Photos above: Yooper public art and a LaPorte public nuisance (aka Cary Kirkham).
By Sharon Birlson Kirkham
(Photos provided; click to enlarge)
It’s not Mars or Venus, although I’ve heard men and women differ on which planet it more resembles. It isn’t heaven, however, many people call it “God’s Country.” There are those who say if you ever want to return home, don’t go there in the first place. And, it’s a given, no one will visit just once.
Yes, it’s that little stretch of land, sometimes referred to as the Banana Belt, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or better known as “Yooperland,” our home away from home.
Like LaPorte, the central U.P. gets around 50-60″ of lake-effect snow per season, and our houses, while 368 miles apart, are within 12 miles’ proximity to Lake Michigan. (I know; we need counseling.) We are still finding our way getting use to the differences. There’s camouflage, Christmas programs, ice fishing shanty towns (“ice burgs”), and venison prepared six tasty ways on every restaurant menu.
Where else do people use the 8-point buck they just bagged to make a Christmas donation to the church food pantry? Just drive under the portico and two Yoopers will hoist that bad boy out of the bed of your pickup, skin and butcher it. You never have to leave the warmth of your truck except to get your venison donation receipt from Eleanor in the front office, which includes bragging rights credit in the Sunday morning bulletin.
Most Yoopers prefer the comfort of their own home (where the doors are never locked), or what they call their “camp,” except for that one annual pilgrimage they make across the border in Yoopsconsin to Lambeau Field … Yooperland Holy Mecca. Necessary, if they plan to share a coolie (beer), eat pasties (Yooper soul food) and make football predictions aboot da Pack.
On recent overnight grandparent duty, with the winter Solstice upon us and daylight not arriving until after 8, Cary walked the two little ones up the driveway to catch the 6:45 a.m. school bus. With the stars twinkling like diamonds in the vast black sky, and in pin-drop quiet, to pass the time they began shouting to hear their voices echo through the trees in the woods. No bus … no bus … . Twenty-five minutes later, it finally arrived. Seems the driver had hit a deer and had to return to the school for a different vehicle.
At first glance, when entering the high school gymnasiums for our grandson’s basketball games, it appears the stands are empty. Hey, it’s 20 minutes before tip-off; where is everybody? Oops … my bad, packed house. And they are all wearing camo.
All kidding aside, our similarities far outnumber the differences. Total strangers when we arrived, that little community has welcomed us with open arms. The friendship and love extended to us, our children and grandchildren — not just at Christmas, but year round — has been truly heartwarming.
We love you, LaPorte! Merry Christmas … Aeeee
SHARON BIRLSON KIRKHAM travels and writes. A retired flight attendant, she and her husband Cary were awarded travel privileges for life when she left her job in 2008. They say their intention is to burn it up, and so far they’ve lived up to their promise. Sharon has written and self-published four books, the most recent an e-book, “Skygirl on Cloud 9.” Born, raised and graduated from high school in LaPorte, she and her husband of 36 years are community activists. They love to travel, but always look forward to returning home to their beloved LaPorte.