Tom’s Posts Archives

FAR FROM MONONA, WISCONSIN

Like many families, this month finds us traveling in an attempt to stall the end of summer. For us August is always a sort of time travel. Each year we return to the scene of the crime, Cape Cod, where my wife and I were married twenty years ago this October. The place we lived while the roads seemed lined with possibilites.

As we bored our five children with tales and sites of where we married, lived and dreamed of the life we would have in Hyannis Port (or Hyannisport) it all seemed like only yesterday. To our teens it also seemed like only yesterday, as they moaned and groaned that they had heard all of these stories and seen these sites before. But this year was different. This year they took note of where we were.

For the first time our tribe seemed to realize that the homes perched upon Nantucket Sound were mansion-like. They were in awe of the exculsive Beach Club and envious of teens their age driving very nice jeeps with little care– several nearly falling out of those jeeps as they parked however they wanted– as if intoxicated.

“How could you ever leave Hyannis Port?” our daughter asked us.

I asked myself the same thing suddenly.

It was not easy. At the time it was a heavy loss.

“I wish I grew up here!” our oldest daughter complained. “Then I would be rich and spoiled, if you didn’t move from Hyannis Port.”

It was true, I thought as I recognized the teens in the jeep from a family I waved to and greeted as neighbors when our children were all still in strollers. Hyannis Port was a long way from Monona, Wisconsin.  Far from Monona, Wisconsin I wondered where our plan had gone wrong. We had failed to give our children the lives we hoped to give them.

“You are spoiled,” I told my daughter.

That did not go over well.

“You are richer than you know because you are growing up in Monona.”

That did not go over well.

In Truro we treated ourselves to a meal out because too many cooked meals on vacation make it feel almost like not being on vacation.

The server was a teenage girl who said she enjoyed working at the seaside spot, located near a string of salt houses grown out of sand and sea grass so that the yards are the Atlantic Ocean. When I asked the teen server if she enjoyed working the dinner shift, rather than the early morning breakfast one she did last year, she said she did, I asked if it was because she could go to the beach during the day.  Her answer surprised us.  She does not go to the beach during the day, she told us, but cleans houses and watches children because there are no jobs in Truro during the off-season. She has to work hard when she can she said. This stayed with us.

As we left our daughter who wanted to have grown up in Hyannis Port said she felt rich and spoiled because she lives in Monona.

We continue to travel Cape Cod this month, reminded of where we began our life together and how we thought it would turn out.

None of it is as it should be according to the plans we made. Monona, Wisconsin was not even on the map for us twenty years ago. The plan did not belong to us but, somehow, it could not have turned out any better. Of that we all are sure.

A MOMENT OF TRANQUILITY

July always finds us spending countless hours at the pool for lessons, free swim and special events. So I found myself in the middle of our 32nd lesson when military jets flew overhead.

Two small boys near me began yelling and counting the jets. It reminded me of the period of time when our teenagers were that age.

We would stand in the yard of the small house we rented watching the jets fly over us. Sometimes I would hope the jets would not fly over when I had our kids, we only had three then, all taking a nap at once. During those stolen moments I would have a very narrow window to sit in the yard watching a ball float in the kiddie pool for a moment of tranquility. The jets would fly over. Everyone was awake.

As I thought about this I realized two things all at once. The first thing: As those jets passed over the yard all those years ago when our teens were still small we were not at war. The second thing: Our youngest do not remember, have never really known, a period of time when we were not at war.

One of the many images that have remained with me these past five years, as I have worked on a novel about a group of young people forever changed by the events of September 11th, was how empty the sky was when no planes were allowed to fly overhead. It struck me as I stood on Lake Monona with a filled stroller that day. I am still moved by the memory of it.

Reminded of my quest for a bit of quiet time those few short years ago when our teens were still babies really, during a period of time when peace was all that we knew, I could not help feel a bit sad for all that we have lost. Then I smiled at the loud cries of the boys.  They looked like performers as they attempted to roar loud as the jets, jumping and dancing around the deck of the pool while their parents wearily looked for the thing we are all in search of–peace and tranquility.

A PLACE CALLED MONONA

   Twelve years ago today we woke to our first day of living in a place called Monona.

    Although it is a blur of small children and excited energy we recall falling in love with our new town right away.

    A steady stream of new neighbors appeared on our doorstep to introduce themselves and offer us help, if we needed it.

    All these years later moving to Monona is still the best decision we ever made.

     

HOUSEGUESTS AND FISH….

    We have had a series of houseguests since early June. It will go on pretty strong til mid-July. One of our neighbors recently told me, as our current group of guests go on their eleventh day, that houseguests are like fish–they should be thrown out after three days.
    

    Monona  lends itself to hosting houseguests.  Summer is the time when people seem to visit the most.  This time of year, as we approach the Fourth of July Festival, carnival and fireworks display, our modest three-bedroom ranch takes on the life of a hotel.

    Over the years there have some big adventures within these walls.  A few awkward moments also as our family of seven shares one bathroom with our series of houseguests. 

    Some guests bring their pets.  More than once we have run through yards after a wayward dog, getting to know our neighbors better than we should.  Once a guest insisted on keeping his dog on a leash in our home the entire time because we do not have a fence around our property.  A large dog kennel took over our bedroom for several visits.

     Most of our guests bring children.  We had anxious first-time parents who insisted no fans run during the entire time they stayed–because the fans would disturb the baby.  A surprise to us as our five kids slept through anything.  It was a summer visit, quite warm.  Long after a group left the smell we had been wondering about turned out to be a meal children with one group did not like.  They had shoved plates of it behind the sofa on the three-season porch.  Many a teenage drama played out before us over the years.

    We have had several types of guests over the years.

     There are the ‘spare-of-the- moment guests’ who phone that they are on their way from the road.  Could we please have a spread of food waiting?  These calls have come often, sometimes at two in the morning.

    The ‘reluctant guest’ is hesitant to come.  They must be convinced.  When it is time to leave there is always a long goodbye, sometimes taking several days as they extend their stay.

     We have had the ‘Bring Along’ guests who had to bring extra people with them.  It was impossible to leave anyone out of the plans.   We found room, of course.

     There are the ‘Early Drivers’ who insist on waking the entire house so we will all be able to stand in the driveway to wave goodbye–at three in the morning.  They prefer to drive when there is little traffic.  Blinking away sleep, holding off tempers, gather to see them off we do.

    But there is always fun to be had. 

    For years snow we saved from winter was made into snowballs on a hot July Day. Countless Christmas trees were decorated, patriotic often, for Christmas in July celebrations.  We have stayed up all night changing the themes in the house from Halloween to Thanksgiving then Christmas to get in all the holidays we would miss together.  Valentine’s Day bled into Saint Patrick’s Day one year in a long weekend visit that ended with an Easter Egg Hunt.    

    Our guests have gone with the flow. 

     One Fourth of July when the temps were near a hundred the entire time our air conditioner was not working.  We took turns taking car rides, desperate to find reason to leave the house, for a bit of relief.  A flood in the bathroom, caused by a diaper stuffed down the toilet,  rushed into the hallway and foyer over the wood floors.  Guests helped clean up.   When freezing rain hit we had guests helping to chip ice from the driveway. One weekend guests built a room in the basement for us. 

    Having so many guests has perks.  We have experienced Monona and Madison through the eyes of visitors.  That always leaves us in a bit of awe over where we live. 

    Houseguests might be like fish–best thrown out after three days.  But in the end we find ourselves like the woman with many children who forgets the pain of childbirth.   After it is all said and done we are exhausted and worse for wear muttering we will never do it again…until next time.

SUMMER FUN IN MONONA

 Reading The Front Porch Times gives us great ideas for enjoying Monona.  Recently we had the pleasure of trying TASTE OF CHINA, a Monona business suggested a few weeks back.  The ideas for summer fun in Monona aside from the pool will be a treat to try this season.  Slip N Slide, Popsicles at Copps , sprinklers and the various parks sound like a blast.  But for us summer in Monona is the pool. 

 
   For many years we attended the pool but could not swim.  Our youngest two had feeding tubes and trachs that kept them out of the water for several years of their childhood. While the older kids went in the water we watched. 
 
   During that period we were lucky the Monona Pool allowed us to bring in things like paint brushes, to “paint” the deck around the wading pool with water from buckets– when getting into the water or standing under the cascade of the mushroom was not possible.
 
   For some reason, perhaps because we could not do it at one point, we live at the pool during the summer.  In addition to afternoon swims we also take swim lessons in the mornings and evenings.  Many nice moments are spent seated at the tables by the concessions stand– feeling a breeze from the park across the street after a swim.  The lifeguards and pool staff feel a bit like extended family members at times because we have watched them grow from high school students to young adults over the years.  A day in summer without going to the pool feels a bit incomplete.
 
   Over the years we have graduated from the wading pool to the shallow end of the big pool, then to the deeper section.  Now we enjoy being near the slide and boards.  On Fridays we get a thrill watching the dive team do fantastic feats–free entertainment.
 
   A season pass is a great way to go.  Although we spend a good deal of time at the pool it also allows us to stop in for a ten minute dip. 
 
   For added fun the parks and library are located within walking distance of the pool.
 
   Jake Anderson has brought some new features to our pool the past few seasons.  In addition to the various special events during the afternoons the pool now has Flick and Float–movies shown at night.  
 
    Sunday is a great time to attend the pool.  Evenings there after a weekend of activity are a nice time to relax.  Toys are allowed in the water.  It is a great place for families to spend time together before another week begins.  When traveling for the weekend, returning home to Monona in time to get a dip in on a Sunday extends the ‘away’ feeling just a bit longer before Monday calls.
  
    For more information about events at the pool in Monona contact:
       
                 The Monona Community Center–(608) 222-4167
 
                 The Monona Pool–(608) 222-3098
 

A Monona Tradition…

Before we even lived in Monona the Memorial Day Parade became part of our lives. As we waited for the closing on our home in Monona we would visit each weekend, filled with excited anticipation, to look at the house and drive through the town. Over the holiday weekend we stumbled upon the parade. As we watched we hoped Monona would become our new home. All these years later we still enjoy the parade on Memorial Day. Rain or shine it is a good time. Grab a chair Monday and enjoy the tradition as it rolls by.

A BIG SPLASH!

Jake Anderson and his staff launched another pool season for the Monona Community Center today on a picture perfect afternoon. Like a nice fitting glove familiar lifeguards greeted patrons while keeping everyone safe. A few new snacks appeared on the menu in the concessions stand. Rumor has it that the slushies are better than ever this year. Don't waste any time checking out what is new and familiar. Look for special events as the summer gets into full swing.

Monona Launches Garage Sale Season

REAL AMERICAN IDOLS

Anita’s post regarding an Elvis Sighting in Madison reminded me of American Idols as one of mine appeared on television.

As I was going through my morning routine Friday Sting appeared on the TODAY SHOW. He was singing songs I recalled from college. I stopped to remember a brief meeting with him.

One college summer, long before I ever dreamt of living in Monona, friends of mine made a plan. We would all take the last day of work off of our various summer jobs to travel up to Wisconsin from Chicago to see THE POLICE in concert. Enroute we stopped at an Oasis that stretched across the highway. It was pretty empty. In line for food we saw the band–THE POLICE.

Because we were all in college we tried to play it cool. But one of our friends brought along her younger brother. He was in high school, very energetic. To our dismay he did not mind approaching the band in line for food. Grant asked for an autograph! This flew in the face of my attitude of never approaching public people. Dismay melted among our small college group as Sting stood with us signing a ticket stub for Grant.
“Are you going to this?” Sting asked Grant, regarding the concert we were on our way to that afternoon.
Grant nodded, responding with his usual amount of excitement.
“So am I!” Sting said as he handed Grant the autographed ticket stub.
For the rest of the night, the rest of his life I am sure, Grant prized that ticket stub. I have always cherished the memory also.

I do recall Elvis in a different way than Anita does because my mother was crazy about him when I was young. She still is. As a child I saw every single Elvis movie, so it seemed. Our mother would dance around to his music, first in our Chicago apartment where the Elvis films played on television then later in our various homes. For her sixtieth birthday party our mother had an Elvis/Fifties theme. I recall Elvis in his prime, and the red faces my brother and I had for our mother as she danced around to his music. We laughed at her and her ‘old’ music. Given to depression most her life our mother seems to have known little happiness. Those moments with Elvis were happy times for her.

Real American Idols: Elvis and Sting. The other morning when Sting appeared on television I almost started to dance around. Luckily I came to my senses so I did not have to see the red face of my teenage son who had a late morning at the high school as I enjoyed my ‘old’ music. But in my head I was dancing–to an Amercan Idol because every little thing he did was magic.

A ZEN MOMENT IN MONONA

If you are looking for a zen moment: spend a few minutes at the waterfall at the Monona Community Center. A great way to start a day!

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