A Place of sense: essays in search of the Midwest by Michael Martone, David Plowden

By Michael Martone, David Plowden

Essays describe existence in small cities, farming groups, and suburbs in states from Ohio to North Dakota.

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This figure of the family featured prominently in the idea of my suburban Midwest as I tendered it in conversations in Grenada, where tonic water is more costly than gin and drinks were mixed in the opposite proportion. Unlike the metropolitan or agrarian or coastal or southern childhoods of my displaced American friends, Columbus provided a place where play and pastime, hobby and happenstance, appeared to be the reigning climate. Experience had no obligation or destiny. Mastery of an activity was seen as an option (another merit badge, a camp elective) rather than a survival skill.

Our attentions were trained on domestic demonstrations. To witness was to want. " a woman just like my mother would ask, piping an orange stream from the nozzle of an inverted can. Was she the same Ohio housewife who had never dreamed of being in a commercial but said OK to this one because her family truly preferred this brand above the others? Crepe- Page 26 paper streamers waving in an air conditioner's breeze, a fried egg sliding from a hot skillet sprayed with PAMthese fascinated us children the way movie stars did our parents' generation.

Weren't these the same birds he had fed all winter, trudging across the snow in his fishing boots and bathrobe to refill the suet and seed feeders he'd hung in same cherry tree's boughs? As children, all our other practice at rural life occurred in day camp. Every summer from the age of four to fourteen, and then for the next ten years as a counselor, I inhabited a wilderness tempered by picnic shelters, nature trails, and capture-the-flag fields. None of these was an overnight camp that involved actually leaving Columbus for some pastoral setting or sports complex.

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