The American Midwest is one of four major census regions in the US. It consists of 12 states— including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, and the Dakotas—and boasts a population of more than 65 million. Midwestern English, by and large, is considered a “mainstream” variety. It is the closest of all American regional dialects to “General American English” (link). If you turn on the TV, movies, news, or sports media in the US, a disproportionate number of speakers utilize speech patterns derivative of this region.
Columbus, Ohio is the second most populous city in the Midwest and has been growing at a rapid pace. In February of 2020, Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, opened a major distribution center in West Jefferson, the second of its kind in the greater Columbus area. In 2021, Columbus’s housing market was ranked fifth nationally; in 2022, it is projected to finish in the top five in combined home sales and price growth (link). In January of 2022, Intel, the S&P 500 tech giant, announced that it will be building a $20 billion semiconductor computer chip factory in New Albany. President Joe Biden, in his “State Of The Union Address,” on March 1, 2022, described the empty acres of East Columbus as “a field of dreams, the ground on which America’s future will be built” (link).
This week, I reached out to my aunt, Heather Zananiri, to get her two cents on the American Midwest, in general, and Columbus, Ohio, in particular. Mrs. Zananiri was born in Eastern Ohio, and spent stints in several Midwestern states during her childhood. Her family ultimately moved back to Ohio where she settled in the capital city. A former Ohio State student, mother of three, and local suburbanite, Mrs. Zananiri is never at a loss for words. Her perspective and pop-culture savvy shed light, not only on her experiences as a native Ohioan and mother, but on broader cultural and economic trends that have enveloped the region. The following is the account of a live 60-minute interview conducted in person. I trust you will find her answers to be blunt, funny, and insightful.
[For the complete archive of interviews, click here.]
Tell the people a little about yourself.
My name’s Heather. I was born in Dover, Ohio. I am actually from Sherrodsville, which is about 20 miles away, but they don’t really have hospitals in the boonies. I grew up in Ohio, Minnesota, and North Dakota. Growing up, we never stayed in one place longer than two years. I was a military brat, except my parents were in ministry. My dad worked for private Christian schools and would get different business opportunities. He also coached football and wanted to become a college football coach, which is why we moved to North Dakota. When I was in high school, my parents moved back to Ohio, and I’ve lived in Columbus ever since.
I have three kids—Abby, Noah, and Ethan. Abby’s a junior in high school, Noah’s a freshman in college, and Ethan’s in the 8th grade. Having three teenage kids at once is a special kind of challenge. We just finished Ethan’s registration for high school classes, which was a bit upsetting. He’s supposed to be the baby, and now the baby’s in high school.
I’m an Office Assistant / Attendance Secretary for a local elementary school. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s actually a ton of work, especially during Covid. My position is in charge of tracking all the information for quarantine and contact tracing. It’s slowed down a little to where I now just do attendance, but for a while it was really hard to keep up with everything. Rules for things were constantly changing, and we just had to run with it.
What did you do after high school?
After graduating high school, I went to The Ohio State. Unfortunately, I did not get any scholarships and had to pay for it on my own. I was dating Yousef at the time, and we had a lot of Arab friends we would hang out with every weekend. Working full-time to pay my bills, attending class, and having a social life eventually got the best of me. School got put on the backburner, and I never finished.
At OSU, I was in between History and English. I’m a huge history buff. I love history and sociology, and was probably going to major in something along those lines. I wanted to become a teacher. It’s ironic now that I work at a school when that used to be my goal.
What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
The hardest thing is distancing yourself from the job, because you see a lot of things happen in the front office of an elementary school. You want to fix situations with families, or get involved somehow, but you can’t. It’s especially hard because there are kids involved.
What about the most rewarding?
Being around the kids, seeing how excited they are to be at school. Being around younger kids gives you life, because they’re so full of it. I think, especially as we get middle-aged, it’s nice to see that fresh perspective in their eyes.
You got DNA tested a few years ago. Were there any surprises?
I was 46% Irish. It was absolutely the furthest thing from a surprise, because when they see me, everyone immediately thinks I’m Irish. I knew I had Irish blood, but not quite to that extent. There were some other little surprises in there. I was like 10% Dutch ancestry, and I have no idea where that came from. It was also difficult on my dad’s side. My dad was originally from Kentucky, and they didn’t keep good records back then. However, I’ve been able to trace my mom’s side really far. My mom’s side of the family came to the US several generations ago.
I’m busy now, so I stopped doing the tracing thing, but it was really fun. I think this summer, when I have more time, it might be something I look more into. That is one plus of my job. I don’t have to work during the summers.
What is something people don’t know about Ohio? Has Ohio’s reputation at all evolved in the last decade?
Ohio’s not just corn. There are thriving urban areas that are pretty cool to visit. People don’t realize how cool places like Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati are. I think Ohio is actually becoming a lot more popular, which is kind of crazy to me. I bought a shirt that says “I loved Cleveland before it was cool.” Even a podcast I listen to regularly—True Crime—just announced that they will be having their podcast festival in Columbus.
Growing up in high school, I don’t remember anything like that going on. Columbus was more a college town. Ohio State was the big thing. There wasn’t a whole lot to do outside of that, whereas now we have hockey, soccer, and the Short North. Central Ohio Performing Arts is booming. There is a whole lot more to do downtown than there used to be.
What is one thing about Ohio you would change if you could?
The weather. It’s the worst. In the last week, we’ve literally had sun. We’ve had 60 degrees. We’ve had rain. I do think seasonal depression is a problem in states like Ohio. You get to this time of year and it’s been so gray for so long. It’s depressing. You get a day like today when the sun is out, people lose their minds. It’s like a breath of fresh air. It raises your whole mood. It’s like “Aha! winter is finally over!” The winter in Ohio is nothing compared to Minnesota and North Dakota, but I still think the weather is worse.
When visitors come to town, where do you take them?
Easton. It’s an open air mall, and they’ve grown so much. They have such good food diversity. That’s our thing. When people come, we want to take them to eat somewhere nice. Short North. Just the whole cultural vibe there. I also love taking people to sporting events, especially our professional sports. Not that Ohio State isn’t great, but professional sports are just a different vibe. It’s more of an adult thing. It lets them know that Columbus has a lot of stuff going on for adults. When people come to town, I also like to take them to local distilleries. There are a lot of cool ones in the city, which make for a fun time out.
What are some advantages/disadvantages of living in the suburbs?
As far as advantages, I do feel it’s safer for the kids. They get a more wholesome, typical American family environment. But, on the flip side of that, that can be a negative, too, because you’re almost putting them in a bubble. One hard thing about the suburbs is trying to find a balance of diversity with the people your kids hang out with. The plus side is we are close enough to a city where if we want to go out at night, there is something to do. We’ve also gotten to build a lot of friendships here because you find families of the same age in same area. In a more urban/downtown environment, it’s harder to build a community centered on family.
You have two kids in high school and one in college. How have things changed as they’ve gotten older?
I think my sweet spot was when Noah was around 7, and Ethan was around 2. I loved those ages. Then they grew up, and so many changes happened. Before you know it, these adults with teenage minds are in your house. They look an adult on the outside, because they’ve physically matured, but they’re still kids on the inside. As they get older, you want to give them more responsibilities, start treating them more like young adults, but they’re still you’re kids. Sometimes it’s been a struggle deciding what they should do for themselves, versus what we should do for them. I used to put their clothes out for them in junior high, but I learned they need to make a habit of doing these things themselves.
Yousef is definitely the more “hold-them-accountable, let-them-do-it themselves” type. He opened them bank accounts at 13, so they could learn how to manage their own money. I didn’t learn how to write a check until I was 20, because I was never taught those things, whereas I knew how to do dry wall and other blue collar tasks.
Another thing is, when your kids get older, they become a lot more independent. Now that Abby is driving, she doesn’t need me to do anything for her. Ethan still needs me obviously. He’s still a boy. But having two who don’t really need you anymore is hard. You lose a lot of time to interact with them and your sense of identity as a parent. But that’s my job, right? –-not to be needed—so they can go out in the world and not be overly dependent on anyone. However, when it happens, it hurts a little, and you have to figure out what to do next.
Which personality traits of yours do you see in them?
All of my kids are stubborn. If you have three kids with totally different personalities, and somehow they’re all insanely stubborn, you know it came from somewhere. It’s funny how personality-wise, as far as how they act and treat people, it can be one parent, yet their financial aspect can belong completely to the other one. Abby, for example, is Yousef. How she talks to people, how she acts, is so much like how he was in high school, just a girl version. But she is totally me financially. She’s the free-spirit spender, I-do-what-makes-me-happy. Noah has my personality, but he’s 100% Yousef financially, as far as saving money, investing, keeping an eye out on his spending. Ethan is yet to be determined.
We talk a lot about stocks around you, and I’m sure it drives you crazy. Financials aside, what is one company you think would be worth investing in based solely on your experience as a consumer?
If it were up to who Yousef would think I should invest in based solely on consumer habits, it would be Amazon. But their stock is outrageous. I do here you guys mention Crocs stock a lot. My kids wear Crocs. And Crocs bought the other shoe we wear around the house–Hey Dudes. The fact that we have them all around the house and that you guys always talk about it makes me think it would be a smart stock to buy.
Do you have any business ideas where you think “This would really sell,” or “Why hasn’t this been invented yet?”
Everything is so convenient now, I can’t think of anything offhand. . . I would invent something to get the kids to wash the dishes.
What do you think future generations will say about people in 2022?
I think future generations will feel bad for us, but not in a good way. I think they will look back and see how much people were fighting and angry and loud, and feel bad that we behaved that way. It’s ridiculous that nobody can get along these days.
This is the rapid-fire round. I’m going to ask you several questions in quick succession. You can limit your answers to no more than a few words or sentences.
Wine. Nineteen Crimes Hard Chard.
Favorite board game?
Sunny and 78.
Travel vlogger. Who doesn’t want to just travel around the world.
Underrated musician, actor, or athlete?
LL Cool J, because they don’t talk about him as a rapper. Or they don’t talk about him as an actor, and he’s been in a lot of stuff. At least I’ve seen all of his movies.
What appeals to you more—a hot air balloon ride or skydiving?
A hot air balloon ride, 100%. I want to be able to enjoy the view. I’m not going to enjoy the view as I’m plummeting towards it.
A word, phrase, or linguistic habit of people that you find revolting?
I hate when people put an “s” on the end of Kroger and Meijer. You don’t hear people say “Walmarts,” but you hear them say “Kroger’s’” and “Meijer’s.” I think it’s an Ohio thing.
A conspiracy theory that you suspect may be true?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist at all, but I do think Eipstein did not kill himself.
If you could live in any historical era, which would you choose?
I don’t like old eras, because I want the modern conveniences of toilets, but I would love to have been around for Martin Luther King Jr. To be able to attend one of his rallies would be a really cool experience.
Something people don’t know about you?
Most people don’t know that I sing and won a state singing competition in high school in North Dakota. It was a quartet, but still, I was one of the four. .
Fill in the blank. If I was exiled from the US tomorrow, I hope they would send me to ____?
Jordan. Amman, Jordan, because we have family there and I love the city.
Most heartbreaking sports moment?
Oh, God. I’m a Cleveland fan—There are so many. I’d have to say in the 90s, when the Indians went to the World Series, and we lost. Not the more recent one. The 90s prepared me for the more recent loss.
Greater probability of happening first—World War III or the Browns winning the super bowl?
I feel like World War III, unfortunately. We’ll see what comes out of everything that’s happening now. I just don’t have a good feeling about it. I feel like Putin is becoming very dictator-like, trying to rule the world.
If money wasn’t a factor, how would you spend your days?
On a beach somewhere.
Do you have any plans for life as an empty-nester / post-graduation?
I plan to sell my house and move downtown or to a cool urban area, and to travel. Now I feel like we don’t get to travel for fun anymore. Everything is for sports. I want to be able to enjoy when we travel not having to worry about if the kids turned in their homework or made sure to shut the iron off. I’d love to see all of the Middle East and Europe, specifically Ireland. I’ve never been to Ireland, but I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve heard it’s just beautiful. As a redhead, I think going back to Ireland and seeing other Irish redheads would make me happy.