked like. How strange is that?

    Curious people find a way to learn and to think. They will find good things to read. Curious people will notice new things and important things and silly things and odd things. Curious people will wonder and wish to wander; some will also worry. Not to mention that they can imagine and pretend. Oops, I did mention it, didn’t it. But it was important to mention it.

    Harmon’s mother had once been a curious child in the 1920’s on the prairie of southern Minnesota. She was still curious. She still found books and magazines that made her more curious, and she listened to news shows on radio. Harmon’s mother still pretended and imagined, but if she ever admitted it, she called it daydreaming.

    The family could have a sad story, like Old Yeller, but it does not. Have you read Old Yeller? You should. This could be a pioneer story like On the Banks of Plum Creek, which I bet you have read, or one of Wilder’s other books. But Harmon’s family were really not pioneers. They lived like pioneers, but they were not. This could be a story of heroic struggles like Johnny Tremain, but it’s not. That’s a good book to read, too.

    So what kind of book is this? I am trying to decide. I wonder where imagination will take us. Let us see. But you must be patient with me and Harmon, who can now go Upstairs all he wants, although now the books in the basement are more appealing than they were in 1952.

    Let us pretend it is Harmon who tells me these stories.

    Liked by 11 people

  5. If you’re coming from the West coast through Nebraska, the Midwest is when the flat ribbon of highway start to have bumps. There are finally some rolling hills, and eventually it gets green and beautifully hilly as you approach the Missouri River.

    I used to yearn for Winona as we would leave from visiting folks here, when we lived in the Twin Cities. Now I occasionally yearn for aspects of the Cities.

    I remember visiting my folks during winter, driving I-35 just south of Mason City. There is a flat stretch where snow and sleet blow across the freeway. We were all creeping along, praying not to slide; there were semis and other vehicles in the ditches. Talk about white knuckles… Glad you found a reasonable alternative, Renee.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve lived in southeastern Minnesota my whole life. I have always thought of it as the northern part of the Midwest. But I think that it actually is Kansas. And I think Dorothy was right, it’s true that there’s no place like home. (Thanks, Ann Reed.)

    I long for the Big Lake. I always do. I’m no longer sure I will ever get to move there.

    I tried to drive from Northfield to Faribault during the Halloween blizzard of 1991. It took me a half hour to drive from my house on Plum Street to the intersection of County Road 1 and Highway 3. The sheriff had a road block there. When I told them I had to go to work in Faribault, they looked at me like I was nuts and told me I wasn’t going to work today. It took another half hour to drive back home and the driveway I’d worked all morning to shovel was already full of snow again and I had to shovel through a snow bank to shovel the driveway and my car got stuck in the street by the time I was done. I have driven successfully through other storms though, gripping the steering wheel tightly with both hands and trying to see the road ahead through a windshield covered with ice. Almost all of the storms I’ve driven through were to get to work but once I tried to get to a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. They live south of Nicollet, MN, near the Minnesota River. I was living in Waterville. I took Hwy 60 to Hwy 14. Hwy 60 turns north-south just west of Madison Lake and it’s an area where snow blows across the highway. The place is only a few miles long but it has put lots of people in the ditch over the years. I got to that place and the snow was drifting badly. I couldn’t see. I decided to be sane and go home but when I reached an intersection to turn around, I couldn’t find the road again and drove straight into the ditch on the opposite side of the road. I don’t know why that area is so bad but it’s one of the worst places I’ve ever driven through. Maybe some of you have experienced that kind of white blindness.

    Liked by 7 people

  7. looking forward to clyde’s piece

    nice to have you back clyde
    looking forward to getting back into sandy’s place

    the rockies are my deal
    canadian rockies and the montana wyoming colorado version here
    it’s like a hole being filled that doesn’t happen anywhere else.
    jasper alberta
    livingston montana
    durango colo
    good vibe

    midwest runs dakota to ohio canada to oklahoma and arkansas

    when i was a kid we’d drive to fargo to see grandpa and cousins for christmas vacation every year
    my dad worked bridge construction and never had time off in the summer
    lots of memories driving with giant snowflakes in the headlights on the old two lane highways through st. cloud little falls new york mills
    my dad would take different routes but the roads were equally tough in those prairie blows.
    lots of heavy snows with ice
    one 4 foot snowfall in southern california in 73
    that was a doosie.
    halloween was memorable
    north dakota 12” on top of 1 1/2” of ice and a heavy wind from the west i was driving into to get started on my winter camping sojourn
    lots of minnesota wisconsin dakota sagas in big old rear wheel drive tanks
    anybody else ever go bumper dragging
    great fun
    today with either snow tires or all wheel drive i’m invincible with regular gear i’m a mere mortal

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Our barns have always been white. But Kelly’s barn was red.
    I asked Dad once why ours were white and he said he liked it better.
    But the back of our old grainery was faded red… it was too tall to reach and too hard to get too so it never got painted white. I don’t know how it got painted red in the first place.
    There’s a photo of a bunch of church people who volunteered to paint our barn. Dad put the elevator up to the peak and there’s one guy up there painting… good thinking. Only a little sketchy…

    I’ve been in worse blinding rain storms than snow storms. But neither one was much fun or something I’d care to repeat.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Yearning, to me, connotes a desire to return to a certain place and moment in time; nostalgia, if you will. I’m pretty sure that no place I could actually return to would live up to the image I have created of it in my mind. I’m OK with that, for as long as my memory functions, I can go there anytime I want. When I was younger I daydreamed about all of the places I’d like to go. Now I much prefer to dwell in the memories of people and places I’ve known, and I consider myself lucky to have a vast storehouse of those.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. We just watched Local Hero again for the umpteenth time. As it always does, it spurred a kind of yearning to visit Scotland again. Obviously, that’s not the sort of yearning that stems from nostalgia but it’s not entirely fantasy either, since we did visit Scotland and the experience was every bit as rewarding as we imagined.

      It’s inexplicable in a way that Scotland should be so viscerally attractive, since the landscape is so unlike anything familiar but nevertheless it’s deeply appealing .

      Liked by 3 people

  10. I haven’t really driven in any big snow storms but I did drive in ice once. I was driving to St. Louis and left very early in the morning (which is the only reason I think I’m probably still alive). Just on the other side of St Paul, I spun out and the car went around twice and then I was able to get it stopped. Because it was so early in the morning there wasn’t any other traffic so there was no crashing into other cars, no causing a pile up, no fiery death. I had the dogs in the car with me as well so it could’ve been really bad. We drove about another hour or so and then I stopped for gas. When I opened the door, the ice that was encapsulating the car shattered into millions of little ice bits. I wish I’d had someone filming from the outside because I’m sure it looked amazing. It certainly sounded amazing.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. The old red barn that’s been vacant for years
    is a reminder of days long past.
    In its day it was filled with so much life.
    But like all things it didn’t last.

    Now as I ride by it I wonder why it stands?
    Why was it not taken down?
    If it was capable of having a face,
    surely it would be wearing a frown.

    Gone are the sounds and the smells it had.
    Gone are the people too.
    The hands that worked there every day,
    These are the memories it knew.

    “Why am I standing, all faded and worn?
    Why don’t they do away with me?
    I’m tired. I’m tilted. I can’t stand straight.
    Is that what they like to see?

    Maybe I’m a reminder as people ride by
    of how things used to be.
    Maybe I still have a purpose to fill?
    Nostalgia, when they look at me.”

    – Edwina Reizer

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Well, there are those who consider Ohio “the Midwest”.

    I’ve personally taken a liking to the idea of “the Upper Midwest”, which I’m pretty sure has to be defined by some winter temp metric. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what that is, but “I know it when I see it”.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Great story. Thank you.
    As a native Minnesotan, I was startled when, on a family camping trip, heard some people from Massachusetts say that Ohio was part of the Midwest.
    I never was one to look at barn colors. Red was the only color for barns.

    Liked by 1 person

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