Saturday, May 29, 2010

Wisconsin - May 29, 1848

Ahh, Wisconsin. How I love Wisconsin. James and I began our day drinking coffee from our Lawrence University mugs. Lawrence is located in Appleton, Wisconsin where my favorite cousins live. You will find it on the map below right at the northern tip of Lake Winnebago

My first visit to Wisconsin was in 1978. My mother, brother and I drove to Appleton, from our home in Maryland, to pick up my sister who had spent the summer staying with my cousins and working in their store, Laurerman's Corner Grocery (the little store with more). Two years later I took my turn doing the same thing. I was 16 years old then and I remember that as it was the first time I flew unaccompanied. I was so nervous, and when I didn't see my cousins right away at the Milwaukee airport I panicked.

I don't get to Wisconsin as often as I would like, but often enough that in the 32 years since that first visit I have lost count of how many times I have been there. I have two sets of Wisconsin cousins, my mother's late brother Larry's six children; and her brother Dave's two son's. It was Larry's clan who owned the store. Dave was still a childless bachelor back then. I don't think he had even moved to Wisconsin yet. James, Paloma and I all love to visit the relations in Wisconsin. We have deemed them our "COWS" (Cousins of Wisconsin). My cousin Tami has a daughter the same age as Paloma and I am thrilled to see a second generation of cousinly love blooming. Tami and her sister Lori stood up for me and James at our wedding 23 years ago. Lori, along with her friend and fellow Wisconsinite, Sharon, met up with me in Spain in 1986 and we traveled on the trains to Belgium and France together. I think my cousins are golden.

When I remember my time in Wisconsin I recall hiding "True Confessions" magazine under the counter of the store so no one would know I was reading it off the racks. I can't even believe I used to read that crap. I also remember my cousins wanting me to experience everything about Wisconsin. We went canoeing, to a drive-in movie, and ate out all the time. We spent one evening at a church fair and I won about a dozen free coupons for root beer at the A&W drive-in, which I believe is still in business, even after giving away so much of its product!

We also went to a Brewers-Orioles game in Milwaukee, with me the lone Orioles fan in the stadium. I bet some kid that the Os would shut out the Brewers and won a dollar when Baltimore won (one to nothing!) Wisconsin is also where I learned the word "bubbler" meant water fountain, which would serve me well when I moved to New England - except here, of course, we pronounce it BUB-la. Other visits to Wisconsin have included trips Door County, (which members of the Extra Miler Club will tell you is one of the trickier counties to pick up) for winery tours and skinny dipping; and visiting my cousin Lori in Crivitz, Wisconsin the year she taught there. I will never forget spending the day with her class of learning disabled students, and the protests that ensued when she suggested they write haikus for the school's literary magazine. For many years I kept this one on my refrigerator, which was written by an elementary student named Russell:

Cows have big babies (5 syllables)
Cows eat grass and grain and wheat (7 syllables)
Cows eat flowers, too (5 syllables).

The poem was accompanied by a drawing of a very skinny cows with long legs and no ears. I sent it back to Lori many years ago. I don't know if she still has it or not.

Important Update - A Treasure Found! 

I discovered the famed haiku and drawing while cleaning out some drawers in my dining room in July 2012.
Last summer when we were visiting Appleton I noticed that Lori was reading Coop by Mike Perry. It was a book that was on my list of "Year of Books" as a possibility for last year's blog "My Year of Reading Year of Books". (The subtitle of Perry's book is "A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting"). I asked if I could borrow it, but she wasn't done with it, and she gave me another of Perry's books instead: Population 485, about returning to his hometown of  Auburn, Wisconsin and working as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. James and I both read it, and loved it, so I was glad to be able to get a copy of Coop from interlibrary loan to read for this project. Perry hasn't lost his touch. I read this 350 page book in two days, laughing out loud as much at the parenting foibles (that I could relate to) as to the farming fiascos (that I couldn't). I chuckled at Perry's description of taking his daughter with him to take two slaughtered pigs to butcher.

"I delight as usual in having Amy as my copilot. Bombing down a country road in a pickup truck with my daughter has become one of the signal joys of fatherhood. Throw a couple of dead pigs in the back and you've got yourself a Hallmark card on wheels."

This image is reminscent for me of the only time I was in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. I think it must have been 1988. James and I were returning to Ohio after the long weekend and at one point found ourselves driving behind a pickup with two Christmas trees and two dead deer in the bed! Talk about a magical Wisconsin holiday image! This blog post really wouldn't be complete without some mention of deer hunting, for which kids in the northern part of the state get an entire week off of school. I thought this was strange until I moved to Massachusetts and discovered that every school in the state closes during the third week in April  in order to commemorate the midnight ride of Paul Revere.

Anyway, I suspect that Perry probably tries to put on a much harder persona to his fellow Wisconsinites than his heart-felt writing reveals. Now that I have read two of his books I will call him my favorite Wisconsin author. It looks like I have a few more of his books to look forward to, including Truck: A Love Story. Find out more about Mike Perry at

American Movie looked like a "mockumentary", but it wasn't. I called it a meta-documentary as it was produced by an independent filmmaker who was making a movie about an independent film maker, Mark Borchardt. The film follows Borchardt as he attempts to finish a short horror film, Coven. Borchardt does not even pronounce the name of his own film properly, saying it with a long O, even after one of his actors tries to correct him. His friend Mike Schank, who provides music for the film, seems to be some kind of idiot-savant. He is rather inarticulate, one can assume this is thanks to the drug overdose he talks about, and always has a blank smile on his face when talking to the camera. He barely blinks or moves his head, which is quite eerie. In contrast he appears to be a quite a good musician. I had a hard time believing that the music I was hearing came from him. If this had been fiction I would have thought his character was overdone.  But apparently, it was all real. Borchardt's Uncle Bill (aka his Executive Producer) was another study in extremes. The elder Borchardt lived a simple life in a trailer and yet had tens of thousands of dollars to loan to his nephew to produce the film. Upon Uncle Bill's death Mark is bequeathed an additional 50 thousand dollars in order to complete his movie. Classic Wisconsin.


I sent James out on a quest to get us some Wisconsin cheese to have with dinner. I was sure I saw some, clearly labeled as such, in the dairy section of our local grocery store. Perhaps I did, but James ended up going to the specialty cheese section and examining quite a few packages before he found two that came from Wisconin: one was an herb havarti, and the other a smoked cheddar swiss (the cheddar swiss combination is apparently what the official "cheesehead" hat is supposed to be, by the way.) In addition, we had one of our favorite dishes, potato pancakes. I didn't even realize that that was a Wisconsin favorite, too, until I saw it on this website:

I will close with a link to sweet Wisconsin library story. I love library stories. On November 18, 2009 librarians in Wisconsin documented their work through photography, which resulted in the Wisconsin Librarians say "Cheese" webpage.

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