Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gems of the Heartland

I had a lovely lunch last week at a cafe whimsically called "Incredibly Delicious," in the Aristocracy Hill district of downtown. While I must say that "hill" represents a bit of false advertising, the restaurant certainly earns its name. Cafe tables fill various rooms of a vintage house, and patrons choose from a small menu that changes daily. I ordered a spinach quiche and washed it down with Perrier, because any lunch that includes goat cheese cannot also include Sprite. Tasty as it was, the lunch primarily provided a landing spot for the pastry that followed. If I knew anything useful about baking, I would gush intelligently about the flourless chocolate torte and the "strawberry jobbie" (as my father-in-law called the impossibly light, vanilla strawberry cake). In lieu of intelligent gushing, I will simply say the pastries are divine and worth the short drive downtown.

Sitting in the restaurant, gazing at the art around me and the gardens outside, I began to ponder this town I find myself growing to love. We did not move from Vermont to the Heartland for the scenery, and at first (or second) glance the area has little to offer other than Target and corn. Over the past year, however, I have begun to discover a number of gems behind the fields and strip malls.

Even early on I learned the sheer joy of riding a bicycle along flat Midwestern farm roads with endless horizons. Swarms of birds erupt out of the fields or off the sparkling lake as I pass, swooping en masse from tree to lawn to rooftop. In the fall, thousands of geese hold convention across the street in the freshly harvested field, and their honking carries me home from blocks away. High above the gulls and geese, the hawks circle, occasionally coasting down to stand sentinel on a street lamp. I have always wanted to glimpse a hawk's view of my world.

Following family tradition, shortly after Thanksgiving we took Kristina to her first live performance of The Nutcracker. I expected a charming, but amateur, production of a favorite story. The Springfield Ballet Company and its alumni dancers delivered a performance and set that far exceeded my expectations, a perfect kickoff to the Christmas season.

Several months later, I attended the Muni, a local summer theater, to see their production of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Once again, I foolishly expected a slightly awkward amateur production. Once again, the local art scene smashed my expectations. Jesus, Judas, and Mary delivered topnotch performances, complemented by a talented supporting cast and crew.

In addition to culture, the cityscape itself offers charm, from stately, tree-lined boulevards to a magnificent capitol dome to the flawless artistry of Frank Lloyd Wright and his Dana-Thomas House.

Closer to home, my daughter has chosen her favorite local spots. The Viennese carousel at the mall was an early magical discovery, and Kristina frequently begs to "ride the ponies." In addition, once each week or so we spend an afternoon at the local public library, which boasts a fabulous children's area and even a Barnes and Noble style cafe and bookstore. For two dollars I can happily feed both my sugar and my book addictions. Who could possibly ask for more?

Wherever we go, here in the Heartland, I have been struck by the sheer friendliness of the people. I cannot remember passing by a single store clerk, be it the shelf-stocker at the grocery store or the restaurant server with the intriguing tattoos, who failed to smile genuinely and say "hello" as if they were truly happy to see me. Warm welcomes extend far beyond the shop aisle here. Our movers brought Midwestern friendship to New England with the moving van and have remained good friends, introducing us to auctions and mostly delicious experimental barbecues. Their friendship was just the first in a line of unexpectedly delightful relationships.

I have no idea where the next five years will find me or what adventures await our family. Right now, on this sunny autumn afternoon, I am happily a Midwestern woman.


  1. Wow. I need to read this blog more often. Wow. Your writing is poetic and poignant and this post caused me to seriously reflect on whether I live in the same town as you! I guess having a Swiss-cheese mentality makes a difference huh. You see the whole, I see the holes. Thank you for reminding me of all that is good, even gracious about living in Springfield, IL. I needed a little cleaner on my windows today (see Pres. Monson's talk in General Conference). :)

  2. Loved the Pres. Monson talk! And technically, you and I don't live in the same city. :) BTW, as of this afternoon I can add Coldstone Creamery (yummy ice cream) and the used bookstore across from the old capitol building to the list of places worth a visit. We need to do some sightseeing! It's quite fun.