I’ll always call Wisconsin home, even if I never live there again. I was born and raised in Wisconsin. It is often said that people don’t appreciate something while they have it. That is certainly the case for me and Wisconsin. Growing up I was embarrassed to say I was from the state. I wanted to be perceived as worldly and was worried that when people found out I was from The Dairy State they would presume I lived on a farm. Oh how things change. Now, as an adult, I can only imagine how amazing it would have been to have grown up on a farm. In fact, one of my still unmet goals in life is to milk a cow. Really.
Driving towards my parents’ home through Wisconsin farmland, I was struck by the beauty of the state. Unlike other Midwest states, Wisconsin farms are often on rolling hills surrounded by lakes and densely wooded areas. I arrived during the most bland time of the year. The colorful autumn leaves had already dropped leaving the trees bare, the cornfields had been harvested for the season, and everything was a dull brown color. Yet I still looked around in wonderment. The red barns and silver silos just make me smile. I could be biased because I grew up there, but really, I think Wisconsin farmland competes with the ocean cliffs we visited in Big Sur in terms of raw beauty. About a mile from home I rounded a curve on the two-lane highway on which I was driving and that’s when I saw them — over 300 Sandhill Cranes in a cornfield! A couple weeks earlier I had traveled all the way to North Platte, Nebraska to see them during their winter migration south and I didn’t see a single one. Yet now without searching for them, and practically in my parents’ backyard, I see a field covered in Sandhill Cranes. It was like the clouds parted and the angels looked down and sang “Hallelujah, welcome home Kee Kee!” There were a lot of emotions involved with traveling home. The closer I got, the bigger the knot in my throat grew. When I pulled into the driveway and my mom and dad opened the front door the floodgates opened and I started to cry. I never dreamed Princess would be in Wisconsin, or that Yoda would ever spend time at my parents’ house, or that I would be on a road trip for the reasons I’m taking it. Yet there Yoda and I were, standing in my parents’ foyer. Although I grew up in Middleton, a western suburb of the capital city of Madison, for the past 3 1/2 years my parents have lived in a village called Pardeeville. As teenagers my sisters and I made fun of Pardeeville, which none of us had ever visited. How could you not make fun of a place with such a name, especially when the village has a population of less than 2,000 and includes many Amish farms? Yet really, Pardeeville is paradise. My parents built their house on a quiet bay on Park Lake. In the summer we swim, kayak, canoe, enjoy cocktails on the pontoon boat and marvel at the blue herons, turtles and wild minks that live around the lake.
In the winter the lake offers different delights. Every morning I had coffee on the sun porch in front of a fire, at times watching bald eagles plunge into the water to grab a fish. Flocks of geese constantly squawked as they flew overhead. I watched the lake freeze over, thaw, freeze again and then be blanketed with the first heavy snowfall of the season.
I was grateful to be home in time for Thanksgiving. Really, one of the things in life for which I’m most thankful is my family. The Buckleys are a tight, fun, gossipy bunch. My three sisters have all married wonderful men, and as a result I now have seven fabulous nieces and nephews. I had been counting the days to this holiday because it is rare that we are able to gather everyone together. The twins, Debbie and Didi, are both ER nurses so their work schedules often leave them working holidays. That, combined with me only making it home twice a year makes large family gatherings pretty challenging to pull off. This year Thanksgiving was held at my sister Betsy’s house and we were joined by some of Betsy and Didi’s extended family members. For those counting, that made 22 people at the dinner table. This made it all the more unbelievable that this was one of those rare holidays where everyone got along. There was no squabbling, no bickering, and none of the in-your-face dysfunctional family drama that seems to universally go hand-in-hand with holidays. Yet, this was without a doubt the most difficult holiday of my life. Looking around I saw happiness in the eyes of everyone in the room. They all have healthy, loving families, beautiful houses and jobs that they enjoy. Now I realize that no one’s life can ever be truly perfect. But what I saw with my parents and my sisters is that they were all, at least on that day, truly content with their lives. Looking back my heart swells with this bit of knowledge. But in the moment I felt like a stranger in my own family. I’ve lived a very different life than the rest of them, including moving across country when everyone else stayed close to home. I have also always been the successful overachiever, yet there I was single, childless, unemployed and (for the moment anyway) living out of my car. This isn’t at all where I expected to be at this point in my life. Where is my house? My husband? My kids? My healthy retirement account? I spent the entire evening unsuccessfully attempting to choke back tears. I constantly snuck off to the bathroom, laundry room and basement to try to collect myself. My family must have thought I was insane to take Yoda on as many dog walks as I did. No one talked to me about it later, but I’m sure they noticed that I hardly said two words all night. I’m ashamed. Deeply. But let’s face it – I’m on a journey to find contentment, and the reminder that I still haven’t been able to completely make peace with my broken life was something for which, on this holiday of gratitude, I wasn’t at all thankful.
Overall, the rest of my 2 week stay was really nice. I visited reindeer and saw a 3D movie with one sister’s family, had ice-cream and frozen custard (yes, both on the same day) with another sister’s family, saw some old friends, and enjoyed being warm and cozy inside the house as the first major snowstorm of the season hit. Walking Yoda in freezing temperatures wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but really, I had forgotten how much I love the sound of snow crunching beneath my boots.
My favorite day was near the end of my stay when my parents and I visited the different Pardeeville Amish farms. We hit the Amish bakery, the Amish cheese maker, the Amish furniture builder, the Amish general store, and best of all, the Amish candy maker who makes the best chocolate covered toffee I’ve ever tasted. I think her secret is adding butter. Lots of it. Perhaps that is also the secret to finding contentment in life. Everyone should take their life, no matter what state it’s in, and figuratively slather butter all over it. Nothing is ever perfect because perfection quite simply doesn’t exist. However if we thickly spread on the butter, a life that once seemed empty or meaningless just might begin to feel a bit more delicious. Butter makes everything taste better. And the butter in my life is my family…every single one of them. It’s quite fitting that my home, The Dairy State, delivered this latest lesson of the road. And for that, I’m truly thankful.
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