Home is Where the House Is
So a meal in 100 degree Naperville (the heat wave that was the summer of 2011 was just beginning) and the first 4 cousins were on their way into the Wisconsin wilds, trading stories, catching up, a palpable sense of anticipation in the air as we wondered what the coming days with the rest of the clan would bring. These were some strong Norwegian personalities here.
I had not been to La Crosse, our mother’s hometown, since 1971, Marty and Andy since well before that and collectively we had not all been there at once since about 1960. That’s a whole lotta water under those Mississippi River bridges.
La Crosse, while growing over the years, totally amazed me at how much charm, history and genuine beauty it had managed to retain and build upon. The downtown is a wealth of wonderfully refurbished Victorian era building, thriving with new boutiques, brewpubs and everything that University students require to fritter away their parent’s money.
Cousin Mary had found us a truly remarkable B&B right in the old section of tree lined, right out of “State Fair”, Hollywood on display, Judy Garland singing nostalgia, La Crosse. A huge, perfectly restored Victorian with an entire separate house next door which we had commandeered as Cousin Command Central.
A huge country kitchen, tremendous dining room and huge table which set us to immediately planning a MegaMeal for all the cousins to coalesce over. Cusinpalooza was taking shape, if not form. But first, the rest of the players.
That evening we all began to gather, Mary and Susie, Claire’s sisters who live in La Crosse, myself, Marty and Andy; Marty from Maryland and Andy who lives outside Chicago now, and Mark, up from Stoughton, WI. The Seven Deadly Kins. Again, most of us had not seen or talked to each other in at least 50 years.
There were pictures, stories, shared histories and most of all faces. Faces of our family reflected in each others eyes. How strangely familiar we all seemed, yet not. What I most vividly noticed was the extraordinary disconnect I had when looking at my long distanced cousins. They looked and sounded so much like their mother, my Aunt Harriet, that over and over again I found myself operating under the oddly disjointed assumption that I was, indeed, talking to my long dead aunt! I would catch myself with an almost electric jolt and then realize that a generation has passed, literally, before my eyes and that while I still felt like the small child I had been when we had all last met, decades had ensued, lives had been lived, tragedies and joys incurred; time and lives had gone on and yet here we all were, brought back together through the happenstance of a vision I had for my mother’s final journey. A vision that was about to play out in unimagined ways and with, really, life altering discoveries.
These as yet to arrive discoveries we were headed for are what the Cajuns call, Lagniappe.
Think of it like this, you order a big bowl of steaming andouille gumbo from your favorite New Orleans gumbo shop. While tucking into this rich bowl of succulence, you suddenly pull out a fat juicy shrimp! That’s lagniappe, a sudden, unexpected joyous benefit from someplace you had not intended. This would be my defining take-away from Cuzinpalooza.
The next morning, Marty, Andy, Claire and myself headed into farm country with Spring Green in our sights and Taliesin as our goal. Wending our way to Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic home was a great way to see some of the Wisconsin country that drew our ancestors here and we all shared not only that heritage but a love of all things Wright!
After a sunny warm day of basking in mutual admiration of FLW and wending our way through the quirky, quaint and vaguely familiar Uff Da Wisconsin countryside, where garden gnomes are raised to Icon status and the Norwegian colors flap and flutter as if blown by breezes directly off the fjords…..
And where Cousin Andy found a date for the evenings festivities…..
we headed back to “homebase” where the family dinner that had been delayed for half a century would mark the real start of Cuzinpalooza, 2011.
Next up: Dinner, Drinks and Norwegian Nonsense