about bliss

Sunday, June 08, 2008

wet wisconsin weekend: polka mass and breakfast on the farm

This weekend has overflowed with rain, but more importantly, with Wisconsin Culture. My new state of residence has many rich traditions that I've been fortunate enough to witness.

Yesterday I attended Polka Mass with my friends A and The Beard. A explained afterwards that many parts of the mass are usually quieter, encouraging more serious reflection, but with the oompa-loompa of the polka band, the entire mass seemed a jolly affair. The church was packed--kids wearing Packers jerseys, cute old couples wielding umbrellas, and nuns wearing an abbreviated, modern habit.

Check out this YouTube video clip for a taste of polka mass:

After dancing at a colleague's retirement party and staying up entirely too late skimming an improbable and highly transparently plotted romance novel, I fell into a half-sleep, awaking early this morning ruing the two glasses of inexpensive wine I indulged in at the aforementioned soiree. I brewed a mug of strong, thick coffee, and pulled out my raincoat, stuffing my trusty 35 mm camera and tracfone in the pockets. I met A and The Beard, as well as A's parents, for our next Wisconsin adventure: Breakfast on the Farm.
courtesy of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board

This annual event usually draws upwards of 5,000 participants, who line up for shuttles on yellow and black school buses comandeered by jokesters with Yooper accents, pay six dollars to receive a cow handstamp and a dairy-centric breakfast, and dine on the farm.

We dodged raindrops as we scurried into the Feeding Barn, where men stirred huge skillets of eggs to a gooey scramble, studded with diced ham and cemented with copious amounts of cheese. Women doled out generous portions of eggs, and servers also offered handfuls of cheese cubes, segments, and curds; cinnamon bread with fresh butter pats; cherry flavored donut holes; and egg-cellent accoutrements. Another tent featured dishes of vanilla ice cream topped with strawberries or the farm's own maple syrup.

We trekked through rivulets of mud and thickening crowds to a sturdy tent filled with picnic tables, and sat down to enjoy the mostly bovine-produced repast. A cheerful band stopped playing old standards just long enough to introduce the family of the farm, as well as crown the dairy princesses and Alice-in-Dairyland.

I watched as families sat down together to share food, boy scouts wandered the aisles in search of empty plates to throw away, and young people proudly wearing FFA, 4H, and/or John Deere gear congregated on the sidelines. I felt thankful that these young people will carry on the largely invisible, under-appreciated, grossly underpaid, and altogether vital work of feeding us for the next generation

We wandered to a beautiful tall red barn where local vendors displayed pamphlets and disseminated information about dairy and other agriculture issues, and barn swallows tweeted and twittered from one rafter to the next. Here I learned that my adopted county has 6,000 more cows than humans.

As I rode the bus back to the parking lot, I felt homesick--struck by the beauty and deep, rich culture of this place that still doesn't feel like home. I still feel like an outsider, a cultural anthropologist of sorts, with my heart and soul still somewhat unattached from this place and its very kind people.

Last night one of my colleagues stated that my new home and Holland, where I grew up, are very similar. He then revised his statement to use Muskegon as his Western Michigan point of reference, and in some ways I can see the connection: the manufacturing history, the flight from manufacturing, the prevalence of Christianity, agricultural links, and strong ties to European heritage. But somehow, it seems much more different to me--the prevalence of sports culture (Green Bay Packers), the different version of Christian faith (Catholicism versus Christian Reformed), the more progressive politics (though no less confounding than the conservatism of Western Michigan). And where am I in this comparison? At times firmly aligned with one place or the other, and at times aligned with someplace far away. The process of acculturation is long, slow, and filled with tumultuous emotions and surprising discoveries, and I hope this summer offers me more moments of cultural richness in which I can connect more fully to the spirit of this place.


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  2. I understand what you mean. I've been feeling the same way since I moved here last year. The more local event I attend, the more I feel like a Wisconsin native. Walking along the lake, hearing the waves crashing really helps, not that I grew up with a big lake nearby, but nature has a calming effect. And good coffee. And good company.

  3. it's nice to know i'm not alone! so many folks here are native 'sconnies and don't have the same outside perspective, for better or worse.

    good coffee--today i found my dream coffeemaker, a $240 Dutch made masterpiece!