Monday, December 10, 2007


Or Oshkosh-sick...Wisconsin-sick.

I'm really feeling it lately. Winter has always been my favorite time of year. It's not like I spent huge amounts of time outside when I was a kid growing up in Northern Illinois, but a lot of my memories are tied to that time of year. I remember my dad taking a picture of the outdoor thermometer when it hit like 30 below. I remember dad going up on the roof and shoveling off the snow because he was afraid it would collapse. My little brother was born during a blizzard.

The cold and snow have never bothered me. I can always put more clothes on. I can pile more blankets on my bed.

One year for Christmas, my gramma and grammpa even bought me an electric blanket.

O.K. I might have been a little disappointed with that gift at the time (I think I was about 13) but, hey, they knew me.

Here in Central Illinois we're going on about our 100th day of ice. Well...maybe that's a little big of an exaggeration. I think it's really like the 4th day in a week...or 3rd in a week. A lot of fuckin' ice. Which isn't a problem....except


When I was little I remember 'betting' my parents if it would snow on my birthday, which is November 12th. Granted, snow on November 12th - even in Northern Illinois - won't last long. I just loved it when it would snow close to my birthday.

When it came time to plan our wedding, I knew we had two windows of opportunity since I was a teacher and all) and those were Summer Vacation or Winter Break. And we didn't really feel like it we could do a quickie thing with me being the oldest and a daughter and all. Well, there was no way in hell I was going to be sweating on my wedding day, so we decided to get married over Christmas Break. Which mean December 18th. And if you do the math, that means 7 days before Christmas.

Uh, yeah, my mother never fails to mention how thoughtless silly I was to plan a wedding a week before Christmas.

**Hey, we honeymooned in Memphis. And it was AWESOME! Memphis is SO not a tourist town in December. It was great and we LOVED getting an all but private tour of Graceland. I highly recommend Beale Street this time of year. It's when the real Blues and Jazz musicians come back home to play. They leave town when the punks show up on spring break. And yes, you should go to Graceland. It is THE American pilgrimage. Green shag capital of the world. A sight to behold. And seriously?! Graceland is fuckin' smack dab in the middle of some salt-box, low-rent, shit - and they had horses and a raquetball BUILDING on that shit property!** slight tangent...sorry

After The Man and I were married and he was just about to finish up school (and #1 was just baby months old) we thought about where we would want to live. The world was wide open. His job is such that the market is wide open. I'm a special ed. teacher...we really could move anywhere. But we wanted to stay relatively close to home.

So we took out a map (literally) and drew a circle that would encompass any towns within 180 miles of his the north. We sent his resume to every hospital that fell within that circle...Madison, WI; Freeport, IL; Tomah, WI; Neenah, WI; Oshkosh, WI;. I think we sent out about 25 resumes. He got an interview for a Mobil X-ray machine in towards Chicago and an interview in Oshkosh.

My in laws had just a year previously purchased a "cabin" about an hour away from Oshkosh. So, we drove up, stayed at the cabin and then drove into Oshkosh for the interview.

I don't think I'll every forget that day. We had #1 in the car with us. I'd been RIF'ed from my teaching position (I still think it's because of hemophilia). As we drove into Oshkosh, we could see Lake Winnebago and the Fox River. The town is divided by a river about 1/3 the size of the Illinois River. And the Fox has a lot of boat traffic in the summer. There are 3 bridges that connect the North side of Oshkosh with the West and South sides. All three bridges are drawbridges!!! Which seems very quaint until you actually have to GET from one side of town to the other!

Also, Oshkosh is bordered on the East by Lake Winnebago...the largest inland lake in the state. Walleye, crappy, white bass, perch, catfish...and sturgeon in the winter. It's competitively fished all summer long. And there are yachts/sail boat races in the summer and ice-sailing in the winter.

In the winter, the Otter Street Fishing Club hosts an ice fishing jamboree for the kids. The also maintain the "ice-ways" [roads on the ice out to the ice shanty's] for the ice fishermen and women.

Just like you see all sorts of boats out on the Illinois River during the summer or fishing boats on a lake in the summer, on our Lake Winnebago, there are "shanty towns" with ice shantys that stay out there as long as it's safe. The fishing club collects Christmas trees that they dump out on the ice to mark the weak spots (in the ice) and line the paths. They also put out "ice bridges" so that the trucks can safely cross the ice breaks (big crack on the ice shelfs) from the freezing and thawing.

People who live on the lake, river, or channels, travel by snowmobile to the same taverns and restaurants that they tied their boats up to during the summer. In times of freezing and thawing there is always more than one tragic death from a snowmobiler that got too close to the mouth of the river in the ice fog. When the thaw happens, there are a couple folks who head out to ice fish and end up on an ice-flow---or big ole' hunk of ice that moves --- and they can't get back and have to be rescued many miles from the place they originally started from.

It's a different way of living. The kids play outside all winter. All of our schools were "neighborhood" schools. Most of the kids walked to school, no took more than 2 feet of snow to close school! And the kids couldn't wait to get outside for recess to build snowmen or play "king of the hill" on the piles of snow that were plowed from the parking lot onto the playground. They played outside until the temperature reached 0. We got notes home reminding us to send more than one set of mittens/hats because the kids came in from recess soaking.

It's just so different here. My boys wore boots, gloves, hats and took snowpants to school the first winter we lived here, in Central Illinois. I kept sending them to school with those things. And they kept coming home saying that they "couldn't" go out for recess. And when they did go out for recess, they had to stay "on the black top". They don't play in the snow here. I don't even know where there IS a sledding hill and we've been here for 2 years! My boys just don't understand. For 9 and 11 years playing in the snow is what you do!!

We used to look forward to winter so much in Oshkosh. After the first major snowfall, we'd all go outside and just eat up how quiet the world sounded with a blanket of insulation.

The way the trees look caked with snow. The image of Ozzy (the 100lb. black lab) running into the house covered with snow and the kids shouting "Ozzy's a dalmatian!". #1 and #2 going to their friends houses for snow parties....tunnels in the snow drifts. The image of Bill (our adopted grampa neighbor) struggling with his snowblower till The Man went to help him. The surprise of waking to find our driveway blown out by our neighbors. The fun of snowblowing the neighbors drive so they'd have the same surprise.

I miss it all.


Ramble On said...

You painted a very pretty picture. Hang in there, the snow will come and the boys can still play outside weekends. Build a snow woman for me.

Jennifer said...

Oh, I feel for you. It's so hard to miss "home."

It's too bad your kids' school is so rigid; my kids go to a rural school and as long as they bring boots and snowpants they can play in the snow at recess (and they have recess thru 8th grade). They also seem to go outside everyday, unless the weather is truly frigid, or there's a downpour.

Some good places to sled: lower Bradley park, Jubilee State college, the cemetary down the street from my house (okay, that one, not so much)....