We traveled to Sheboygan, Wisconsin to visit Jeannie’s side of the family. Though technically they are her relatives, I have always been treated as one of the family, and in spite of being a Southern foreigner I happily call them my family as well.
Her mom and dad were both born in Sheboygan, and grew up there. Several generations have raised their families here, but Jeannie’s family was different. Gene, her dad, decided to join the Navy, and that took him and Marilyn, his new wife, away. Though they were stationed in several places across the US and as far away as Japan, the ties of family were and remained strong.
Jeannie has many memories of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and family friends, but Dad’s military career imposed distance. I have only come to really know those in Sheboygan over the last decade or so. Not that we were avoiding them, or they us, but busy lives, other interests, and 1,300 miles kept us from appreciating our other extended family. We had heard the family stories from Jeannie’s parents, leafed through the photo albums, and even met a relative or two when they would venture to Florida for a visit to Mom and Dad.
This visit deepened my appreciation for the similarities and differences that time and more than a thousand miles have hindered.
To me this place is very different from where I grew up in Florida. It is, in many ways, still quintessentially small town America. A place as American as apple pie; a place where you can leave your house unlocked when you go to the store; a place where tradition is valued. So many little things I can’t express … that are different. Not good or bad, just different.
Florida, on the other hand, is orange juice, and space travel, and beaches. We have St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, and Miami, and Disney. Florida has winters filled with sunshine while they have cold, lots of cold, and lots of snow.
Yeah, we are different. But in so many ways we are very much the same. At a family gathering the men sit around outside talking sports and cars as bratwursts sizzle on the grill, the ladies on the porch talking about children and cooking, and the kids run about or sit with their iPods connected to their ears. I realize that they are all also my family. Different than the family I grew up with but just the same nonetheless.
And later when I am warmly hugged by the Wisconsin family matriarch Aunt JoAnn, I know this too is my family because I feel loved.
Devil’s Lake area hikes, near Baraboo, WI.
Boat tour of the Upper Dells.
Horicon National Wildlife Refuge