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  • The MonolithThoughts on Growing up Jewtheran in the Rural Midwest
  • Geoff Herbach (bio)

You didn't start mad, but you all became mad in one way or another.

Beer kegs in garages. In cornfields. In county parks. Here come the cops again.

These were the good times, late in the twentieth century.

Where were you, exactly? Surrounded by miles and miles of miles and miles, ridges and valleys, the rocky bluffs, the rolling meadows, the corn and the cows, somewhere between the Mississippi River and Madison, Wisconsin.

You could set off the alarms at the County Seedmen Feed Store just by screaming out your car window as you drove by the place. And so, you drove by the County Seedmen ten or fift een times every Friday night. There were other kids in your car. You were never a solo perp. You were a pack, a tribe, a kind of Mid-American monolith.

Every Sunday, you went to church with your mom. It was a Lutheran Church of the sort first planted in American soil by German immigrants who refused to speak English for a couple of generations, until they finally assimilated and called their church First English Lutheran, thereby announcing to the community at large that they were now Americans, not to be confused with the Germans, who were dragging everybody through war again, dragging Jews to the camps. This church burst at the seams with teenagers who, like you, were vandals of one sort or another. Sometimes, on Wednesdays, after youth group, you'd all drive out to the cemetery, where the cold rain would fall, and the windows would steam up, and you'd all make out with not your girlfriends, but other peoples' girlfriends.

These were wonderful times.

You liked everyone. [End Page 111]

Remember the country club snobs and their drunken golf ball dads. Remember the kids whose moms smoked cigarettes on the swings in Smith Park.

Remember the organist at the supper club whose mat of sprayed hair slapped up and down as he played his fish fry songs.

Remember the pizza-place war, Kelly's who served the deep-dish versus Steve's with the thin crust, cut in squares, orderly as Omaha, neat as a 1958 TV housewife's pantry.

You liked it all.

Things changed. There was a small university in this town. Some of the university people formed a club. GLOP. Gays and Lesbians of Platteville. Everyone was terrified. What if you were accosted out on the streets (while driving around) by members of GLOP? Would you fight? Would you run? Would you end up doing illicit sex acts with not your girlfriends, but somebody else's boyfriend? You were all mortified, except for the gay kids. They felt really lucky to live in a university town.

These were good times.

You were all the same, all different. One thing to remember about your Lutheran upbringing: your Jewish father. In spring in university towns in the Midwest, it wasn't abnormal to find a bunch of Jews hiding the matzo before the Passover meal. That game, hunting for the hidden matzo, was fun when you were little. But soon you became an angry midwestern teen, like all the others. And you downed that bitter herb (symbolizing the bitterness of your ancestors' slavery in Egypt) and mowed the hardboiled egg (symbolizing the animal sacrifice in the Temple in Jerusalem) and then some toddler found the matzo and you left and met your friends and drove out to the cemetery, where you reclined in steamy cars and made out wiTheveryone you could find who wanted to. There were always plenty who really wanted to. Most oft en Mötley Crüe's "Home Sweet Home" played on the radio.

It wasn't always easy. In Sunday school, in third grade, you asked the teacher, Nadine, what would happen to your dad when he died, since he was Jewish? She said that you had better to do something about that, because Dad would definitely go to hell, you know, burn in hell, at least that's how she understood it all, given her vast training to be a Teacher of Third Grade...