Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Alice Powell

Midwest beauty melts our hearts

It is now my responsibility to explain to friends in Hawaii why I return to Ohio and Michigan from their beautiful islands, which are drenched with sunshine, lush with greenery, and vivid with tropical flowers.

When I mention either Michigan, my birth state, or Ohio, my adopted state, in Hawaii, there is one sure answer. Whether it's a Hawaiian friend or a cashier at the supermarket check-out counter, on any of the islands, the response is always the same.

In their minds, this is snow country, with unbearably cold temperatures all 12 months. They express sympathy that I was born in such a depressing state and that I would return to deep-freeze conditions.

Island friends can't see beyond the TV newscasts, which are focused on snowplows and freezing midwesterners fighting blizzard conditions. It's no wonder they don't connect with the beauty that emerges after the spring thaw in this region. Other than baseball, tornado disasters, and flooding, national TV doesn't bother to let the world see Mother Nature in her wondrous ways as the Heartland's spring carpet rolls out across the landscape.

Granted, the old girl slept through most of her spring wake-up calls in April, but those of us lucky enough to be born where four seasons unfold know that the warm-weather curtain goes up in May.

So why do I return home to Michigan and Ohio from a place where many people just dream about visiting, where there are flowers in abundance year-round, and an overcast day is an oddity?

Happiness in the Heartland is a kaleidoscope of simple pleasures.

It's catching the vitality of spring, when Midwesterners are programmed to clean up, fix up, and plant up.

It's waiting for the patches of daffodils and rainbow shades of tulips to bloom against green lawns. Then we can count the days until the lilac bushes send their fragrance throughout the yard.

Almost as soon there will be peonies, which traditionally were used in great bouquets to decorate graves on Memorial Day, before Americans got hooked on silk flowers.

It's making a meal of homegrown asparagus, and eating your fill of Lake Erie perch and walleye, cooked, not raw, as many kinds of fish are preferred in the islands.

It's pulling rhubarb to make a tart sauce to eat as a spring tonic.

It's seeing the sunshine bring smiles.

It's watching the birds flit in and out of the houses they have chosen to raise their families. Can you believe that the same wrens, sparrows, and robins are occupants in the same houses again this year?

It's walking through the grass and getting your feet dirty after the rain.

It's returning to the outdoors the hibiscus and geranium plants that were tended in the kitchen window all winter. There, we hope, they will grow to the great heights they were when we brought them in before the first fall frost.

It's walking in the woods and picking wild violets, and snapping a twig and tossing it for the dog to fetch.

It's the first picnic of the year with family and friends when the table is laden with baked beans, potato salad, deviled eggs, and green-bean casserole - all of which will be boring come August. Someone is sure to cook hot dogs for the children, though the children are never asked if that's what they would like.

It's attending an outdoor auction and bidding on something you don't need or particularly like, and being saved from buying it when someone bids higher.

It's getting out the grill for the first time in the season and checking to be sure the spiders didn't make a nest in the gas line during the winter.

It's opening the storm windows to let fresh air in and deciding whether or not to kill the darling ladybugs that congregate on the sill on sunny days. They are omens of good luck, you know.

It's planting the first geraniums, petunias, and other annuals in mid-May and hoping the green sprouts pulled were weeds and not the perennials planted last year.

It's jumping in the car and driving, with no destination, on the back roads of southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio, admiring the hard work of the farmers who are readying their fields for planting.

It's feeling sad that some of our favorite barns have sunk into further disrepair during the harsh winter and high winds this spring, but finding within a few miles on that country drive a well-cared-for barn, foursquare with fresh paint and a sound roof, symbolizing heartland agriculture.

For these reasons, and many more, I add "Wish You Were Here" to letters and cards written to friends in Hawaii. And I mean it sincerely.

They will never believe what happens after the snow melts, or even that it does melt, unless they see, feel, and taste the reasons we call this home. With pride.

Mary Alice Powell is a former Blade food editor.

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