Prolog: Thanksgiving in Wisconsin
Our Thanksgiving plans had been made for some time. Drive to Wisconsin before Thanksgiving, visit Martin and Tanya the weekend after, and then drive back home, hoping there was no blizzard on either end. But a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, we get a "last minute deal" from Princess: 10 day Panama Canal Cruise from Acapulco to Fr. Lauderdale plus airfare only $1100. Now I always wanted to do a Panama Canal cruise, but had looked only at the in-out trips, since round trip airfare from Ft. Lauderdale was usually not too bad. But here we got both cheap air and cheap cruise plus stopping off at Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. But the ship left on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and driving all day back to Virginia on Friday just to be able to hop on a plane to fly to Acapulco on Saturday seemed a little much. But then we had the bright idea, why not get the roundtrip air to and from Chicago? After all, we could leave the car at Lois's place, drive to Chicago with Martin and Tanya after Thanksgiving dinner, have a nice day visiting them, and then have one of them take us to the airport the next day. We called and indeed got everything booked, but it turned out that the plane left already at 6:45 AM. Oh well, still better than not going!
When we arrived back in Wisconsin after a three week hiatus, winter had already set in despite the fact that when we had left we had enjoyed the last part of a warm, golden autumn. The roads were still clear, but a thin layer of snow covered the landscape, giving it a pure, glowing coat of irridescent white. The dark forms of the farm buildings sticking up from the frozen fields stood out in stark contrast to the brilliant white, giving some relief to the eye.
It was, however, still early in the winter season so the Fox River that flows North-South in that part of Wisconsin had not completely frozen over. When I walked downstream from Waterford to Rochester and back again on the opposite side, I saw that the edges were frozen in some places, but the main channel was wide open. That gave the ducks and geese plenty of open water to feed and paddle around in.
The family Thanksgiving in Wisconsin was the usual happy, chaotic whirlwind. My sister Lois cooked the turkey and made minced pie and a sweet potato cassarole the day before. Monika made cole slaw and my other sister Phyllis made her famous (infamous?) green jello salad to contribute to the meal. That way on Thanksgiving morning we could all concentrate on finishing the other side dishes and setting up the extra tables and place settings.
When our relatives and their families started arriving, they brought other side dishes and desserts so there was never a question of having enough food for 18 people. Rather, it was more a question of where they could all sit! But as it turned out we had exactly enough places to seat the people who actually showed up. We all had a very nice meal during which we chatted madly away trying to catch up on the events in each others' lives over the past year. I was talking so much I didn't get to have seconds, but that was probably just as well.
Each family has its own customs, some of which may appear strange to outsiders, and our family is no exception. One of our customs is to break off eating after the main meal at Thanksgiving and go down into the basement for a half hour or so of vigorous English Country Dancing. English Country Dancing, for the uninitiated, is the type of dancing popular in the American colonies around the time of George Washington, the very first President of the United States. As you can see, my family tends to be a bit old-fashioned, if not antique, in its preferences.
The dancing itself, however, is remarkably energetic and my family is an enthusiastic if unskilled group of amateur dancers. But as I heard Lois say right at the end of the dancing, "For a group of people that only dance once a year, they do just great!" Once the dancing is over, then, and only then, can we all come back upstairs to sample the desserts. A lot of my family likes to eat desserts, so they really put themselves out to make nice ones. This year Linda, bless her heart, had even made a low-fat version of a custard + chocolate concoction so that I could eat dessert without guilt.
Leaving our car comfortably ensconced in Lois's garage, we drove home with Martin and Tanya to Chicago. We wanted to visit with the newlyweds and their cats for a day and then they were going to drive us out to Ohare Airport at 4 a.m. for our early morning flight to Acapulco. We like staying with Tanya and Martin for many reasons aside from their cats, one of which is a loving furball and the other of which is a rather crochety old lady. They also live in an interesting neighborhood, which is informally called "Boys Town". "Interesting", of course, can imply either "interesting good" or "interesting bad". On the good side, the Boys Town area has an astonishing variety of ethnic restaurants and boutique-style shops (including several used book stores!), which is quite a contrast from the suburbs. The Lake Michigan lakefront is nearby and the really nice Lincoln Park Zoo, located, surprisingly enough, in Lincoln Park, is just a short walk away.
On Friday and Saturday nights, however, the bars of Boys Town do a booming business. That doesn't affect us non-bar people except for when the bars close at 2 a.m. and all their inebriated customers go rolling home for the night. We were desperately trying to get some sleep before our 4 a.m. wake-up call, but when I heard the drunks having loud discussions on the street in front of us, I just naturally started to listen in. My tendency to eavesdrop, in addition to being a moral failing, turned out to be absolutely fatal to my attempts to get back to sleep!Copyright 2009 by Robert W. Holt and Elsbeth Monika Holt