You can’t take the Midwest out of the girl..

After spending my first Winter outside of Illinois, I learned you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl.

I was born and raised in Champaign and I was brought up with values that made me the person I am today – and that person is a true Midwesterner.

And what exactly does it mean to be a Midwesterner?  It’s in the way we talk, our mannerisms, our values, the way we treat others and countless other traits that may be hard to put a finger on, yet we’ll know them when we see them.

But the term “Midwestern” can mean very different things to different people.

To some on the coasts, we are “fly-over country.” To others, we are “the salt of the earth.” In fact, many describe us as; down to earth, practical, humble, hard-working, family oriented and God-fearing. To some we are unsophisticated, too trusting, too focused on faith and family values. Too nice even.

While being born in a state smack dab in the middle of the country doesn’t guarantee these “virtuous” traits, they are nevertheless qualities that many living here possess. And spotting a fellow Midwesterner can be like an “aha” moment. We sort of just ooze… “midwestern-ness.”

While I was out west in Sunny Arizona – roughly 1,600 miles from my home in Champaign, it seemed like every other person I met was from from Illinois – or another heartland state such as Iowa, Michigan or Minnesota. I even met a couple from my husband’s home town of Fargo, ND.

It was like a melting pot of cold winter states dropped into the desert. There were commonalities that sort of drew us together – like an invisible beacon – “I’m from there too!”

We just naturally eased into conversations. We felt connected. We related to growing up in small towns or braving the cold winters. We talked about our families, our backgrounds, our values. We became fast friends and confidantes.

What is it about people from the middle states that differentiate them from others from those “flashier” perimeter states – with their beaches, their mountains, their more hospitable climes?

I gave this a lot of thought on the three-day drive back to Illinois with my husband and the two dogs – a lot of it running parallel to Route 66 and the associated Americana – through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and finally, Illinois.

What is it that gives us away? Is it a friendlier, more trusting demeanor? Sure, there are unfriendly, crabby people everywhere, but I’ve found that Midwesterner’s are likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger, lend a helping hand or allow a driver to merge in traffic. It’s not like that everywhere.

Could it be our somewhat thrifty attitude about money that gives us away? I’ve noticed that many Midwesterners take pride in driving cars for years on end or divulging how little they paid for something on sale. We love our “deals.” And we’re practical. We loan out our tools and books. We hand down clothes and toys. We offer to drive people places. We have potlucks and backyard BBQs.

Is it our nature to nurture and show we care? The requisite meal delivered by a kindly neighbor or friend during a rough patch? The willingness to give back to the community in countless ways? And, yes, kind people live everywhere – they just seem to be more highly concentrated in our neck of the woods.

Are we more trusting? More willing to give people a second chance? More generous? More hard-working? It sure seems like it to me. But I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment – so I asked some friends to share their thoughts on what are uniquely midwestern values, characteristics and quirks.

Here’s a sampling:

“Reliability. People show up when they say they will.”

“Midwesterners are always apologizing.”

“We are modest about achievements”

“The two-hour good-byes”

“Waving at everyone you meet on the country roads.”

“Sunday dinners together with family – face to face”

“The habit of carrying a warm coat in your car until July in case it gets cold again”

“Our strong work ethic.”

“The willingness to volunteer and help others.”

“Euchre, Bags and other distinctly midwestern games.”

Louie is happy to be back in Illinois where the lawns are green and plentiful..

There are, without a doubt, good and kind people everywhere. Being from a specific part of the country doesn’t guarantee desirable qualities in a person. But certain traits and values tend to become ingrained in generations who’ve overcome challenges and hardships. Resilience. Honesty. Humility. Kindness.

I am grateful to have had a Midwestern upbringing. I also cherish the true and lasting friendships I’ve made here. Maybe being a “Midwesterner” is actually state of mind and not just a place. No matter where I go, I’ll always be a Midwestern girl at heart.

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