Are we too set in our Midwest ways? What do you think?

TODAY’S TRUE STORY comes from Minnesota journalist Louise Mengelkoch, who is married to artist and author Kent Nerburn. Louise is professor of journalism and chair of the Mass Communication Department at Bemidji State University. Here, she tells about a broken friendship, one that she often contemplates, because quite simply she misses her friend. What do you think? Here is Louise’s story …

I am such a Midwesterner. In fact, I am such a Minnesotan that I enjoyed, at first, just how different I found the very lively Latino culture of my friend. Now I wonder if my Midwestern-ness contributed to the break in our friendship after a number of years. I miss my friend, but we’ve not been able to find a way to reconnect. See what you think.

Here’s the story: My husband and I had a couple of different connections in the way we first met her, and then she invited us to her house for a party. She loved to have parties and that was something different for us. People around here don’t have parties like that. She always had lots of good food and loud Latin music. People danced. She would invite anybody. So, it was exciting that you’d never know who was going to be there. If there were other Spanish-speaking people around, they’d be there. If there were foreigners from other places, she’d invited them, too.

She was different. Everyone around here is so Minesotan. After a while, life just gets to be all the same everywhere you go. Our friendship was different and we wound up becoming very close friends. We visited in each other’s homes. We traveled together. She was a wonderful cook, and we’d cook together. She was always going on about Puerto Rican history and that interested me. I read things she recommended. Learning from her was something I valued about our friendship. She always wanted me to take a trip to Puerto Rico with her, but I never did and, now, I wish I had.

She’s quite a bit younger than I am so perhaps that was part of it. But her life did seem bizarre to me sometimes. She was full of fun and craziness and we liked that. It was part of her charm for us. Yes, it’s a stereotype about Latin-American people, I suppose, and it’s a stereotype of Midwesterners that we’re more reserved. But this was true of both of us and I was more responsible in taking care of the daily business that you just need to tend to in Minnesota.

Even after years of living up here, she seemed to have no conception of what it means to live in a Northern climate. She would go off each winter on a trip to South America or Spain. But, she wouldn’t arrange to have someone plow the snow from her driveway and she had a long driveway. That’s part of our responsibilities up here. And she had a heating system that was fueled by propane and you have to make sure your tanks are filled. If you’re not going to be home for a while, then you have to plan ahead and make sure someone is plowing for you and checking your tank.

The break happened this one winter when she went off on a trip to South America. My husband and I were about to leave for our own family Christmas and we had quite a drive head of us. Now, before she left, she asked if I would check on the plants in her house. So, Christmas Eve morning, I knew we were leaving that afternoon and I went out to check the plants. I had forgotten that she didn’t plan for plowing, so here I was eager to get to my own family’s Christmas and I found myself trudging through her knee-deep snow to get to her door.

When I got inside, I realized: Boy, it’s really cold in this house. I called my husband and asked, “Is it right to have an inside temperature of 38 degrees?”

He said, “No that doesn’t sound too good.” We found her propane tank had gone empty.

Now, she had given me a number to call in South America and I did call, at that point, but the number didn’t work. That was one more frustration. Then, I was able to reach this other friend of hers who somehow was able to make a telephone connection. I got a call back, then, from this mutual friend saying that no arrangements had been made about the propane tank and then this: “She says that, if you could just have the tank filled right now, she’ll pay you back when she gets home.”

I said, “That’s $600 or $700!” That made me mad. Then, we found out it was worse. We had to pay a premium to get a service guy to come out at Christmas time.

Can you see this? Here I am on my cell phone on the way to Christmas for our family, trying to arrange to get this tank filled. I actually did manage to get it all done for her and I did pay the bill, too. Then, when Christmas was over, she never even called me. Nothing. About two months later, she finally did get me a check. But she said she was embarrassed by this. And we just stopped seeing each other.

The whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. It was like my Northern self was coming out. I felt like a Midwesterner. I thought: Damn it! Why don’t you take care of your business? Don’t you know we all have business, we all have responsibilities, we all have things we have to take care of to live up here? I can’t just go off on a trip without any planning. And I didn’t like it that all of this was sounding like my own mother speaking through me.

The bottom line is: I miss her. She never did reached out. I didn’t either. I just have never been able to come to terms with this. The whole thing forces you to look at yourself. I’m not saying that I like everything about being such a Midwesterner, but there are things that I do like about lives. Of course, my husband has no opinion at all that he’ll share. So, it’s all up to me.

And, here’s the final question: What would you do if you were me?

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