Saturday, August 17, 2002

Q & A :: Why I Love Wisconsin

Frequently asked questions:

Where do you find the time?
I never find time. I steal time; I rob it blind. When I am in need of time, I abandon sensible tasks, such as; car cleaning, closet organization, alphabetizing, exercise, laundry, ironing, exfoliation, leg shaving, topiary pruning, and floor waxing. I never wax any thing; from this I derive a huge percentage of my time.

Is this Good Mexican food?
You have to ask yourself, "Is it bad food?" It's safe to say that if you like a meal, it's at least good enough for you. Mexican food is as varied in Mexico, and the United States, as sandwiches, salads or pizza at any given restaurant. In Southern California any yellow and orange building with the business name ending in "...erto," is likely to be good enough. At a mall in Edina, Minnesota my husband ordered Pizza Nachos; he could not have been in search of Good Mexican food, or Italian, for that matter.

Now I am reminded of a FAQ from our past: So, how do you like it out there in Iowa? Is it Wisconsin? Where did you move to, again?

Somewhere between Hawaii and the Eastern Seaboard, lies a beautiful, but little appreciated region we call the Midwest. It includes several states. They all get snow in winter and mosquitoes in summer, but they have separate and unique qualities and names, nonetheless. Our mistake was thinking one had to be as good as another. By the way, if you're in Minnesota, it is prudent to ask, "Is this good Mexican food?" and then consider the source of the answer.

Question no one has ever asked me:

Why do you love Wisconsin?
In 1978 my mother had to go to Green Bay Wisconsin for a work conference. She had to buy a real coat, and boots and a hat. She needed gloves. When she left for the airport she looked more exotic than anyone I had ever seen before. She looked prepared for unknown forces of nature, that I could scarcely imagine. I did try to imagine what she might encounter; cows, maybe corn or people dressed like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I yearned for a corn husk doll.

In 1981 my history teacher, a native of Wisconsin, told us about land grants, townships, school houses, barn raising and quilting bees. He told us about being pulled over for speeding in town; the cop knew him by name and scolded him. His son talked about swimming in Lakes. Their stories filled my mind with images nearly too abstract to be possible. I wondered about the feel of a lake bottom or what might lurk in the murky lake water. I pictured log cabins, quaint Christmas scenes with snow falling and women baking pies, and long summer nights with fire flies, and deer stepping out in to the meadow to graze.

In 1982 I met Geoff. And in his house hung a picture of him holding a baby goat; it was taken in the North Woods Of Wisconsin. The goat looked cute and gentle, and he looked handsome and kind. I couldn't be sure that I would ever get to see this picture, or this boy, again, and I very seriously considered swiping the framed 8x10 off the wall. Alas, I was dressed in a short skirt, with no big pockets or secret panels. He introduced me to his parents, they sat at their table finishing a spaghetti dinner: "This is my stepdad, Corm, and this is Mom." I waved across the table to Corm, and shook hands with his mother, "Hello Mom."

Happily, Geoff did want to see me again. He told me about Wisconsin. He talked about winter camping, bicycle tours, Elroy Sparta, and Parfrey's Glen, ice skating on lakes, as well as swimming in them. And he talked about aunts and uncles and Grandma and Grandpa, the Shoe Store, and the Bakery, and the house on Franklin Avenue, the auto repair shop, and the school where he swore they had the hugest slide.

The facts he shared were interesting and intriguing, and I enjoyed the anecdotes about summers at Telemark, and the groovy splendor of Madison and State Street. But it was the emotion with which he spoke, that fueled my longing to go to Wisconsin. I knew that any boy who revered his family, held them in such high esteem, and eagerly discussed the beauty of walking trails, the energy of a summer rainstorm, had to be worth getting to know better. I associated my attraction to Geoff with Wisconsin, and his family.

In 1987 we flew to Chicago. I borrowed a real coat from a girlfriend, and bought boots at Payless. I packed scarves and tights and long underwear, and all of my socks. At the airport I poked my head out the terminal doors, and the cold sucked the breath out of my head and froze the snot in my nose; it was an awesome force, unlike any cold I had ever experienced before.

Geoff's dad met us in Chicago, and drove us 3 hours away to the family home, just east of Madison. It was late, and dark. Once we left the city there was little to see out the windows. I was seated between Geoff and Chris, and Holly and Phil sat up front. It was an American tank-like car, and we rolled down the road, listening to Phil point out landmarks and tell us about 'deer season.' I literally needed translations; he was going on and on about 'Grandpa and the deer stand.' Setting up the deer stand, Not wanting to fall from the deer stand. Waiting in the deer stand. Falling from the deer stand. I had not a clue. Geoff explained about hunting deer in the fall, and sitting high in a tree, waiting for the deer. The image of hauling this equipment, through snow, and setting it up in a tree, to wait for Bambi, still makes me laugh. I loved that drive, snuggled up with my sweetheart, riding to Wisconsin.

The welcome I received, when we arrived at Grandma and Grampa's home, remains with me to this day; it was plain and sincere. They extended themselves enough, so that I knew they were happy to receive me, but they didn't fuss. The effect of their warmth and calm was that I felt like one of the family, instead of a guest that needed pampering. I loved the open and straightforward affection, the family games of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. The pictures on the wall reflected a growing, happy and creative family; a family appreciated for its differences and bound by love and respect. Perhaps the details are so clear, because I cherished every moment of that visit, or may be because it has been as wonderful on every visit since.

It snowed on Christmas Eve. Snow falling heightens every sense. The trees in the yard were a blur, softened and white. The moon, or the porch light, reflected on the snow, made an infinite display of sparkling, rainbowed gems. And there was silence. Even in town, on the neighborhood street, it was more quiet than silent; as though the world were an empty tape, where no one had ever recorded sound. Funny, I can remember listening to nothing at all.

My sense of play was heightened most of all; we sled, we rolled a giant snow ball and tunneled through it, and stood inside of it. We built Bucket Head, the snow man, and made snow angels. Another day we cross country skied, and we skated on a lake. My heart races just from the memory of crossing the frozen water, the blades leaving icy trails crisscrossing the surface. And then gliding into an area of black ice. Black ice is glass clear water, frozen and transparent. As I skated, a school of fish swam beneath the thick ice. And Geoff was with me, and his family, and I felt deeply happy.

Wisconsin is beautiful in all seasons. In summer it is a green that heals. In fall it brings anticipation, and gathering; leaves fallen from trees, and family to the hearth. Winter is light in the darkness, and the hush of snow. Spring is miraculous, and cleansing; it is full of details that mark beginning. I love Wisconsin, because Geoff was born there and nurtured by loving and creative people, and because it surpassed all my expectations of it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that lovely discription of where I grew up as well. The Spooner/Hayward area, a wonderful and magical place but now happy to live in Arizona, especially this year! We had the most fun ever watching the Packers win the Superbowl for the first time in 13 years! However, one thing about Packer fans, we would still have been Packer fans Monday even had they lost