The Suitcase Lady

Hometown

January 12, 2010, 9:15 pm

My husband grew up in Lake Wobegon. Of course, the name of his hometown was different, and it lacked a lake, but in every other respect, his birthplace was the quintessential Midwestern, small country town.

The most distinguishing feature of my husband’s town was dirt. Other states have state cookies (biscochitos in New Mexico) or state insects (nine-spotted lady bug in New York), but Wisconsin has an official state soil, and that is what my guy’s hometown stands on – Antigo Silt Loam.

Flat fields surround the town and one crop, potatoes, predominates. Most everyone who is born on this land remains a potato-eater for life. My mother-in-law, for instance, always carried a ten pound sack of potatoes in the trunk of her car when she took cross-country trips.

When my husband was growing up, “downtown” featured a Chatterbox Cafe (aka The Dixie Lunch) which still has homemade kolaches on Friday and Sunday mornings, Gunkel’s Bakery (also going strong after 95 years) and a Montgomery Wards. If you also grew up in a Lake Wobegon, you will recall that the later was referred to as “Monkey Wards” and that Friday night was the big night to come to town for shopping, banking and socializing.

My husband’s hometown has another significant claim to fame: it has a long established independent, daily newspaper. Many little towns had local papers generations ago, but now such independent publications are rare. The Antigo Daily Journal is one of three left in our entire state today.

Another important product of this rural enclave will come as no surprise. Cheese rules in Wisconsin. Antigo’s cheese prowess is firmly established by the excellent hard Italian style cheeses it produces; Romano, Parmesan, Asiago, Fontina and Stravecchio Parmesan. If you have ample potatoes, bread, cheese and a daily newspaper, life is good.

I only have one complaint. Many of the older people in town refer to my husband as “little Russ”. Since he is not short and is also retired, this moniker appears nonsensical. But when you are the youngest of three brothers, I guess your position in a small town is fixed for life.

What makes your hometown memorable?


4 Comments for this entry

  • TERRI

    THANK YOU FOR THAT STORY. I REALLY MISS THE CHEESE, GOING UP NORTH FOR A LONG RIDE WITH THE FAMILY, AND STOPPING BY THE SIDE OF FARM ROADS AND GETTING VEG. AND FRUIT. YUM! GOOD OLD TIMES! THANK YOU FOR THE REMEMBRANCE. GOD BLESS, LOVE TERRI

  • marilyn verick

    My hometown, Waukesha, was known as “Spring City” when I was growing up. There were 3 springs within 2 blocks of my house.

    Now Waukesha is going to court to draw water from Lake Michigan. The springs have run dry.

  • evie

    Dear Russ & Mary–Oh, how similar. I am filled with an urge to drive with you to my Bohemian town of Kewaunee, where we could find a restaurant, or a tavern (they are numerous). We could walk out on the pier, or maybe even find a cheese factory. By the way, my brother Craig worked as an engineer for AC in Milwaukee after he graduated from UW-Madison in ’62.
    And my first job as a children’s librarian was in LaPorte IN, a town that “never was the same” after AC closed. . .

  • Mary

    Eve! I’ll take you up on your offer of a guided tour of Kewaunee ……but let’s wait for a spring thaw! Since I am a bonafide Bohemian, I should fit right in.