Wisconsin is cheese. We all know this, we learn it in our youth. If we miss it then, there are cheese hats for football games made famous by super bowl champs, Wisconsin’s finest, the Green Bay Packer’s. But just as I drive across the border from Illinois, I notice a large billboard that says, Wisconsin Home of the…and then a truck blocks my vision so I have to hold tight the wheel, stop laughing for a moment from silly thoughts and mind wanderings and turn quickly while maintaining my speed of 80 mph or so to find out what else resides in Wisconsin, besides cheese. Butter Burgers? Does that really say Butter Burgers? What is a Butter Burger? Maybe it’s related to the cheese, the dairy…the butter…Butter Burger? I don’t know, and I will not find out today. What ever floats your boat, or curds your whey.
Wisconsin is so much more than cheese. It’s rolling landscape, and flat landscape and sod landscape. It’s home of great spiritual mounds of earth created or mounded, if you will, by Native Americans, a great long time ago. These “Mound People” took mounds of earth and carried them, by the handful, step over step, and deposited the mounds of earth to form symbols and animals and messages to the heavens. I drive through one section, and get absolutely joyous. After a long drive through tall, abundant fields of corn bursting with pride, I am surprised to see the land suddenly change. Little rolling hills, but unlike any I’ve ever seen before, it honestly looks like mother earth was tickled by father sun in these great wide fields that suddenly turn to dimpled, little hills and dales, yes, dales. I know, I am taking great liberties here telling my tale of going cross country on this solo expedition of delight and freedom and a great wide opening of a heart closed for too long.
I stop and visit that little Switzerland town, you know, New Glarius (see previous post for more information). I see the artwork and lifelong dedication of an immigrant farmer thankful for what he has in this country of ours. I make it to the Mississippi River, to Pikes Peak. I drive across another border into Iowa and the river town McGregor. Population 869 give or take. It is dark by now and I am tired from my journey. I am welcomed into the home of Ramaona and Dorrance, innkeepers of The Lamp Post Inn. I made reservations to stay in their beautiful bed and breakfast, just days before leaving. As soon as I enter, Ramona greets me and shows me my room, upgraded, because she is certain I will feel more comfortable in a larger room with a private bathroom. Of course she is right, and I don’t balk or refuse. She brings me upstairs and walks me through the process of breakfast and keys and coming and going. It is early enough but I let her know I am in for the night, exhausted from driving and happy for the comfort of a bed.
Ramona asks about my journey, She wants to know what lead me to this great adventure. For a moment I can’t answer, and then offer something clumsily. “Oh, because I finally can, and I never have.” What exactly did lead me to her home so far away from my own? It is not as simple as turning 50, or raising my children and now having some freedom. It is no longer the after affects of “the divorce” but maybe a little. It is all of that and more, and how can I tell this woman with heart and soul and genuine care alighting her every movement what I am not completely certain of? That I have lived too small a life and I want a chance at bigger now? We fall into conversation and in this brief time I find out one of her daughters is an artist, the house adorned with paintings and apparent love of a place so far away from my own. I learn one of her son’s, who had special needs, died recently of cancer. I learned how she was told when he was so very young what very little potential he had already, from a professional at the school he attended. She learned also, that I am a special ed teacher, recovering from cancer and journeying because I never before had the opportunity. In brief moments we learned a great deal about each other without prodding or feeling a sense of intrusion. At this time in my life, at 50, I am learning so much, or maybe I am finally, accepting what I have already known; That the world is full of love and giving hearts and opportunities for nourishment and kindness and giving as well as receiving. I learned so much in this brief moment in the home and from the heart of Ramona, a beautiful woman with a giving heart in the heartland of this country. A pioneer spirit. A survivor, not unlike myself.
I sleep well and dream. I am blessed and joyous in my journey. I awake early, thrown by the time change, momentarily confused whether I am going backwards in time or forward? It is 7:30 in New York, but 5:30 here in Iowa. I get thrown for a minute when I notice the time on my laptop differs from the time on my cell phone, which differs from the time in this bedroom. I worry that I missed the early morning breakfast that I requested and feel slightly foolish, and imposing. I am relieved when I find out I have another hour, and maybe slightly concerned that this time travel will catch up with me later in the day as I make my way towards Effigy Mounds and eventually Mount Rushmore. I take advantage of the extra time to get my words onto paper describing Chicago and other joyous observations. I am beginning to feel a stronger sense of my journey and maybe the path I am taking is getting clearer. There is a stronger theme emerging anyway.
I am realizing the great amount of work and play that is done through the handiwork of men and women across this country, the world at large, is evident everywhere. So large how can it flow from the hands of humans, mere mortals, without a larger meaning? The hand-made art work, the hand-made mounds, the hand-crafted baroque embellishments in the hand-built basilicas of Chicago, the hand-dug lands of the sod-covered fields. So much, emerges from the hands of people, much like you and I. What capabilities, what gifts, what potential. I thread the tapestry of my journey thus far, realizing the art of southern self-made artists, of Chicago’s finest architects, many that came from all corners of the earth for the opportunity to leave their hand-stamped legacies is hand-made and heart-felt. The carefully constructed sculptures in Grandview, Wisconsin, the pastries, and meals prepared, the farmland and mounds and so much more all made by the hands of each of us. Touched by God, or a god, or the desire and will to leave our hand-print on something larger, more than ourselves is awe inspiring.
After breakfast, I pack up, well fed and humbled by the brief but heartfelt connection shared between this hostess and myself. I am ready to journey on, but I first wish to purchase a painting of the heartland, to remember and to support the hand that creates such art, the daughter of a woman, that has surely touched the hearts of many. Before I go, Ramona tells me more of her story. Of the loss of her son, Adam. But not really. She speaks only of gains and life and love and how her son, who had such little expected potential, touched the lives of so many. She brings me closer to her life and her heart, she shows me the handprint her son made shortly before he passed. He was in the hospital on Mother’s Day, dying of cancer that came hard and fast. He needed a gift for his mother for Mother’s Day. When Ramona arrived at the hospital, tired, but eager to see her son, her beautiful boy that touched so many, a man now in his late thirties, she couldn’t understand why the staff was behaving so happy to see her, sharing with her how happy Adam, her son, would be to see her. She was there everyday, what was this about, she wondered but briefly. And there she understood, when she received her gift. She smiled widely in sharing this. “You will appreciate this gift, Ginger, since you are a special ed teacher.” She showed me, his handprint, in plaster, with his name signed, Love Adam and Happy Mother’s Day.
This theme emerges throughout my journey, this being touched by the hand of God or something, larger than me, holding me safely and leading me on. I go out into the town of McGregor, in Iowa, on the Mississippi River.