“‘I long for home, long for the sight of home.”
Homer, The Odyssey
For me, “Hoosier” is a term of conflict.
We grew up going to grandma and grandpa’s farm outside of Terre Haute, IN. Surrounded by rows of corn or soybeans, the farm was indeed terre haute – good land. Willow furniture in various states of construction populated the yard outside their barn and front porch. Grandpa took willow saplings from a patch of his land in the Wabash river bottoms. He built the house and barn as well with my uncle from roughshod timbers. We would spend nights playing euchre and checkers before early mornings of coffee in mugs bearing retirement witticisms. Days were spent riding the tractor, checking out the new log splitter, building forts in the woods, and walks along country roads. This was a place of rooting for The Pacers and Colts, but also Larry Bird, ISU, and the Milan High School team of 1954.
When we returned from Terre Haute, I experienced a variation of Durkheim’s anomie: instead of normlessness, I felt an underlying tug of placelessness. It was a pull, a desire for the norm of “place.”
My home, Hammond, IN, was in the other corner of the state. It is a place of steel and industry. It was home to Ralph and Flint of The Christmas Story. We had the Lake and the dunes. Hammond at one point had more railroad tracks per capita than anywhere else in the country.
One summer I got to deliver bolts to the old Inland mill, at one time the largest steel mill in the world. I still remember the feelings of smallness in the vastness of the mill. There was the first wave of heat and danger that hit me trying to find my way among cranes and flatbed railcars borne-down with cherry red ore. This place was several steps removed from recipes for persimmons and sour apples, hunting mushrooms in the woods, or grandpa shooting birdshot into the neighbor’s dogs for wandering past the treeline. Our place up North was one of sidewalks and interstates, Cubs and Bears, a former marsh turned concrete landscape of industry. Somehow, both are “Hoosier” to me.
After moving and traveling for several years, my wife and I will most likely call St. Louis home. Come to find out, “Hoosier—” an honorific in Indiana— is an invective in St. Louis. St. Louisans use “Hoosier” as most of the country uses “red-neck.”
This land of brick, arches, t-rav’s, and gooey butter has me longing to rehabilitate for St. Louisan’s my own “sight of home,” “Hoosier,” an amalgamated place of tilling and milling.