I am proud to debut WBO’s first guest blogger, Sarah Bueller. Sarah and I met in 2004 while surviving as interns in Washington, DC. She works as an attorney in non-profit law, is happily married to her husband Casey, and generally makes the redheaded population proud to call her one of our own — see photo at bottom of article. (Not to be confused with Tom Cruise’s tiny tot, Suri. Believe me, that’s a mix-up you only make once.)
Here she offers us a fresh perspective on life on the East Coast…after transplanting from the Midwest.
Dear Coastal Reader,
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was obsessed with the Presidents. She had an insatiable need to learn all she could about them from her Encyclopedia set (because this “once upon a time” was the ’80s). Her new-found knowledge naturally led to a fascination with the city in which each of them had lived. She determined that she too would live there someday and be surrounded by the monuments honoring these exceptional men. However, for her this would be quite a feat, considering her surroundings were far more Little House on the Prairie than Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (literally: Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived 90 miles from where she grew up).
Allow me to introduce myself as that half-pint South Dakotan. Last year, one of my life goals was achieved when my brilliant husband began his graduate studies in Washington, DC. We packed our belongings in our Sioux Falls, SD apartment to move across the country into one that is half its size and three times as expensive. Our financially conservative parents were proud, but very confused. We soon found, though, that this was only the tip of the confusion iceberg.
You see, I did not realize my foreign status – within my own country – until I stepped out of the “foreign” land. And while we in the Midwest see your coastal cities on-screen thousands of times before actually reaching them, there are only so many times those of you on the coasts have seen Dances with Wolves. Hence your bewilderment with my Great Plains roots.
I didn’t expect the shock and awe, however, that I provoke on a regular basis simply by explaining that I grew up in a location lacking a direct flight to anywhere. (Incidentally, right now I am facing a $600 ticket home for Christmas. Mail cash instead of purchasing gifts this year, sweet family.)
I have answered the customary “Where are you from?” countless times over the course of the last year. And once I have answered, the defining reaction has been this: “I honestly was telling a friend just last week that if I ever met someone from the Dakotas I would laugh in their face!” This statement really needs no commentary – the offensive nature is self-explanatory.
Aside: it is just as strange to us that you group “the Dakotas” together as it is to you that we refer to soda as “pop.” And if we have been friends for a year and you still introduce me as a North Dakota native, I should warn you that my Midwestern courtesy is about to expire.
Other classics: WTH is the Corn Palace? So, is everyone required to get married at 15? Red . . . right? What is a mega-church like? I’m confused, you’re married, but you don’t have a gaggle of kids? And the ever-charming: WHY and HOW are you HERE?
And then there is “My wife and I were watching Children of the Corn yesterday and I asked her, ’Do you think this is what it’s like where Sarah’s from?’” The truth is that I lived it, considering one of my favorite childhood pastimes. My sister and I would pack a picnic and then traipse into the cornfield, i.e., our backyard, to dine amongst stalks twice our height. You really couldn’t call us anything BUT Children of the Corn. But I’m not about to admit this to the inquirer.
Another favorite response is, “Oh my gosh, you must think this winter weather is tropical!” This is a classic comment we South Dakotans hear just about everywhere we go outside of the upper Midwest. Yes, it’s true, the Dakotan tundra is notorious for reaching wind chills of 50+ degrees below zero. But a DC winter is hardly mild. You have to wear the same goose down here that you do there, people. I just realized that you may not even understand the term “wind chill” and I have completely defeated my point. Maybe I shouldn’t go into how our house used to become so engulfed in a snowdrift that we could walk right up to the roof.
I cannot fully blame the Midwest-illiterate for their misconceptions, however. This is evident especially when I consider the striking difference between my current and former local news. For example, recently the Washington Post described an event hosted by the First Lady to encourage children to become more active, complete with a photo of Mrs. Obama twirling a hula-hoop. In contrast, today’s Argus Leader explains that a Colton, SD man recently won his age division of the National Cornhusking Championships by hand-husking 382 pounds of corn. In case you’re wondering, this amounts to about 30 ears per minute.
So, while I understand the occasional stereotypical reference to my people as corn-fed child-brides, please consider that regional discrimination is a serious problem. The more we recognize how much we actually share in common, the better off we are. I mean, at a minimum we have all visited Mt. Rushmore, right? Wait, now that I think about it, if you haven’t been to my state’s and this country’s crown jewel, I’m afraid we have nothing to say to each other.
Former and Forever South Dakotan