Sometimes I get homesick. Not particularly now, when Wisconsin is in the depths of winter. Dealing with the cold and snow is too recent a memory. We lived on a corner lot in Racine with a lot of “snow acreage.” Some years we had nowhere to go with the it anymore: in the winter of 2010/11 we got 60 inches and in 2009/10 we were buried in 100 inches of the white stuff. We’d get out early after a storm and clear paths, only to have the city snowplows push it all back into our driveway and corner crosswalks, which the city required us to keep clear as corner-lot owners. Did it seem the snowplow drivers were always grinning when they came through?
As a kid in Manitowoc, snow meant something completely different. It was easy to like winter when your dad owned a snow-blower and wouldn’t let kids touch it.
We treasured snow days when they came. My sisters and I would get up early and check the radio news – would St. Boniface, and later, Washington Junior High School and Lincoln High School be on the growing list of cancellations? YES!! Then we’d run outside to catch snow flakes on our tongues and frolic. Who uses the word “frolic” anymore? But that’s the best way to describe it. This was our opportunity to change our environment with snowmen, snow angels, making paths in the backyard, and later, breaking through new snow as we flew down the big hill at Silver Creek Park with our sleds.
Then there were the ubiquitous trails that whole packs of kids created in the snowbanks on the way to school. No kid walked on the carefully cleared sidewalks. Instead, we trudged along well-worn paths up on the top of the snowbanks. We just had to be prepared to step aside on these single-file paths when bigger kids wanted to pass us. There was a hierarchy to these things.
No, overall, I don’t miss Wisconsin’s longest season. We get just enough snow on Mauna Kea to satisfy my longing to see snow.
But I do miss other things. Luckily, I can recreate some of that here, on the Big Island. When I get homesick for my dad’s grilling, I head for the Parker School Saturday Farmer’s Market in Waimea. There I can smell real Wisconsin bratwurst sizzling away. Chris, owner of Fresh Island Meats moved here from Milwaukee a couple years ago and saw an opportunity to provide the Big Island with his own particular delicacy – homemade bratwurst and other prepared meats.
Now I can indulge whenever I want – a real Wisconsin-style brat, with real home-made sauerkraut and a real bun – not one of those small squishy white-bread affairs. It takes me right back to a summer day in Manitowoc, though I try to block out the memory of my dad’s questionable grilling attire. Chris even sells the brats frozen so I can make them at home! And it’s always fun to talk Packer football or Badger football with Chris and his buddy, Bob. Actually, I’ll talk to anyone in a Packer T-shirt.
Too bad Chris doesn’t also sell malts. The only place on the Big Island that has malts is Kohala Burger and Taco in Kawaihae. It doesn’t have the old-time parlor atmosphere of Beerntsen‘s Confectionary, our favorite place for malts and hot fudge sundaes in Manitowoc. But they do serve genuine malts.
Lots of places have shakes on the Big Island. But that never satisfies when I need a real malt with real malt powder in it, well worth the 40 minute drive to Kawaihae. This is especially true when you’ve lived in Racine, home to J&W Horlick, the original creators of malted milk powder.
As kids we’d have the chance to beg Dad and Mom into buying us a malt or an ice cream cone every Sunday when we drove past the City Dairy on the way home from Grandma’s house. “Please, please…” Often it worked. And we always stopped at Beerntsen’s when we girls went shopping downtown with Mom and Grandma.
The old City Dairy no longer exists but I can still go to Beerntsen’s when I get back to Manitowoc. Meanwhile, there’s Kohala Burger and Taco when I need a fix.
Of course, malts and ice cream are only part of my cravings from having grown up in the Dairy State. Luckily, cheese is easy to come by on the Big Island. And I’ve become quite fond of our local goat cheese, available at the Hāmākua Harvest Farmer’s Market. I can even get really good non-dairy “cheese,” at the Sea Dandelion Café. It just goes to show that even traditionalist Wisconsin cheese lovers can adapt to new offerings.
But the easiest way for me to be transported back home, is to drive along Highway 19 from Honoka‘a to Hilo. They’ve been working on replacing the Umauma Bridge since 2014. There, on the new section, sit two cranes from Manitowoc Company. At one time, the Manitowoc Ship Building Company, founded in 1902, built ships for use on the Great Lakes – ore haulers and steel ferries. It also built 28 submarines for the WWII. The company expanded into cranes and refrigeration equipment later under the name of the Manitowoc Company. But ships were built into the 1960s; I can still remember my Grandma taking me to the park bluff overlooking the shipyards to watch them launch a ship.
My dad worked at the shipyards for decades as a steel bender for cranes. He’s passed now, but seeing the cranes every time I drive to Hilo and back tugs on my heart. These high-quality cranes last a very long time. So theoretically, my dad could have worked on those cranes sitting on the Umauma Bridge. It’s not likely, but that very slim chance takes me home every time I drive by. This is as it should be. Family memories will trump recollections of food, places and weather every time.
That reminds me, I should call my sisters. How about you? What takes you back home?
Postscript: Chatting with my sisters, I found out that it snowed like crazy in Wisconsin this week. They had a snow day! Lucky them.
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