4 Days in Wisco: Or how I ate a lot of food and what I miss about small towns

I took approximately zero pictures while I was in Wisconsin.

I had high hopes of capturing the small town-ness, the grit, the ice, the snow, more snow.

But either snow is just not that interesting or I spent too much of my time stuffing my face with all of my mom’s delicious cooking. I plead guilty to the latter.

Seriously, she made me 5 batches of guacamole, homemade bread, homemade plum jam from my parent’s tree out back, her amazing gumbo, steak and potatoes, a gajillion kinds of dips (I have no pregnancy cravings except chips and dip it seems, soo weird), and THREE kinds of pie.

You should know that, when confronted with 3 different kinds of pie and only 4 days in which to eat them, it’s vitally important to taste-test thoroughly so you can better decide which one to focus on with the time you have.

Unfortunately, the Chocolate French Silk (luxuriously rich), the Apple (made with Dutchies from my grandfather’s farm) and the Strawberry (where has this pie been my whole life!??!?) were all equally perfect and I ate accordingly.

I’m not saying it was just the pie, but when I stepped on the scale at my OB appointment, I had gained 5 pounds.

My mom also stocked the fridge to the brim with all of the delicious healthy foods I’ve been craving here in China.  Organic fruits and veggies, salad greens, organic greek yogurt.  It was insane.  It felt like a whole-body cleanse with all of that healthy food (and errr…pie) combined with clean air and the comforts of home.

The food, and our time spent shuffling through the snow, was all enough to make me really start looking forward to my 12 weeks of enforced quality Green Bay time coming up this summer.

Because I think the further you get away from home, the more you appreciate those little wonderful things about it.

I’ve been running from Green Bay for years like it was some cheese-headed bogeyman with a bratwurst boomerang.  As a kid, the sameness always bored me, it felt confining.  The dead quiet on the streets after 10pm freaked me out a little. It was always sort of expected that I would “get out of dodge.”  So I did.  It ended up being a good call.

I love living in big cities where I hear people on streets at all hours of the night.  I like being just one ethnicity in a mix of dozens or even hundreds.  I love museums and public transportation and yuppie farmer’s markets and being able to pick from one of 15 different cuisines on a night out to dinner, all of them seemingly cooked by people who’ve brought their recipes with them straight from the homeland.

In the years immediately after I left home, I’d always spend a lot of time during my visits noting the city’s deficiencies, every reason why I was soo glad to have left.

Now though, in my wise old age (har har) coming home feels very different.  Maybe its that this foreign service lifestyle all but guarantees that I’ll spend the next 10-30 years of my life globe-hopping far away from Green Bay, Wisconsin.  Maybe impending parenthood makes me nostalgic for the idyllic memories of my own childhood.

Whatever the psychoanalytical reason, on this past trip home I opened my eyes to the lovely little things about my cheese-headed little homeland for the first time.

It was really our trip to the dentist that did it to me.  My dentist in Green Bay is the father of one of my sister’s friends from kindergarten.  He comes to my parents holiday parties and I think my dad and him play golf once in awhile.  Talk about small town.

When I didn’t bring enough cash to cover the appointments (debit cards incurring a 5% charge of course in this tiny operation) the receptionist just waved me off saying, “oh honey, just drop it off whenever you have time.”

When I came back the next day to pay, prepared to apologize profusely, there was no explaining to the front desk why I was there.  It was just, “Hi!  Why don’t you come on back where Betty can get you all taken care of.”  And of course, Betty already knew everything about our lives in China and wished us well in our travels and congrats on the baby on our way out the door.

That friendliness is everywhere in a small place like Green Bay.  Over platters of pancakes and steaming mis-matched mugs of coffee at the local diner one morning, Chris and I relaxed, slunking (made-up word alert) back in our booths to take in the warm cozy scene around us.

There were grey-haired guys with potbellies and packer jackets next to us arguing local politics in the booth next to us, leaning on their elbows to make an eager point about this or that local council.  There was a couple in their late 50’s in the booth behind us, patiently taking mom out for breakfast.  Teenagers in school sweatshirts and messy hair lounged by the door over doughnuts, appropriately adolescent perma-scowls adorning their faces.  And of course the smiling, good-natured waitresses keeping our coffee cups filled to the brim as she bustled around calling out to her regular customers by name.

“Isn’t this nice?” I asked Chris, wholly expecting some sort of sarcastic worldly reply worthy of our  more cosmopolitan status.

“Yea,” he said simply, “it really is.”

Green Bay isn’t the sort of place to go out for amazing cuisine and it’s a landscape of blinding white in more ways than one.

And, as amazingly wonderful as my childhood was in Green Bay with a neighborhood full of kids running around, lemonade stands and en masse mac’n’cheese dinners, it’s not exactly the one I envision for Chris and I’s children.

Nevertheless, going home reminded me that there are some wonderful things about living in a small town that are harder to find in a big city.

Friendliness and familiarity can feel suffocating over time, but there’s also something cozy and comforting about being entangled in a tight web of living, breathing people who know you-not through your twitter page-but through your parents, or grade school, or so-and-so’s cousin’s boyfriend’s sister.  It’s a place you can’t be an island, no matter how hard you try.

Being home means running into people I knew from the 2nd grade, now working or with a baby at home.  It’s about going to Starbucks with my dad and catching up with those old beloved coworkers who introduced me to some of my first adult beverages after hours.  It’s about driving past the houses of once-best friends and teenage crushes and feeling  twinges of old hurts and lessons learned rise unbidden into a lump at the back of my throat.  It’s about remembering all those hazy summer days spent pounding the hot pavement, wishing we were old enough to drive and stopping for towering cones of the creamy frozen custard at the neighborhood hamburger-fries-and ice cream joint called Zesty’s, bizarrely named for the owner’s poodle.

I don’t know what the point of this whole long blog post is.  If you are still here at the bottom of this photo-less ramble, I appreciate your endurance and patience.  I guess all I mean to say is that I appreciate where I came from now in a way I didn’t before.

And I promise not to get so long-winded about Charlottesville.


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