Monday, August 15, 2011

Sweet Home Indiana

The summer before my freshman year of college in Illinois, my best friend-turned roommate and I decided to do some off-to-college shopping.  We hopped in her car, pumped up the Rascal Flatts music, and drove around our Indiana town to pick up a few essentials:  mini-fridge, microwave, those odd-length sheets for our dorm room beds, and the Indiana State Flag.  That’s right.  Tucked amongst our notebooks and extension cords was the yellow spangled royal blue flag of Indiana.  We hung it on our dorm room closet and mentally saluted it each time we felt homesick or just plain perplexed at the customs of native-born Chicagoans (e.g. the Steve Bartman incident).  Like those “just add water” toys that inflate when you put them in the bathtub, dropping us Hoosier girls off in Illinois magnified our state pride to a perhaps-annoying level.  Several out-of-state years later, we still love being from Indiana.

So it should be no surprise then that I’ve been feeling really bummed about the tragedy at the State Fair this past weekend.  “Bummed” is the wrong word - that makes it sound like a I got second place in a surfing competition.  I am downright sad, both as a native Hoosier and a life-long patron of the Indiana State Fair.  I realize that tragedies happen all the time, but this one feels particularly mournful somehow. I know others feel uniquely impacted as well:  I called my parents on Sunday morning who reported that they were both equally upset about it; I watched the Governor choke back tears on TV; and much of Indiana has been tuned in non-stop to the local news channels, which continue to cover this story alone on their Sunday night broadcasts with sleepy correspondents stationed at the fairgrounds and local hospitals.

The State Fair tragedy feels intensely personal, and I can’t help but wonder why.  

Maybe it’s because it happened at the State Fair, a beloved Hoosier family tradition.  I started going to the State Fair in diapers, watching the candy-striped hot air balloons take off from the dusty fields of the fairgrounds and listening to the loud TSCHHH of the fire pulls as they lit up the balloons like big lanterns.  We’ve developed new family traditions since then: munching on honey sticks in the Pioneer Barn; burning our mouths on a hot fried green tomato out of taste impatience; cooling off in the air-conditioned Expo Building while wondering if the ShamWow can really pick up that much liquid; and rolling our eyes at my dad whenever he eats a pork burger in front of the world’s largest pig.  And we end our annual visit with a tractor-tram ride around the fairgrounds at night enjoying the echo of the music from the Grandstands as the twinkling lights of concert-goers’ flashbulbs go off in the distance.  

But the Indiana State Fair is bigger than my personal memories of it.  It may be a Hoosier family tradition, but it’s also a tradition of the Hoosier Family, a unifying festival of state pride.   And that’s why I think the State Fair tragedy feels so personal -  because the Fair is the beating heart of Indiana in August.  An event and an atmosphere unique to and belonging to the people of Indiana, it’s a place for us to come together to celebrate the state we love.  

And we do love our state.  I’ve never met any other people as proud of their state as folks from Indiana are.  We’re the Crossroads of America and known for our Hoosier Hospitality;  we only wear blue on Sundays to cheer on the Superbowl Champion Colts and my boyfriend Peyton Manning; and we know the words to our state song and sing it loud and proud whenever we drive across the state line or cheer on the pros at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.  We even write blog posts about how awesome our state is.  We may not have the biggest buildings or the most charismatic politicians, or even a Major League baseball team, but we’re Hoosiers, and that’s the proudest label a person can wear.

So feel free to make fun of our cornfields and one-skyscraper downtown skyline.  Laugh at some of the accents from down-state and complain that we’re too conservative.  But we Hoosiers have a spirit that is unique in all the world.  And we know that, though we may leave Indiana for school, jobs, or family, Indiana never leaves us.  So we proudly carry our state with us wherever we go, knowing that we’ll always be welcome back home again in Indiana.  

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