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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The first time it happened, I was pleased. Piled outside my door were stacks of fabric offcuts and bedsheets. Just what we were hoping for to keep our free facemask project going here on Arran, our little island off the coast of Scotland. I hauled them inside and started my washing machine.

A few hours later, I looked out and found more bags. Well, okay. From my quilting days, I know you can never be too thin or have too much fabric. The piles by my washer grew higher. The Hub was muttering about electricity and laundry soap costs.

Bumper sticker from my quilting days. [image credit: imgflip]

By the time the third batch appeared, I was starting to worry. It wasn’t the fabric. Our facemask project could always use that. Eventually. No, it was the flashbacks. Another time, another porch. A LOT of zucchini…

Although I was born in the Midwest (Chicago), I did spend several formative years in California. So when I beamed down to middle earth again and made it through Checkpoint Reality, I had to brush up on speaking and acting Midwestern.**

**NOTE: for my non-American readers, the Midwest is the bit in the middle that New York, California, and presidential election pollsters like to pretend never happened. [Image credit: iconic New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg, 1976]

In the interests of international harmony and royalties, I’ve collected my notes from this period into the soon-to-be-published Barb’s Guide to Acting Midwestern. Whether you’re new to the Midwest or a native suffering coastal urges, this book has the answers you seek to questions about:

  1. CLOTHES: In the Midwest, we wear them. Just after we moved to the Midwest, I remember hearing that coastal women removed their shirts and paraded across the bridge over the Niagara River to celebrate new legislation legalizing bared breasts. A legendary traffic jam ensued as coastal men flocked to show their support, even abandoning a baseball game. Enthusiastic supporters filmed the paraders’ civil liberties. Could this happen here in the Midwest? Of course not! Midwesterners have much higher standards. They might leave an off-season game of lawn-darts, but NEVER baseball.
  2. FASHION: In the Midwest, we heard the miniskirt was making a coastal comeback. But we know there are only six documented cases of females who look good in mini-skirts, and five of them aren’t allowed into PG-13 movies yet.
  3. DRIVING: You can tell what part of the US you’re in by observing local car horn technique.
    1. For example, in New York it’s considered common courtesy to honk continuously at fellow drivers who might otherwise fall asleep at the wheel in their endless search for a place to double park.
    2. I learned to drive in California. A common California Situation involves four drivers who pull up to a 4-way stop sign. Nobody moves because their therapists have taught them to channel all their aggressions so they don’t get wrinkles. Nobody honks because sounding your horn on the public road is a social faux pas similar to emitting the after-effects of a burrito as you bow to the queen. I think there are California Situations where people have left their cars, gone to In-n-Out for a meal from the secret menu, finished writing their novel, and come back to find all four cars still in position.
    3. After living in the South where the car horn is a form of friendly greeting, I moved to the Midwest. At first I couldn’t believe how friendly all the other honking drivers were. Then I realized they were signalling their willingness to kill me if it meant they could move a car-length forward during rush hour. Midwest driving is actually a form of competition in which the other drivers say, “Go ahead and crunch a few. We’re got Detroit—we can always make more.”
  4. FOOD: tips for recent arrivals from…well, anywhere else.
    1. Midwestern cuisine is based on two essential ingredients: “meat” and “mayonnaise”. (Three if Jello turns out to be an actual food item.) “Meat” comes from animals, although generally not from those which barked or meowed when they were ambulatory. “Meat” has a remarkably short shelf-life, making it a poor choice for winter hoarding during the Midwest winters (which last approximately 9 months of the year, followed by that day they have spring, and two months at 100% humidity where you’re basically breathing water).
    2. The day we arrived in Illinois, our realtor handed me baby tomato and zucchini plants. I must have looked confused. “Trust me,” she promised. “You need these. Even if you have to put them in pots on your bathroom windowsill. If the word gets out by midsummer that you are plant-less, you’ll become a target for every gardener in a three-state region. Do not think you can politely refuse excess produce. One zucchini plant in Illinois soil produces enough zuchs to feed a third world country. Gardeners will slink up to your porch in the dead of night, armed with sacks of vegetables. It’s also a good idea to keep your car locked and the windows closed during harvest season.”

Sadly, our realtor proved right. When we moved into our lovely old victorian, I didn’t realize the huge trees shading the front and back gardens so beautifully meant nothing of the veggie persuasion would grow. I accidentally mentioned my vegetable-garden-less status in my weekly column for the local paper. Next day we came home to find our front porch overflowing with zucchini that had grown into giant war clubs. The kids fought greenish light-saber duels, while I made every zucchini dish I could think of. The Hub put the winter shutters back up on the porch, and bought heavy-duty locks. The kids kept lookout from the upstairs windows, letting me know if any cars with suspiciously full bags on their backseats were doing slow drive-bys. We were afraid to leave the house, sure that our absence would bring additional zucchini gifts.

Eventually, I got a really good recipe for zucchini bread—freezes well, and also quite useful as projectile if you spot someone slinking up to your porch with a bulging sack. We cleared a small sunny patch and planted tomatoes, which grew so spectacularly we were able to revenge-share them with neighbors (who may or may not have been home at the time).

[NOTE: in case you think I’m making this up, there is an actual holiday called National Sneak A Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, celebrated on August 8 in many zucchini over-endowed states.]

I just heard a car and looked out to see another pile of facemask fabric donations outside my door. Maybe I need to bake some zucchini bread and see if my throwing aim is still any good.

Zucchini Bread Nancy Dowling. I will never reveal what I had to do to get Nancy to part with this sacred recipe, but now I’m setting it free into the world. NOTE for UK friends: zucchini=courgette