Back in 10th grade, full of Texas pride, I got into a heated argument with my boyfriend, a fresh transplant from Baraboo, Wisconsin, over the merits of our respective states.
I don't think he was trying to say Wisconsin was better than Texas, only trying to describe its beauty and merits to me, but it put me on the defensive: I fervently maintained that NO state could come close in any kind of comparison to Texas.
Bear in mind that my out-of-state traveling experience up to that point consisted of a few trips to Colorado (the exception to my Texas assertion - I fell in love with that state right away. Who wouldn't?); jaunts into Louisiana and Oklahoma... or was it Arkansas... that I don't remember because I was so young; a skirt through New Mexico (Carlsbad Caverns... again, an exception. I love caves.); a day across the border in Matamoros, Mexico (no comment) and an emergency-room-hopping road trip to St. Louis where I was too busy trying to breathe (asthma) to pay attention to the scenery.
Fast forward several years... from the window of Tom's old Ford van, the verdant, rolling farmlands of Illinois and then Wisconsin, dotted with picturesque farms (and those awesome old barns) stretch out around me, and I have to nod my head... I see what you mean, Dean.
Of course, by then I'd also traveled to several European countries, Utah, and all over the southeastern United States as far north as Maryland, and I had come to look for and appreciate the simple beauty you can find everywhere.
I was still a Texas girl, no doubt about that! But I had grown up enough to appreciate local cultures and regional differences... those things that make each spot unique.
And Wisconsin, especially the Manitowoc area, was unique in a special way... it came with family history. This was the spot Bridget Shallue and her kids chose to call home after leaving Ireland in the 1850s. And unlike my family tree that resembles a vine stretching out far and wide more than a tree with roots burrowing deep into a single area, the Shallue's had stayed put for several generations.
Tom and I loved it so much we went three summers in a row...
August 1983: We met his parents in Manitowoc, then followed them all the way up to the Upper Peninsula and around Lake Michigan to meet/visit his mom's family in Pontiac.
July 1984: Tom and I went on our own, staying with Grandma and Grandpa Shallue in the house where Tom's dad was raised. I treasure that visit, having that time with them, getting to know them and Tom's relatives better. We picked raspberries at Grandma's brother's house, drove up to Door County and all around the countryside, stopping at roadside pubs and cheese factories along the way.
Grandpa was physically blind, but his mind-sight was perfect; he could point out of the car window and describe what we were seeing, narrating the memories that went with it... the Shallue's farm was right here, the Peppard's was on this same road... that's Pigeon Lake where I went skinny-dipping with my friends...
August 1985: We met most of Tom's siblings there for his cousin Sue's wedding. We flew into Chicago and brother Steve picked us up on his way in from South Dakota. I was pregnant with Tommy and don't even remember where we stayed on that trip! Except for a few crystal clear moments, the rest of that trip is a pregnancy-induced fog!
And that was it... our last visit until this year, and we have no idea why we haven't been back until now.
It was the last time we saw Grandma - she died of breast cancer soon after Tommy's first birthday. But I still have her letters and the baby clothes and blanket she crocheted for him. And those priceless memories of our visits.
We saw Grandpa twice more... once in Royce City near Dallas, where Sue's brother Dan lived for awhile, and another time in Maryland at Tom's parents' house.
Sue and I continued writing back and forth for a while, but our letters slowed to a stop as well, just as mysteriously. I'm sure it had to do with parenthood - when you add kids to your life, it gets more complicated.
But then the kids grow up and if you're lucky, you get another chance; I can't remember exactly how it happened now, but it seems like I spotted Sue's daughter Sarah on Facebook first and asked about her mom. Before you know it, Sue and I had reconnected and Sarah invited us to her wedding; I couldn't wait to return to Wisconsin. I wondered how much it had changed.
We were just in our twenties, but on our first trips, Tom and I loved driving around the area, walking through the family cemetery, discovering bits of history and soaking in the rural scenery.
We looked forward to doing that again on this trip and sharing it with the kids, but the boys weren't able to come and even though some of it interested her, I'm afraid for the most part, the driving-around-bit bored TG out of her mind.
Maybe Tom and I are weird, but at least we're a good match!
The highlight of the trip was Sarah and Mike's wedding, of course. It was held outside (and yes, it gets hot in Wisconsin, too!) but it was a gem of a day after a week of rain.
Weddings are always special, but this one was especially beautiful and memorable to me - Mike is deaf, so he and Sarah signed their vows, while interpretors were busy signing the minister's words.
It really hit us how much time had passed when we saw Tom's aunts and uncles at the wedding reception. They still looked the same, more or less, but their kids are now grown with kids of their own! It's one of those things you might know on one level, but the passage of twenty-five years doesn't hit you until you see the physical evidence of it.
As if planning a wedding wasn't enough, the next day Sue and Ron hosted a family reunion at their home, admittedly the perfect spot for a party... there's a pond for fishing and swimming with a canoe and paddle boat handy (I'll write more about Pond Envy later)... a firepit... and large tables for family poker games.
In between it all, Tom, TG, and I squeezed in drives through Manitowoc and the small surrounding towns where the Shallue's lived, loved, married and died.
We have good intentions of going back someday and promises from cousins, aunts and uncles to come visit us in Texas, but we know from experience that good intentions and promises can be set aside and forgotten.
I hope that doesn't happen to us again.
Sue with cousin Steven and Aunt Marg in 1983, when we first met, in 1985 with Grandma and Grandpa at her wedding (and I think her Grandma Place), and last week with husband Ron, just before Sarah's wedding...
Revisiting the house that raised 10 kids: in 1984 when Tom and I visited Grandma and Grandpa... and last week. We've changed a bit, but it hasn't, has it? Actually, from here, I don't think Tom has changed much, either. Hmmm...
Driving through the countryside, we came across this seemingly abandoned building, a former Catholic Church - St. Nazianz. There's also an abandoned Seminary on the grounds. It looks like someone is trying to restore them, and I hope they're successful. I found a link that reports the area to be haunted, and that thought certainly crossed our minds, but it was unlocked, so of course we stepped inside to explore... (the Girl enjoyed this adventure.)
Tom and I were determined to visit cemeteries on this trip... first the cemetery where the first American Shallue's were buried at St. Isidore, which sadly is no longer a church, and then the Manitowoc cemetery where Grandma and Grandpa are buried. The Girl didn't share our enthusiasm for this adventure, but maybe she will one day.
It took us awhile to find Bridget's grave, but we finally spotted it near her daughter's resting place...