the ice-breaking bow of our ferry made its way across “death’s door”, the strait that connects lake michigan and green bay. the windchill below zero, you could hear the hardy vessel crunching its way through the ice. it was other-worldy. no one else on the ferry appeared to be as enchanted with it as we were; clearly, they were big-I islanders, unmoved by this half-hour jaunt across frigid waters to washington island. unfamiliar vs familiar equals enthralling vs mundane. it’s all how you look at it. and where you start from.
when i moved to wisconsin 30 years ago (kicking and screaming at the time) i stood in the pasta aisle of the grocery store – a local piggly wiggly. there was no mueller’s pasta. none. the brand i had grown up with on long island, the brand i found in florida publix grocery stores…it was not here in wisconsin. i felt instantly lost, instantly homesick. i sensed people moving around my frozen-in-the-spot-trying-not-to-cry body; they were choosing boxes of spaghetti and penne with no problem. for me, it was a telling moment. it was an indicator of change, despite its seeming insignificance. standing in that aisle i can tell you it’s all how you look at it. and where you start from. (*for an update on this incident, please see below.)
the ferry docked on the tiny island, a mere 35 square miles. we disembarked and met our friends. they drove us around, on snow-covered roads, through canopies of trees, past glimpses of water between the pines, their limbs bowing to the snow. at one point they said we could go to the house if we were bored. “no,” we answered. how could we be bored, we wondered. the quiet, the stillness, the solitude was compelling. it’s all how you look at it. and where you start from.
it was quieter on the ferry ride back with fewer people. we were just as enthralled. the ice pieces broken by the bow skittered along the ice plate on top of the water. lines cracked through the sheet, paths drawn by nature’s etch-a-sketch. some large slabs of ice raised skyward. we looked at each other and quietly let out a breath. we couldn’t imagine how this trip across open water could ever become run-of-the-mill. but around us were people who acted like it was piggly wiggly brand pasta and they were in the aisle racing to get to the next aisle. it’s all how you look at it. and where you start from.
*(the rest of the story) i called my sweet momma when i returned home from ‘the pig’ as they say. she answered and i instantly recounted my no-mueller’s-pasta story, i’m quite sure teary in the telling, yearning for the home we had left. four days later the UPS truck pulled up at the end of the driveway and the driver lugged a very large box to the front door. in it i found every shape and size of pasta available…all made by mueller’s. moms are wise beyond words sometimes. by the time i finished using the boxes-in-the-box, the unfamiliar had begun to be familiar. the crisis (yes, fundamentally not a physical crisis, but definitely an emotional one) was over.