The Heartland is Where the Heart Is

David Chartrand

David Chartrand

While flying from one coast to the other I have been known to jab the person next to me — the one nearest the window.

“Look down there!” I say. “That’s where I live. The Midwest.”

I usually do this somewhere between Kansas City and Denver, although the sky over almost anywhere will do.

The jabbed stranger always flattens his face against the glass and begins to squint downward. He always looks puzzled. And he always says the same thing.

“Where? I don’t see a damn thing. Everything looks the same.”

While he is squinting I steal his peanuts.

There is a serious point I wish to make here, though I admit it isn’t much of one. Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. What looks unimpressive or dull to you may strike me as heartwarming and hilarious. Books and movies are like that. So is the view from an airplane. You peer down and see a place to avoid; I see one I cannot bear to leave.

I see home and family and memories. Don’t bother asking if they are sad memories or happy ones. From way up here, they all look the same to me.

It goes without saying that the Heartland — oh, what word — doesn’t look like much from an airplane window. Not that this keeps people from saying it over and over again. “Why would anyone live there?” is the question I get a lot, usually from people who don’t live there.

I understand the question. Having lived few other places, I peer out the window as we pass over New York or Miami or Los Angeles. “Who would live there?” I ask the person next to me, keeping a close eye on my peanuts. Pretty soon, the two of us are comparing notes about his homeland and my homeland, both of which, after quite a bit of comparing, begin to look alike. My land is your land. Your land is my land. Before you know it, we are singing that song, just to get it out of our systems.

A view isn’t much use without information from the ground. Nothing looks very interesting from 30,000 feet until the pilot points out what you are looking at and why you should bother looking at it. Then you have to ask yourself what you think you are looking at and soon the other passengers begin asking the flight attendant what she thinks you are looking at it. Before you know it, all hell breaks loose.

It would be more helpful if the pilot were to announce:

“Down there, just beyond the right wingtip, is a three-story Dutch frame house belonging to Arthur and Chris Chartrand of Kansas who raised three daughters and four bouncing boys, two of whom are still bouncing. See it over there? The one with the wood shingles on both sides? In 1969, the house was accidentally set ablaze while being painted by one of their sons, who wishes not to be identified. His name is David and he’s asleep in Seat 4-C, having sedated himself with Dramamine due to a lifelong battle with motion sickness.

 “If you look closely,” the pilot would add,” you’ll notice that there are people like my family all over the Heartland due to the fact that there are people like them all over America — people who believe that families are more important than careers, that love is more important than money, that being kind is more important than being right, that poking fun at local politicians is more fun than electing them, and that you must work hard every single day to protect what you love because it all can be taken from you in an instant. This has been your pilot speaking. Relax and enjoy the flight.”

The passengers would nod approvingly. (Adverbs are not my friends. Is it possible to nod disapprovingly?) They would finally understand what they were looking at. It would be clear to them why some people cherish such a seemingly uninteresting place. They would be forced to consider the paradox that some things become more clear the farther away you get.  They would have reliable information based on life down below rather than the dim view from above.

An hour or two later the pilot announces that the plane is beginning its final descent. The fellow next to me removes his face from the window glass. He pulls his seatback to the full and upright position.

“What a view,” he sighs.

Then his smile becomes a grimace.

Someone has stolen his peanuts.





© 2014, David Chartrand

David Chartrand writes humor and commentary from his home in Olathe. • •

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