Friday, August 2, 2013

An Essay Almost About the Midwest


My blog is hosted by Google Plus, which is supposed to be easier to use than the alternative.  It's easy for me to write and publish posts, but it's difficult for you to access them. I haven't figured out how to remedy that.  I tried to make my blog public, even though I don't love that idea.  But I couldn't even do that.

To add insult to injury, my Google Plus page is a horror show.  Untidy and chaotic, the geniuses at Google tag stuff on to my page that I never chose, and have pigeon-holed me as "introspective," which I find really offensive.

So, while I can't figure out how to make my blog public or accessible; and while I can't figure out how to control the content of my Google Plus page; I can write on a subject that is outside of my own skin, ergo, not introspective.

"The Midwest" 

Now, unfortunately, it only makes sense to place my perspective on the Midwest in context, which means, by necessity, I'll be talking about myself again for just a moment.   

As some of you know, I grew up on the East Coast in the Boston area.  However, I am not a true Bostonian, like Ben Affleck, because my parents were not from Boston originally.  

I have my own weird accent  via my mother via her father, who couldn't say pass the potatoes without ironic inflection.  

When my mother reads out loud with that familial phonetic spin, it's like salt on food.  It means more when she reads it.  

All of my uncles on that side sound like Tom Brokaw.  

I grew up among a diluted British, Irish, and Jewish demographic.  

The vestigial shadow of the old country is, I believe, in our genes and in our psyches and cannot be easily shaken off by two or three generations of dislocation and neglect.

My father's paternal family came to New York at the turn of the previous century from Odessa, where my great-grandfather had been a rabbinical scholar.  

In New York City, he polished furniture for a department store and lived in abject poverty.  But he enabled his three children to attend school and graduate from college.

My father's maternal family came to New York from Berlin.  His grandmother, Gertie, was Catholic, and had a Polish maiden name.  Charles Mayer, her husband, was Jewish and very successful as a pie king in New York City.  (He sold a lot of pies.)  The big oil painting I have of the chickens came from him.  

The habit of framing all thoughts, all dreams, and every form of communication from a Freudian psychoanalytical perspective, (and with that, we could say a lot more about the chicken painting), came from my grandfather, specifically, and from Vienna, New York, Boston, and the Twentieth Century, generally.

My mother's people were from Chicago.  Her father was one of 17 siblings to survive to adulthood.  (Two others were born but died.)  

No one alive today can name them all.  

Supposedly, they were related to Livingston, one of the forefathers who signed the Declaration of Independence.  

Supposedly, there was a Native American swimmer in the genetic pool.  

Supposedly, they came originally from Wales, though my great-grandmother's name, Bleu, was obviously French. 

We have no photographs before the 1900's.  

Mom's maternal great-grandfather was a surgeon during the Civil War.  (How awful!)  

Mom's grandfather's last job before the Great Depression was kicking Indians and hobos off of railroad cars. (Nice!)   

They were Irish and Scottish.

Despite the generations of distance between the UK and the US, the classic hallmarks of British character: stoicism, reserve, wit, an imperious sense of superiority--were never pruned from the family tree.  

My grandfather's faux British accent, that linguistic spin, persists among my young cousins.  We are all, to this day, insufferable in that way.  (Cousins, you know I love you.) 

This will have to be a series of posts.  Because the subject is the Midwest, and I haven't really touched on that yet.  

Let me just say one thing to whet your appetite for the next post, which will, I promise, be about the Midwest, and I'm sure my friends here in the Midwest are so excited about that.  (Be sure to include ironic inflection.)

There are, effectively, no Irish-Americans in the Midwest.  

That aren't that many folks of British extraction.

There are a few Jewish names, but I suspect they are actually German.  

What you have here are Scandinavians.  Norwegians.  Swedes. 

Finns!!!  (Yes, they are real!)

And lots of Germans.  Nothing at all wrong with that.

The whole ethos--to use a less pretentious word: enchilada--is wicked different.  

It's not the instant-mashed-potatoes middle-America nebbish of a place that SOME people not from here thought it was.   

It's really different.

More anon.  ( o :

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