You knew it was coming: the phrase, "Bless your heart."
It seems to be the expression that comes to mind whenever I describe the midwest to folks who've never lived in the midwest. Not meaning to sound condescending, it's a phrase that says so much with few words. The people we've met here are generous and kind, hardworking and gracious. They bake a lot, and the food they cook keeps your insides warm for a whole winter.
We experienced this over the weekend, as the dinner guests of Tom and Erva Perz. Every December, they invite each of their family member's families and the pastors and their wives over for dinner, all on separate nights. I imagine this takes up most of the month (with a few stragglers - like us - coming in the new year). Erva cooked us Shepherd's Pie, a layered salad with Miracle Whip, followed by a Chocolate Eclair Cake and flavored coffee for dessert. Erva says the Shepherd's Pie is tradition.
I call it "Bless your heart" food.
Their house was decorated floor to ceiling in Christmas swag. Even their pet dog wore a red and white dress to greet us. They had a ceramic nativity set displayed on the wood burning stove and a life-size version lit up on their lawn. Their Christmas tree was adorned with twinkle lights, beaded garland, and an assortment of snowflakes and teacher-themed ornaments from various decades, thanks to Erva's 35 years as an educator. Holiday globes lined the foot of the stove, a "Happy Birthday Jesus" sign draped over the fireplace, and various snowman and holly patterned pillows lined their couches. Apparently, we were the last of their holiday dinner guests, so they kept the decorations up just for us.
Erva found me at church today, thanked me again for our company, and gave me a bag with her homemade fudge inside and a handwritten recipe card for the eclair cake.
Bless her heart.