If you're paying attention to this blog of mine, you'll quickly come to realize that I love to write and brag about exotic places I've been in the world. I sometimes write with a sort of condescending, provoking voice that may come off pushy or overconfident, but I'm really just trying to get you to question everything...
Since I'm really into trying to keep things real in an increasingly superficial world, let's dial it down and dial it back. I want to share with you a little place I call Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
I was born in a middle-of-nowhere town in Northern Illinois & grew up on a dead-end street in a small Wisconsin town that had "unpopulated" marked on the city sign until more recently. After moving West, I was sort of embarrassed to be from the middle of America, and especially after this American election it doesn't have the nicest ring to it. But as I spend the holidays with my family, neighbors, and community that raised me - I realize how easy it is to forget that I do love it here. Here's why:
It's harsh, extreme even.
We experience all four seasons here. Hot, humid as hell summers ridden with deathly mosquitos, torrential thunderstorms, tornadoes that will rip your house in two. Beautiful crisp falls full of colorful scenic drives with apple picking and pumpkin patches. Bitter, merciless winters of negative degree temperatures & enough snow to cancel school and get to your friends house by skiing down the street or snowmobiling across the frozen lake. Wet, rainy, muddy springs. With these extremes, if you love something, you better be willing to do it rain, shine, ice, wind, or whatever. This is why kids go pro for skiing out of this little ass town, hitting makeshift big airs & half pipes of pure ice or "jibbing" in the rain on grass, gravel, and snow.
I know all of my neighbors, every single one of them.
I grew up in a neighborhood, on a dead end street that more recently (the past 10 years) finally converted the corn fields people used to hit golf balls into to inexpensive 2-story homes. When I was bored as a kid, I'd take my rounds. I stop over across the street at old lady Kay's home for some terrible cookies, Wheel of Fortune, free cigar boxes to put my stuff in, and conversation. I'd then go across the other street to the Olsen's house where I would just walk in the front door and throw a tennis ball down the stairs for their dog to chase and fetch for an hour, sit and browse the TV Guide with Mrs. Olsen while she watched Days of Our Lives. I'd go rollerblade in the cul de sac with the Doll family who had three girls kind of my age, I was the youngest. I'd double book dinners, one at my house and another at my best friends house because her dad always made sundaes. We'd then hang out in the tree fort he built us & collect buckets of tennis balls to throw at the neighbor boys who were always trying to climb up to our top secret tree headquarters. While we were ding-dong-ditching one afternoon, we got chased by a pissed off teenager and ran into the front door of our other neighbors house without knocking or ringing because we knew it would be a safe hiding place. We'd host neighborhood wide cops and robbers games, literally all ages were welcome - we're talking 20-something kids running wild through the neighborhood on a hot summer night.
Everyone knew everyone, and everybody looked out for everybody no matter who you were, what you believed in, or what you looked like.
It takes a village.
Looking back I realize that my parents worked a lot, which meant I had a lot of free time as a kid. But I was never "unsupervised." My neighbors, family friends, and community raised me in every way. My friends parents were my coaches, teachers, and second homes. We didn't pay into a bunch of private lessons for this and for that, we learned everything from what each other had to offer and what was around. On the reverse, the kids I babysat or took care of growing up, are a part of me and vs. vs. & when I come back its my responsibility to check on them and talk about the things they can't always talk with their parents about.
Old friends never die.
No matter how Instagram famous you become or what cool stylish city you live in now, no one from Wisconsin cares. As I sit at our small hometown bar, running into childhood friends, cousins of someones cousins, parents, old teachers - time has stood still here, and I'll forever be the person they always knew and loved no matter where I live and what I do for a living - no one here is impressed with what you've become, but who you still are.
No one gets left behind.
It's an inexpensive, routine, safe place here in the Midwest. People don't lock their doors or deal with crime or confrontation, besides the occasional bar fight - but if we're anywhere else in the world besides Wisconsin, we always come together & help each other.
What a genuine question sounds like.
When you run into someone and they say "I haven't seen you in forever, how are you?" followed by a big hug, they actually mean it. No one is dying to tell you about themselves, they want to know about you, your mom, dad, grandma, brother, and check-in to make sure you're okay and taken care of. vsvs.
That 70's Show, Chris Farley, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Wayne's World...
Small town, big dreams.
When you come from a place that no one has heard of, or wants to visit or cares about, it makes you hungry, hungry to see & try new things, share, and become bigger than the place you came from - and when you come home to your parents house and see the posters that still hang on your wall of mountains and exotic beaches, you get to laugh and thank your 9-year-old self for dreaming big.
At the end of the day, in a very big world where individuality is a big theme and priority - community, without ego or self-promotion, is everything and something I'll take with me everywhere. Thank you Wisconsin.