From the south to the midwest: Another perspective

Melissa Toledo

Now that the dust from the cornfields has settled, I can sit and pen my thoughts on the massive shift that my family’s life has gone through by moving 967 miles away from what we called home for the last two years. Oh, Athens. How you stole our hearts you will never really know.

Before sharing my current vibes, I must make it clear that since my husband’s graduation from UGA last December, we both mentally prepared ourselves for our future fate in some small town in the Midwest. We didn’t know exactly where or when it would happen but we were almost certain about the region. Yet we could never prepare ourselves for what was to be a gravely transition from the South to the Midwest. And what we couldn’t anticipate was that we’d be saying goodbye to so much more than the landscapes and people we became so familiar with and grew to love. We grew in that town too and I don’t just mean into a party of three.

As was to be expected, we’d miss the tranquil winding roads nuzzled between acres of untouched forests which we crossed every day. These very roads actually inspired daily sighs of gratitude for their lack of congestion. Coming from Miami or any big city like that, little things like this are not so little. They are a Godsend. Who wouldn’t mind 15-minute drives from one side of town to the other? Not 30, not 45, not 60 minutes. Ever. Short-distance drives did spoil us though. Any time Google maps pulled up an address even 20 minutes away from us, that trip immediately became compromised. I’m dead serious!

Downtown Athens and everything in between had all the simple pleasures desired by all our senses. Brisk walks on the trails of the Intramural Fields where we’d be surrounded by nothing but the sounds of squirrels rustling in the leaves and birds chirping, inhaling the ever-so-sweet smell of warm, straight-out-of-the-oven cookies upon entering Insomnia Cookie (once you smell the s’mores cookie you must devour it like it’s the last thing you’ll ever eat), guzzling down some of the best brews in town on warm days, game days or any day the mood would strike, and indulging in the most delectable sweet and savory dishes from our favorites: Sweetie Pie by Savie, Trapeze Pub, Last Resort Grill, Mama’s Boy, and Amici’s, just to name a few.

We grew - quite quickly, in fact - to appreciate the balance of city life and country life that this town offered so perfectly.

And then there are the relationships we built in the Classic City. We’ve come a long way from the sourpusses we were when we first moved to the Eastside. I remember us going to Terrapin Brewery, a cool spot that served up generous pours of their impressive variety of brews, scanning the groups of people clustered together, wondering if we’d ever make friends. How foolish was I for thinking such a thing?! With our personalities? Please!

Looking back I’m truly astonished about the quality of friends we cultivated together and separately (neighbors, friends of friends, fellow church members, classmates, co-workers, moms from my former mommy group and an entire bakery). They all have been there for us at times when they were supposed to come into our lives, which became more enriched thanks to them.

Southern hospitality reigns in this special place. That’s undeniable as soon as you enter the city.

And beyond our group of friends who come from all walks of life, there is Cornerstone of Athens. We were raised Catholic and for a while felt like we were cheating on our religious upbringing but realized this was our church home. We were “shopping” for churches a few months after becoming residents but from the moment we stepped foot in Cornerstone, the “purchase” had been made. No need for a receipt (except maybe for tax purposes if tithes count). I sobbed uncontrollably at my first service because it was during a time when I wanted so badly to have a baby. There was no logic involved being that my husband was still in school, but when a woman’s biological clock starts to tick, there’s no turning it off (at least for me). Well, I felt like that sermon was intended specifically for me. I was never the same after that and neither was my husband. We were on our way to becoming parents mere weeks after joining our church.

A promise was made to God to do all we could to keep the faith (and there were many, many times when that was tested and certainly there will be many more trials). To this amazing congregation’s credit, we grew as Christians.

As for my current state of mind living in Iowa, I can compare it to a seesaw. My mood will be up one day or moment and down the next. I know there’s a clinical term for this but I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say I’m quite there. Now I can’t speak for Cesar because our experiences so far are very different. He interacts with other adults, works and has a car. I don’t have any of these things at the present time, although our infant does keep me quite busy.

I’m trying to be optimistic about the change of scenery, for instance, and I’ll give my props to some of the historical buildings in downtown and some homes do have their charm. There’s just no comparison to the many homes I’d marvel at back in Georgia. Then again it could be because I have an extremely bad case of homesickness. Luckily there’s a cure for that and it’s not sulking over the Athens social media pages I’m following.

When it comes to Midwestern food, it’s pretty damn tasty. Jethro’s BBQ? You got our attention. And I’m bummed we have to wait till next year’s Iowa State Fair to indulge in a double bacon corn dog or two. For those not familiar with this sort of fare: it’s deliciously prepared meat smothered in more delicious meat. MEAT?! GOOD!

Now to the one thing that’s been the most difficult to cope with: The people of Des Moines. I’m not saying they’re all bad because I haven’t encountered enough of the population to make such a hefty conclusion. But a few of the people I’ve come across lack social skills, manners, or human emotions other than anger. And it’s not like I could excuse their oger demeanor due to the weather. It’s nowhere near a miserable summer and being from Miami I know all too well what those feel like. I wouldn’t wish that humidity on my worst enemy. As far as winters go, I can’t imagine what they’re like here but we’ve been warned plenty. Which reminds me: If summer isn’t making these people crabby, what is? How will they be come December, January and February? Do they have sunnier dispositions during spring? We shall soon see what’s what but I’m rooting for spring smiles.

If I can’t live in the South, I can bring the South with me and maybe, just maybe, Des Moines will grow on me too.

Disclaimer: The residents of Perry have been nothing if not hospitable to me and my family.