Weekly Photo Challenge: (Michigan) Culture

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So the Midwest nourishes us (…) and presents us with the spectacle of a land and a people completed and certain.  And so we run to our bedrooms and read in a fever; and love the hardwood trees growing outside the window and the terrible Midwest summers and the terrible Midwest winters (…) And so we leave it sorrowfully, having grown strong and restless by opposing with all our will and mind and muscle its simple, loving, single will for us:  that we stay and find a place among its familiar possibilities.  Mother knew we would go;  she encouraged us.”

Annie Dillard, An American Childhood

This quote captures my impressions of the Midwest.  It is a very strong culture that is confident and sure.  It celebrates its traditions, its history.  It remembers the past.  The Dutch Americans in Holland, Michigan still teach their children clog dancing and celebrate their ties to the Netherlands in their annual tulip festival.  Families still pause to bow their heads and pray over a meal even if they are eating in a Bob Evans restaurant.  Church-going is the norm;  so is conservative politics.  The image of Richard Nixon as a villain would hardly get a second glance in New York, but here it is unusual.  Patriotism and football are the cornerstones of the society.  So is a love of the local heroes, Gerald and Betty Ford.  When Betty died a year ago, people wrote notes and bought flowers, and left them by the Gerald R. Ford Museum wall.

This same certainty of religion, family, tradition, and country rankles some–especially the young, who chafe against it.  And so, the 20-somethings leave when they graduate college, but they never forget home and family and Michigan.  Above all, they are loyal, coming back to marry, to have children.  The tug to return is strong, so strong that over and over we hear, “I came back because I want to raise my children here.”   The rebels who stay must carve out their own identities–separate from the norm, like the banjo player who drives around in his vintage VW bus–singing Bob Dylan ballads.

Annie touches on the weather-the terrible summers and winters.  I beg to differ.  She obviously hasn’t lived in New Hampshire where the winter begins in November and ends on Memorial Day!  For us, the spring was the hardest month.  The floods of the past week sent my husband and I and thousands of others fleeing from our homes.

But still, this place has its beauty and joys.  It startles us with the unexpected–the stunningly beautiful Meyer May House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and lovingly restored by Steelcase, Inc;  the magnificent Lake Michigan beaches, and the annual Art Prize Festival which brings thousands of creatives from all over the world to Grand Rapids in for a week-long celebration of the visual arts.

What are your impressions of the Midwest?

See other Interpretations of this week’s theme:


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