What's it like growing up in Upper MI? This is a very skeletal try at my first long piece.
|Now, being away from the home I grew up in for some time, I have come to realize that being raised the great white north meant my childhood was somewhat different than others. I didn’t know, until college really, that not everyone’s winter in the Midwest meant dealing with an excess of three hundred or so inches of snowfall each year, or that not everyone had school cancelled not on account of snowfall, but because of forty below wind chills. The roads here are covered in sand, not salt, in the winter because it is too cold for salt to properly melt ice. I say that again, too cold for salt to melt ice, does that strike you as maybe also too cold to, oh I don’t know…inhabit? Apparently not when one is dressed in a Kmart snowsuit and child sized Sorrels. No when donned in that, you can walk the sixty seven miles to school and back and still have the good reason to want to play out in the snow banks until it gets dark. We played in the enormous snow banks until it did get dark and we were called in for dinner, our hands and faces freezing and leaking snot down our faces. On the weekends, we would once again be sent out into the white wasteland to play, toting sleds that would plummet us down hills and inevitably too close to the one enormous maple tree that always seemed to sit at the bottom of every sliding hill and threatened to turn ones head into something that resembled a Halloween pumpkin that had been left out on someone’s porch for far too long. We occupy our afternoons like this, sliding down the hills and running back up taking care to avoid the sled runs that we had taken most of the afternoon to perfect.
There were days when it was too cold to play outside. These were usually the days that we were kept home from school, the days when it was too cold to start the car, too cold, even for the snow to stick together to make forts in. On these days we did stay inside and occupy our time trying to drive our mother completely insane. We were surprisingly good at this for being so young, and we continually were honing this talent. My mother however also had a talent, that of keeping two housebound children out of her hair. For some reason, this always involved playing in the kitchen. Yes, I agree this is odd, letting two children play in the kitchen to keep occupied. The only explanation I can give you is that we were children of the 80’s and many of our toys, for some strange reason, involved the use of excessively hot temperatures or electricity. My favorite toy was my Lite Brite and happened to involve both electricity and hot temperatures. In looking back, I don’t know why it would be deemed safe to put the black construction paper of the Lite Brite pattern almost on top of a glowing hot light bulb that lit it and let a child poke the tiny candy colored plastic pieces into the holes to make a pattern. Nonetheless, I did occupy many afternoons enthralled, leaning into the glowing rapture of the Lite Brite as the wind howled outside and whipped snow around in the yard. Other favorites of mine were of course, the Easy Bake oven, where an even hotter light bulb than that in the Lite Brite was needed in order to cook tiny cakes and other semi edible items. Later, my brother would have his own version of the Easy Bake, the Creepy Crawly Bug Maker that baked goop into plasic bugs instead of cakes. Shrinky Dinks also held a fascination for my brother as well as me, as we could shrink both Rainbo Brite as Transformers down to miniature size as we sat rapt in front of the oven. I still don’t know what you were supposed to do with the miniature plastic cutouts of Rainbo Brite and Strawberry Shortcake, but this really didn’t matter, that the point was not to play with the Shrinky Dink, only to shrink it.
After an afternoon of playing with the oven, we knew it was time to get out of the kitchen and let our mother cook dinner when we heard National Public Radio come on, when we heard that, it was evening and time for our father to come home from work. To this day, the theme song to All Things Considered makes me think it is time to make dinner. We were pretty poor, not desperately poor or the poor were you have to choose what bills to pay, but poor nonetheless. Mom and Dad certainly knew we were poor, but my brother and I really had no idea. We ate pork chops because they were cheap and spaghetti a lot. My mother made our salad dressing by mixing relish, ketchup, and mayo together and calling it Thousand Island dressing, putting it on iceberg lettuce with raisins and walnuts and calling it waldorff salad.