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Well, Go Ahead and Blow Out Those 239 Candles!

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

American Coldsters – go out and watch the fireworks. Eat barbecue, drink beer and really listen to the lyrics of our national anthem.

Non-American Coldsters – please raise a glass for us today and know that you’re always welcome at our table.

Happy, Happy Birthday, America. I love you with unabashed sentiment.

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To The Men in My Life

cold war workoutI’ve been blessed with so many good men in my life.

Let me start with my grandfather, who used to wash my car by hand any time I left it in his driveway. He made me lunch during the mean girl years, when I would walk to his house midday to get a break from Middle School politics. Heating up pork and dumplings over the stove, he’d spoon them carefully onto my plate and pour me a generous glass of milk. A kiss on the forehead came with every meal.

To my dad, who married my mom when I was four and treated me and my brother as his own. He showed us the world on his dime and spent his money on our educations instead of getting a new Lincoln. There wasn’t a night I can remember when he didn’t get a call from one of his patients or a time when he ever complained about it. I realize now that he taught me, by example, to see the value of getting up night after night with my children – the bond that creates even when you’re so tired you want to cry.

To my boyfriends – even the worst of them were pretty darned good. And let’s face it, I wasn’t always an easy girl to please. I demanded a steady diet of adventure and engagement, when most guys would rather just save their pennies for that heart-shaped pendant they’d heard other girls wanted.

bad muthafucka

To a gang of the best guy friends a woman could have – men who can talk about anything from space travel to mommy porn and have been there for me through heartbreak and hurrah. If I may quote my friend Karl – who I’ve known since High School and who said this to me sometime during college, “Look, I know a lot of guys are a**holes, but I just want you to know that if any one of them ever really crosses the line and hurts you – I’ll break all of his fingers.” He meant it.

To my husband.

Now there is a man who I probably don’t deserve but am so lucky to have run into at an Irish bar in Prague some twenty years ago now. Feminists, cover your ears. The truth is, without my husband I would be half the person I am today. Maybe less.

But of all great guys, on this Father’s Day I want to honor my dad, who passed away this Spring. He had a long, complicated, successful life full of as much magic as misery. He was a great doctor, and a loyal and faithful husband to my mom. If I could have half his courage, I would consider myself something along the lines of Batgirl.

Butchering the Sacred Cow: Why We Need To Laugh at Everything

clown with drink and smokeI’ve often raised eyebrows among friends and strangers alike for my admittedly dark sense of humor. For me, nothing – and I really do mean that I can’t think of a single thing – is off limits. Not racism, not poverty, not cancer, not Alzheimer’s, not Nazis or Communists or Democrats or Republicans or religion – including my own Catholic faith.

I know that just the mention of these topics in anything but the most earnest, delicate voice leaves many aghast, and I definitely understand why there is a reflexive, negative reaction to what some call black humor and others simply call insensitive, politically incorrect humor.

But to me, black humor is deeply misunderstood.

I believe the hostility stimulated by farcical, often morbid jokes that make light of what are unquestionably very serious, painful subjects has to do with the misconception that the person making those jokes is somehow mocking the pain of a given people or situation. The imagined result is the further infliction of grief on an already damaged being – a child, a slave, a man born grossly disfigured perhaps.

But in true black humor, the only mockery is of the absurd, the tyrannical, the sanctimonious. It’s meant to slay the boogieman and allow nothing – not a hateful word or heartache – to hold power over an individual.

I was reminded of this when a friend of mine sent me a link from the New York Times that chronicled a new Czech reality TV series called “Holiday in the Protectorate.” In it, three generations of a real-life contemporary Czech family are sent “back in time” for a reality show reenactment of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. The show’s “contestants” are made to live in a remote area of the Czech Republic that was the first part of the country to be invaded and annexed by the Nazis at the onset of World War II.

There, according to the NYT feature, “They must not only survive the rigors of rustic life with outdated appliances and outdoor plumbing [circa late 1930s Czechoslovakia], but navigate the moral and physical dangers of life under Nazi rule.” Some of these dangers include air raids, having their doors kicked down and property searched by the Gestapo (played by actors), being betrayed by snitches, having to scavenge and traverse the black market in order to have enough food to simply keep from starving.

If they perform well, in everyday tasks such as cooking over a chalet stove and milking cows, as well as in life and death challenges such as managing not to get shot, they stand to win about forty grand.


Naturally, I was all over this. I immediately posted the link to the article on Facebook, writing, “Move over, Kardashians, this is my kind of reality show.” To me, this much-maligned genre was finally taking on something of real, historical significance; a welcome antidote to the mere peeling back of the curtain on the lives of the shallow and pampered. I thanked my friend by name and within minutes received a note from her in the comment box saying, “I’m not endorsing it, Vic!”

In fact, not a single one of my 887 Facebook friends liked or commented on the article, except for my mother – a half-Jew who was actually born under the Nazi occupation, and whose parents concealed their own racial secret while hiding and smuggling Jews.

But to everyone but my mom, the article was like Kryptonite.

And I can understand why. The show itself, while getting a lot of attention, has been denounced by critics around the globe as trivializing a “brutal and dehumanizing period.” Much offense has centered around the title of the show, as Nazi rule was “no holiday.”

The Czech director of the series, herself a very earnest woman in her thirties, by the looks of her, says she is surprised at not only the volume of attention her show has received, but the often sight-unseen condemnation. Couldn’t people understand, she told the reporter, that the title was meant ironically? That the episodes, in and of themselves, were meant to educate modern viewers about a time in history, make it real for them in a way that also happens to entertain and keep their attention?

And this is the crux of black humor, is it not? The fact that through irony, juxtaposition, comedy and yes, even amusement, we are able to look into, past, under, over and through the most agonizing, unimaginable events both in our lives and in the world at large.

Look, I know that my innate sense of the dark and the funny coming together like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup isn’t for everyone. Much of it comes from my Czech culture, so it’s no shock my people would come up with something like this: a Nazi-themed reality show that’s darkly humorous in concept if not context and execution.

Of course, my husband shares my sensibility and he’s Irish, so this is not a trait specific to the Slav. But the Irish are no strangers to making light of an inherently awkward, gut-wrenching or just plain ole bad luck set of circumstances either. (Anybody out there ever read Jonathan Swift’s pitch-black masterpiece “A Modest Proposal”?)

And we’re not the can dish it out, but can’t take it type, either.

A few minutes after our infant daughter received her cancer diagnosis eight years ago – and on my birthday, no less – my husband and I were faced with even more bad news. In addition to the potentially deadly chemo, our daughter would require more surgery to assess her damaged liver. Basically, we were told, if the liver biopsy came back bad, she was dead. Somehow, without missing a beat, I turned to the doctor and said, “So let me get this straight. If the liver’s ok, we get to try our luck in a gulag; but if it’s not, a rusty iron ingot will be driven through our eyeballs?” My husband doubled over. What started as a snicker for me became an all-out crack-up. I was shaking, my eyes were tearing – I couldn’t even look at my husband without dissolving into yet another fit of laughter.

Even our daughter’s surgeon wasn’t immune to the contagion. He held it together – barely – and said, “Well, that’s one way of putting it.” The good doctor was no stranger to gallows humor. He’d already heard worse – from us, no less – and deeply understood how badly we needed a laugh. We’d been dealing with our daughter’s health problems since right about my second ultrasound in my fourth month of pregnancy and her birth had taken us to a new level of stress. And now, he was telling us, the stakes had just been raised once again. A knock-knock joke just wasn’t going to cut it. The situation demanded a heinous and ballsy comparison to the pits of despair. It required unbridled insanity and a complete re-framing of our circumstances. Something that would carry us into the next day, or just the next hour. To help us even understand, for the love of God, what we were experiencing.

Because black humor, like prayer, takes some of the weight off. It can make us smarter about the real goings on – spiritual, political, metaphysical. It leads us into asking unorthodox questions and drawing unexpected conclusions.

Laughter, we forget, is also a teacher.

I always think of reading about when Robin Williams busted into Christopher Reeve’s hospital room shortly after the Superman actor’s devastating spinal cord injury. Disguised as a doctor and wearing an earloop surgical mask, he began describing in cringe-inducing detail how he was about to perform an extensive and invasive rectal exam on his paralyzed friend.

Christopher Reeve credited that laugh with helping him want to live, and with giving him insight into his own reserves. That bit of tasteless humor showed him that joy was still possible – even if he would never hold his wife or children again, or feel the warmth of their skin and their hearts beating against his chest. He would not walk, run, make love, caress, tickle, or be tickled. But damn it, he would laugh. Laugh so hard that he couldn’t catch his breath. Laugh until it was dangerous and his doctors had to intervene. And after he was done laughing, he would teach us all a little bit about what true resilience means.

laughter 6

Oh, and here’s a link to the original NYT article:

A Forgotten Name; An Unforgettable Act of Bravery

marine corpsI make it my business to honor Memorial Day in some way every year. I want my kids to know that it’s not just about the neighborhood pool opening up and going to a barbecue.

My late father-in-law was a Marine Corps veteran. One of my husband’s closest friends is a Marine Corps General who did two tours of duty in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Both lost dear friends – no, they’d call them brothers – to combat.

I never got to meet my late father-in-law. He died just a few months before my husband and I fell in love. But I know my husband’s friend Dave pretty well. I know, for instance, that he has a hard time getting into the grillin’ and chillin’ aspects of this holiday weekend.

Memorial Day is a day of melancholy for him.

While I definitely planned on saying a prayer with our kids to honor our fallen, I really didn’t think I’d post more than a photograph and a few words of thanks on Cold today. I’ve only returned from a four-day excursion to Knoxville, TN, where my daughter was competing in a creativity competition. And since my focus has been on my little girl and her powers of imagination, I didn’t think I’d have the time to create something of any meaning myself.

But fate intervened with a spontaneous trip to the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, TN.

If you’re ever in the Knoxville area, I highly recommend a trip to this wonderful, quirky little museum. It’s got all the charm of a Loretta Lynn song, complete with the care and single-minded obsession of a professor consumed with a narrow area of expertise.

In this case it is a magical fusion.

Museum of Appalachia

As I walked the land on this meticulously restored farm – petting the goats and watching little ones chase the peacocks, ogling the artifacts – a banjo made of a ham tin, decades-old, hand-crafted marionettes of simple, country folk (a mother in an apron, a daddy with his fiddle), a wooden child’s coffin with endearments carved into its side, I came upon a brief and humble exhibit nestled between the quilts and the apothecary displays.

It caught my eye because it featured a picture of a little boy of about six with his two front teeth missing. He looked like Ronnie Howard in the black and white episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. This boy, a local, grew up to be a man who served his country in the Vietnam War. There was also a picture of him in full uniform from when he was home on leave.

But that would be the last time his family would see him.

Upon his return to Vietnam, on an enemy scouting mission, this young man volunteered to be lowered into a suspicious-looking hole in the ground. Turns out it was an enemy hideout and he was shot and killed almost immediately. But the hideout was destroyed, and the many Vietcong hiding in the hole were captured, so to his brothers in uniform he did not die in vein. In fact, this one act of bravery had undoubtedly saved many of their lives, as this enemy hideout had been strategically placed and vicious in its execution of attacks on American soldiers in the area.

Posthumously, this one-time adorable six year-old with the missing teeth became one of the most decorated soldiers in Tennessee history.

Ronnie Howard

Damn, I wish I could remember his name – he deserves more than to be called “that young man” or “the soldier from Norris, Tennessee.” I should have written it down.

Even nameless, with only his First Grade face imprinted on my memory, I couldn’t help but think of this young man from Norris, TN, as I pulled up to my house yesterday. I’d been driving for five hours and was exhausted. The creativity competition had been like spending four days in Disney World and I had an almost sexual desire to plop down on my living room couch with a glass of wine in my hand. But jutting out from one of the peeling, weather-worn columns on our house was my father-in-law’s World War II American flag – faded colors, only forty-eight stars, a bit frayed, but a beautiful, majestic piece of history. Every year, we try to fly it for a specific person – usually one our friend Dave is remembering.

This year, however, we’re flying it in honor of a young man whose name I can’t remember, but whose story I can’t forget.

Ivy Depot flag

Odd Little Post-Mother’s Day Post

baby snakeOn the morning of Mother’s Day, my son brought home a tiny, premature snake. I mean this thing was only a little bit bigger than a matchstick and wiggled his glossy body all over my kid’s fingers, biting them in a pathetic attempt at defending himself from what he imagined was a huge, goofy-grinned predator.

Charlie, I started calling him.

“It’s so sad,” my son said. “His mother was run over by a car and she was pregnant. Most of the baby snakes got smashed, too, but about four or five of them were squished out of her and survived.”

We took Charlie to our kitchen and fed him a little egg yolk before my son set him free in some bushes by our porch. The critter would have to fend for himself, as our pet snake, Felina, is not the nurturing type. Some months ago she tried to smother her own brother, Pickles, and seems quite happy to have her habitat to herself now, thank you very much.

Charlie was sweet, and almost cute. We hated to let him go like that, but we needed to do it quickly before he got used to being taken care of and my son got attached. The itty-bitty thing, smaller than a worm, slithered away without a hint of sentiment for the boy who’d saved his life.

“Such is the plight of the mother,” I told my son.

In response, he wrote me this Mother’s Day poem:

Roses are red
Windex is blue
Thanks for cleaning my poo
I really appreciate it.

Smart-assed thirteen year-old boy poems aside, I’m grateful to have had a much, much better Mother’s Day than Charlie’s mother. My husband and kids took me for a picnic by a trout lake nestled in a valley that looks up at the Blue Ridge Mountains. We ate Spanish ham French-style, with fresh baguettes, Manchego cheese and a container of bright green olives that looked like miniature Granny Smith apples. We took a drive in our Jeep – top down, and allowed ourselves to get a sunburn. It was a nearly flawless day, our good fortune brought into even greater relief by Charlie and the fate of his mother and siblings.

And as we pulled into our driveway at the end of this wonderful excursion, the words of a friend of mine popped into my head. I had to go searching for them in my quotes file, as I’d loved them so much I actually saved them there, waiting to re-purpose them. This whole Charlie episode presented a perfect opportunity.

“I came into the world kicking, screaming and covered in blood. I have no problem leaving the same way.” -Khalid Muhammad, posted on Facebook some weeks ago.

Because ain’t that the truth? This birthing business, whether you’re on the giving end or the receiving end, isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s beautiful and terrible and thrilling. It’s dangerous for Pete’s sake.

Nothing has given me more satisfaction than being a mother and nothing has made me feel more insignificant. From the moment I looked into my first child’s eyes – the above mentioned son – I knew my life was over. Even if only metaphorically speaking. I became fully aware that if I did this thing right, I would put his interests above my own and go on to raise an independent, competent human being, who would learn the skills to leave me behind and build his own happy life with a family of his choice and making. Hopefully, he would look over his shoulder every once in a while – unlike Charlie, that ungrateful bastard – and shoot me a wistful smile. A “thanks for cleaning my poo” smile. “I really appreciate it.”

And hopefully, he and his sisters will take notice of how much I appreciate my own mom, who not only gave me life, but a good one at that. All I have to do is watch the news for five minutes to know how lucky I am to have her. Or just look at Charlie, who has to go it alone in this world.

mom and her girls

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (scratch the last part)

girl daydreamingI’m not by nature a prolific reader. A prolific imaginer, yes, but reader? Hmm. I’m slow, I’m picky, and I tend to want to turn everything into my own tale.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t preferred the sanctuary of my own private, sometimes weird library of mind-stories to the extensive and fully utilized library my husband and I share in our home.

One that includes everything from literary classics (all the usual suspects befitting a Lit major, from Herodotus to Franzen) to agonized Eastern European poets and writers that any self-respecting Slav must possess (Milosz, Kundera, Dostoevsky) to tasty genre specialists (Tom Rob Smith, Laurie R. King, Stephen King, Silva, Ludlum, Hiassen) to downright cotton candy (EL James, David Lee Roth’s rock-n-roll memoir “Crazy From the Heat” and let’s not forget “Rock Star” by Jackie Collins – a personal favorite).

I have read most of them – swear. Except for some of the less exciting business books my husband collects – “A Brief History of the Boeing Company” for instance.

plane crash

It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading – I do and very much. Rather, inventing stories as opposed to merely savoring them just offers me a more three dimensional experience – sort of like working a crossword puzzle. eating strawberry shortcake and listening to Dusty Springfield all at the same time. Heaven.

And once I had kids and my time became more precious, I had to pick a team. So, I chose to spend most of my time writing.

But in the last couple of years that’s changed a little bit.

Since joining an online community of writers – a group of sad, if lovely individuals, who don’t usually leave their homes except to tend to basic needs, and may not even get up from their computers unless they absolutely have to go to the bathroom or something – I’ve been forced, as both a professional courtesy and to avoid seeming like an idiot, to amp up my reading time.

As a result, I’ve strayed way far out of my usual interests, diving head-on into paranormal erotica, gushy romance, hippie-lit and contemporary drama. All of which I would have passed by in the book store in favor of a great thriller or engrossing historical novel.

girl reading on toilet

And besides giving me the pleasure of immersing myself into someones else’s story for a change and getting to relax and put my feet up, it’s also taught me a great deal about reading itself and has made me more aware of my own mind. Actually finishing books that aren’t my cup of tea – that I would have surely put down were it not for the fact that I had promised the author I would read his work – has expanded my universe of interests. There’s something about having to reach a story’s conclusion – like it or not – that opens your heart to the author’s intentions. It’s like making yourself listen – really listen – to the other side of a political debate.

So, yes, it has made me a better reader and writer, but I’m not going to bore you too much with that cliche, because in all honesty, it hasn’t changed my approach to writing all that much. At least not in the way teachers and writers will contend, insisting that you simply can’t be a real writer without being an avid, even obsessive reader. I’ve never quite bought into that particular myth.

What reading more has done for me – a most unexpected and glorious blessing – is actually far more personal than professional. It has helped me maintain a strong bond with my children as they’ve begun the move from childhood to full-on teen-dom.

Now that my older kids are readers, I can share more with them than merely the content of their days. I can learn what inspires them, the kind of love they want to find, the friend they want to be, the daydreams they have about if their wildest dreams came true.

head banger

Reading what’s on their Kindles has been a window into their worlds – one made of stained glass. I get to share with them books we end up loving together – The Book Thief, The Apothecary, The Hunger Games, How We Fall, and ones where, perhaps, we appreciated where the author was heading, what she wanted to accomplish with her story, but it wasn’t quite the journey we wanted to be on. Twilight comes to mind (no throwing rotten tomatoes please – we’re not haters here). And then there are the novels I tried to get them into but failed completely – like Harry Potter (“Sorry mom, wizards freak me out”) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (“Just don’t groove on vampires, you know?”).

As a mother, reading has helped me understand my children’s thought processes, allowing me those rare glimpses behind the mask of shrugs and dismissive fines and I don’t knows that follow any question about how they’re feeling. I’ve noticed, for instance, that I haven’t heard the words “You just don’t understand!” in a pretty long time.

Reading YA, especially, has brought me back to my own youth and reminded me of how raw, confusing, dramatic, hopeful and harrowing growing up can be.

And how magical if it’s done right – wandering the woods, jumping on trampolines, just dying to meet Taylor Swift, playing doctor.

That has been a splendid realization, and one that reminds me that no emotion is trite when you’re feeling it for the first time.

So, there you have it.

Reading more has not necessarily made me a better writer. And I’d still rather write my own story than enter someone else’s. But what reading more has done for me – with an emphasis on reading fiction – is what it has been doing for human beings since the dawn of the written word. It has helped me connect with others – particularly those most dear to me. It has reawakened parts of me that I’d long since forgotten about, put aside in my busy life. And it has helped me understand the plight of my fellow man better than a thousand diversity seminars.

see the light


blurred manMy dad died last week.

Contemplating what exactly life will look like after the passing of a close family member is a bit like staring at one of those thousand piece jigsaw puzzles. You know you’ve got to start somewhere, but all you want to do is close up the box, put it back on the shelf and go do something mindless, like watch bad TV.

But you can’t.

So, after the hugs and the hearty bowls of chicken paprika, my family and I started with just one puzzle piece – my dad’s briefcase.

This wasn’t one of those fancy attache numbers. It was a simple, leather case that had been bought probably around 1971 and contained the precious knick-knacks of a long, complex life. One filled with gold and bronze medals of accomplishment, dozens of pairs of Mad Men-era cuff links – gold initials in wide font, giant topaz ovals, classic onyx rectangles – all left-over from a time when professional men wore French cuffs almost every single day of their lives. And oh, the tie pins: a golf club, an American flag, a jumbo jet from when flying was glamorous. Twenty or so stamps hand-picked for a collection that never quite got off the ground. Certificates of authenticity, letters of thanks, and tiny tokens from a medical practice that spanned more than six decades – a pocket watch, a plaque, a silver pen with an inscription that read simply, “Doc.”

A collection of treasures unmistakably from a certain time, but also from a certain place. In both tone and style, my dad’s personal effects were decidedly Midwestern. In other words, lacking irony, restraint, snobbery and chic. Brimming over with the pride of having made it, and the humility of knowing that it could all be taken away any moment.

My dad came to Chicago from Europe on the heels of the Second World War. Like many immigrants, he came without a penny to his name and actually slept on a park bench and ate at soup kitchens for weeks before he got his first paycheck.

“Can you imagine?” he once told me. “By day I was performing surgeries at a big hospital. People saying ‘yes, doctor, no, doctor,’ and at night, I lived like a bum. But I liked the fresh air and you know, you do what you have to do.”

Midwest bum on park bench

I really did think I was prepared for my dad’s passing. Not just for the void it would leave in my life, the closing of a chapter, but also the changes his death would visit upon my family. My mom will be moving in with us as soon as she’s able to tie up loose ends. She’ll be leaving the town outside of Chicago where I grew up, where she landed as a Czech immigrant in 1968. And she’ll be making her home in a semi-rural crossroads just outside of a college town in Virginia. That’s quite a change. And I want to help her through it without big-footing her and pushing her to do things she’s not ready for. Like taking a yoga class or making a friend.

I do know something about grief. That we think we’re fine and end up acting out of character – forgetting entire conversations, spacing out people we’ve met a half dozen times, missing appointments. Grief makes you revisit the past and thrusts you into the future all at the same time. It’s discombobulating, scary and oddly exhilarating. Missing pieces of your own puzzle turn up in places you never expected – a song you never particularly liked, a friend you’ve long since let slip away, a picture from a family vacation you can’t even recall.

broken woman

With the loss of my dad, I have quite suddenly been hit with the fact that I will be losing my strongest tether to the Midwest, a region which I’ve come to realize has shaped me as much as my family culture, my ethnicity, my gender, my friends, and even my spouse and children.

It’s why I’ll talk up anyone in any old grocery line, tell them I like their hair and ask them about what they did over the weekend. Why – no matter how busy I am – I still feel a little weird about having someone else clean my house. Even if they only do it every couple of weeks. Even if I love it. My Midwestern upbringing is why I just can’t bring myself to get all that excited about the Ivy League. I’m not knocking it, I’ve just known too many immigrants, self-starters and non-academic intellectuals to place too much stock in rarefied institutions. And it’s why my European friends have always told me that I don’t seem American. I’ve tried to explain to them that it is less because I’m a European’s kid than I am a heartland girl. Europeans mostly know American media and television shows, and those come from the coasts. People from the heartland are an entirely different animal.

In the scant few days my husband, children and I spent helping my mother make the initial transition from wife to widow, the patently uncool charm of my birthplace felt pure and comforting. It was a warm towel fresh out of the dryer.

I loved being waited on at the Nordstrom cosmetics counter by a young, balding woman with a skin disease, and that it didn’t seem in the least bit odd. And being greeted at the hostess desk at a swanky restaurant by two retired women instead of the usual hip, nubile young things that smile and ask you to follow their shapely derrieres to your table. I loved demonstrating to my baffled children that I know how to bowl. My High School still has a bowling team for Pete’s sake. I loved that guys – young or old – would never miss the opportunity to hold the door open for me, give me their seat.

Midwest bowling

And I love that my dad was crazy about gangster movies, but when I gave him a boxed set of The Sopranos a few years ago, he threw every one of the DVDs in the trash.

“It’s where they belong,” he said.

My dad was a cultured man who spoke five languages, had an M.D. and a PhD, knew classical literature and classical music and certainly knew good content, but he just couldn’t appreciate what he called “filth masquerading as art.”

That is a solidly Midwestern trait.

But don’t let it fool you.

Heartlanders love dirty jokes and knocking back a few drinks. The Playboy empire was started in Chicago, after all, before migrating to the West Coast. My dad himself married a vivacious woman more than twenty years his junior, even if she did tell his friends that she was a good five years older than she actually was.

And for all of its chivalry and down to earth warmth, many Midwesterners are horrible, aggressive drivers. Especially Chicagoans. They speed, zip in and out of lanes, fly through yellow lights at the last minute, cut you off with a fist in the air and a string of curses they’d rarely employ anywhere but inside their automobiles.

Midwest drunk-driving-gif

Even after twenty years of living with and loving me, my husband still can’t stand my driving.

And as we pulled away from my mom’s townhouse at the end of the week – merely slowing down at the stop sign at the end of her street, then pulling out right in front of another minivan, forcing that driver to hit his breaks – there was that wistful feeling of satisfaction, a woebegone sense of fulfillment that a portion of that enormous puzzle of grief had been laid. The heartland piece.

Only about eight-hundred and fifty more to go.

midwest puzzle 2


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