Up North

Offhand I can’t think of many of my friends who still live in the city in which they were born, never, in effect, leaving home.  I’m not counting  Dearly Beloved, who is back where he was born because that’s after forty years of living other places.   Better in his natal city than mine though.  (Hit the bypass, DB!)

My address book is a chronology of the places we’ve lived. . . and the friends who still live there.  We have reached a stage of life that some of the updates I make to the book are not  just changes of address…but I suppose that depends on how you look at it.  

Several special friends and relatives died during the past year.  Even if I rarely saw them, they were dear to me and I miss them.  What is the proper address book etiquette here?   I’m not being glib; that bothers me.  Does one simply erase them as if they never existed or is it more respectful to strike through the name so that it’s still visible?  (Carefully, with a ruler.) If  some of my address book pages are full,  is it gauche  to put a sticker with another  name over the space previously occupied by  the deceased?   (Raise your hand, please,  if you think about things like this too.)   

We loved the Midwest.  The people up there are genuine and inclusive.  My address book is full of them–live ones– because people tend to live longer up there.  Probably something to do with cryogenics.    We moved to Wisconsin in the mid 70’s in late August, a sweltering time in the south, but the leaves had turned and were falling  up there.   We had to go out and buy jackets until the moving van arrived. 

When Memorial Day rolled around that first year, we didn’t even consider the temperature.   Memorial Day in the south is usually several weeks into warm weather,  so I made potato salad and lemonade, packed our stars and stripes napkins,  and our family headed for a nearby park to barbecue chicken on one of the grills and picnic on a table under the trees.  We didn’t mind wearing jackets.

We’d expected the park to be crowded but there were only a few people scattered around the grounds.   No balmy breezes, it was so cold, in fact,  that the charcoal fire wouldn’t get hot enough to cook the chicken.   When the kids’ goosebumps began growing second storeys, we packed up and returned  home to picnic  in the garage, substituting hot chocolate for lemonade and eating chicken baked in the oven. 

Now unless you live in the Midwest, you’re probably thinking, “Silly Southerners. . . they should have realized it was too cold and stayed  home like the natives.” 

No, no…  that’s the amazing thing about Midwesterners.  The locals weren’t absent from the parks because they had stayed home.  Absolutely not!   God only knows why, but the locals all go UP NORTH at times like that!   That’s what they call it:  Up north!   Every chance they get!!!!  

We were already living in north-central Wisconsin and had no idea what the heck could have been “up north” except reindeer?!

We thought it was just a Wisconsin thing but no,  Chicagoans headed  north when we lived there and yes, so did the folks in Minneapolis.   It was hard to believe.  Minnesota  is the land of 10,000 lakes.  Wouldn’t you think they’d look southward to  find one that they liked?!

Granted, Midwesterners  do head south during the winter, as I’ve mentioned previously.  Everybody who doesn’t have a kid in school heads for Florida or Alabama.  Even Canadians trek southward.  South Carolina  seems to be enough of a contrast for them.  Myrtle  Beach, for instance,  holds Canadian–American Days in late February or early March.   Everything is relative, I suppose.  I realize that “not freezing your arse off”  must feel like an improvement, but while Canadians are jumping in the cold Atlantic ocean in late February, the southern locals are heading farther south–like Florida or Mexico or the Caribbean.

Midwesterners certainly enjoy  the rituals of summer.   When June 1 hit up there, DB came home in shock;  he’d never seen so many white belts and shoes in any one spot as he had at work that day.   Never mind if they had to wear coats over them.

You think I’m exaggerating about the cold?  One Mother’s Day in Wisconsin DB had asked a friend who sold trees to bring over his catalogs for me to choose a flowering tree.   (Yes, that’s how we did it there; you can’t tell much from a frozen stick.)  I remember it vividly:  we were sitting in our breakfast room.  I was facing the bay window. looking out.

It was a cloudy day and although I was concentrating on the pictures in the catalog, I kept seeing something falling outside.  Cottonwood seeds?

Mike, the landscape guy, followed my gaze and I finally asked him, truly puzzled…”Mike, what IS that?”

“Uh. . . It’s your basic snow,”  he said.

I burst into tears and the poor guy packed up his catalogs and left, promising to come back on a warmer day…no doubt sometime in July. 

Eventually we ordered three flowering crab-apple trees.  When Pogo and I traveled back years later, those  trees were probably about our height.  Maybe that’s another reason people  live longer up there:   the growing season is  short.   

I suppose you’ve got to ripen before you start to shrivel.


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