Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happy Birthday, Middle Child State

Our state bird, the Western Meadowlark, in a party hat.
Today is the birthday of one of my best beloveds. Kansas, the state where I was born and raised and now choose to live, is 154 years old today.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica oh, so many years ago, I often tried to explain where Kansas was. Because even though my home state is four times the size of that country, pretty much no one in the tiny Central American paradise had ever heard of it. They knew Nueva York, and Los Angeles (conveniently easy to pronounce in Spanish) but the reality of how very, very far it is between those two was inconceivable to the Ticos.

"Kansas is exactly in the center of the United States," I would try to explain. "If you drew a big X over the map, right there in the middle is Kansas."

Today it strikes me that while this description is a conveniently accessible way to locate the state, it's also way too facile. To locate the true state of Kansas it's more appropriate to consider birth order. Here, too, we are right in the middle. We are a middle child.

Kansas not only is geographically in the center of the United States, it was the 34th star on the United States flag, so just over halfway through the list of states admitted to the Union. It is not desert or swampland, so pretty much in the middle of climates. It does not usually top the list in education rankings (no big foam fingers to indicate that We're Number 20!), but it is is also nowhere the bottom of the list and if I may be so bold as to say so, we're graduating a way higher percentage of high school students at a way lower cost per pupil than number one Massachusetts.

So we're in the middle, but you know what? That's okay with a lot of us. As the middle child, we are the peacemakers. The Huffington Post article I linked above says middle children are "understanding, cooperative and flexible, yet competitive...concerned with fairness."

Oh, mercy, we are that. We understand that we are the butt of jokes (What's the difference between Kansas and yogurt? Yogurt has an active living culture.), and have grown to hate Dorothy and her misguided notion that not being in Kansas any more could ever be a good thing. We read What's the Matter With Kansas and despair that people who don't love Kansas are reading it as if it were truth but we still bless their hearts.

We want you non-Kansans to like us. We build excellent roads so that you can speed through from Kansas City to Denver and say "Well, THAT was unpleasant," even though you've just passed the wheat fields that feed you and the pastures where your next steak meal is fattening. Our state gives birth to people who invent basketball for you, and explore space for you, and concoct cooling drinks for you, not to mention winning World War II for you.

We want you to like us so we share (free of charge) our spectacular sunsets and sunrises, and offer our flat Midwestern non-accents (also free of charge) to news anchors across the nation. Heck, unlike states that are all hoity-toity about letting you climb to the highest point within their boundaries, Mount Sunflower is a (still free of charge) drive-through.

We know we are going through a phase right now that involves some wackadoodle politics, but we are hopeful and optimistic and have faith that all will be well. Ad aspera per aspera--those stars are still waiting right there on the other side of this difficulty.

At this point you may be saying, in a folksy Kansas way, "Now wait just a doggoned minute, MomQueen Bee. Dwight Eisenhower wasn't born in Kansas." To that I say that I KNOW Dwight Eisenhower wasn't born in Kansas. He was born in Texas, but he claimed Kansas as his home. He loved us for our humility and our stubbornness and our attitude that we will gladly take all the abuse you can heap on us, and still be proud to be Kansans.

He was the third of seven children, a middle child.

He was a proud Kansan, and so am I.

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