While I really could not careless about the Green Bay Packers or the Wisconsin Badgers I have always been a pretty proud Wisconsin-ite. I love me some deep fried cheese curds + shake my head at California’s claim to happy cows. I’m from that broken mitten next to Michigan + I’m proud of it. However, I have exactly zero intentions to ever return to Wisconsin [or any Midwestern state, for that matter] for anything more than a visit. Just, no. The Midwest has its beautiful bits + pieces but the overall weather, culture and terrain just isn’t my jam.
That said, Wisconsin will always be “back home” giving it a certain air of nostalgia when I do visit. Every trip back goes through a cycle of sorts. First, I’m really excited to see family, harass my nephews + eat Grandma’s cookies. Once the euphoria of it all wears off a bit the reality of Wisconsin weather starts to set it. I’m beginning to think the Midwest is no bigger fan of me than I am of it — every trip home over the past few years have involved days of cloudy rain. Why!?
Finally, after I’ve worked through the smiles + tears of the current state of affairs in Wisconsin nostalgia kicks in. This time around it happened as I was cruising down the middle of an old county road. In the distance I noticed an on coming car doing exactly the same thing — driving down the near-middle of the road. For a split second my heart rate quickened, then I realized where I was. Wisconsin. This is how you drove on the narrow back roads of Wisconsin! Trust me, this is a sensible thing! The roads are narrow + deer appear from nowhere, easily spooked onto the road by a passing car. Long stretches of highway cutting through the forests + fields give everyone time to spot traffic + move over to our respective lanes just long enough to safely continue on our way…down the middle of the road.
That was the trigger I needed to stop moping about the clouds + take in everything around me. This is the world that created the foundation of who I am today. I pulled over to just soak up all the silence. Well, the “silence” of empty roads + thick forests are actually quite noisy. I listened as the birds chattered to each other, as a deer bounced through the underbrush, as a tractor growled on a distant farm. People I’ve met in the recent years get a ton of credit for helping me become who I am today…but these sounds are quite literally the soundtrack of my childhood.
I continued on my way, pulling onto the gravel road that led to my grandparents house as I let my mind wander to all of random memories triggered by the landmarks along the way.
The turn off the led to the highway where I first hit 120mph in a car, praying there would be no feisty deer popping out of the woods.
The clearing in the woods that ended in an unexplained rock pile + perfect hiding place when Grandma wanted us to do a chore we had deemed un-fun.
The road sign that flaunts the name of the dirt road I lived on, still proudly announcing the fact my family was the first to really settle on this farm land.
The big red barn where we’d quietly tiptoe in the spring, hoping to find stashes of kittens among the hay bales…preferably without their protective mother hissing at us.
The open field between our farm + my grandparents farm, a span of alfalfa that I had walked across many times when avoiding chores or mad at my parents.
The other open field, where I got a big duel-y John Deere tractor stuck in the mud one spring…an incident that had my literally paying off my brothers if they would drive the tractor for me.
The dead-end road the used to pop up in my dreams on a regular basis, the ominous trail my dream-self always followed hidden by budding undergrowth.
The long drive way leading to my childhood home, a dreaded walk to the bus on cold or rainy days + the home of many violent potholes to splash in when returning from the school bus.
The big stand of trees blocking my view to the sandpit, where the risk of snapping turtle bites was a very real thing + we murdered a *lot* of tadpoles while inspecting their metamorphosis process.
The town hall where my high school graduation was held + where I voted for the first time ever.
The long county road my mom + I ran/cycled a few years back, clad head-to-toe in blaze orange because it was the peak of hunting season.
These are all just short, quick thoughts that danced through my mind as I dodged potholes on the gravel roads of my childhood. The 18 years I spent on these back roads have created hundreds of short stories; some more entertaining than others. Ultimately, every single story – from those filled with laughter to those ending in tears – have contributed to who I am today. I like to think that they are the reason I am a strong, sassy, sarcastic woman today. I faced my fair share of small town challenge but I was also given many opportunities [some that I did a better job of seizing than others].
Looking back, especially at the big life choices I made, I cannot find a single one that I would take back. I do wish I had been a bit more aggressive + motivated in different parts of my life as I was growing up, if only because it would have allowed me to become the me I am right now sooner…but, maybe I wasn’t ready for that back then. Maybe I needed to spend some time finding this person. No matter the details of how + why, I sure am glad I made it to where I am right now!