Although I spent a few years of my young life in Wisconsin -- in small town Stevens Point, to be exact -- I am not from Wisconsin. We had a cabin in the north; I lugged snow boots and snow pants and jackets and gloves every day to and from school from November to April (I even had a snow day once); I have fond memories of Christmas and Easter in my grandparents' 1,500 person town--aunts and uncles and cousins filling the centenarian bed-and-breakfast home. But I am not from Wisconsin.
Although both parents were born and raised in Wisconsin, although both grandparents lived in Wisconsin, I never considered myself to be "from" the state. I was born in Oklahoma, my family moved around every few years under the direction of my father's military career, and we eventually settled in Maryland.
I spent the remaining 10 years of my childhood there before then moving to North Carolina for college. My three years in Wisconsin border a few years in Florida and ten years in Maryland, those years no more or less significant than my three years in California before Florida -- no more or less significant than any other period or home in my childhood. Every home -- and every place -- supported me and helped me grow. Every home contributed something.
In the years since, I have always wondered where in my mind or in my body exists the "Wisconsin". It must be there somewhere -- I have too many roots in the state for there not to be, too many relatives, too many fond childhood memories.
And then I found it. I found it on a Sunday in Green Bay.
Our family took a trip to the green-and-gold city a few weeks ago for a Packers home game. As we drove along the winding two lane country highways that dissect the state's farmland setting, my father pointed out to us towns in which he lived as a child, factories where he spent high school and college summers working, local bowling alleys where he used to relish Friday night fish fries.
We drove into town on a crisp fall Sunday morning, and, as we followed my uncle's directions for the best places to park before the game, we entered a small neighborhood preparing for the day -- green and gold décor adorning walls and porches, grills and fire pits for tailgates lining driveways and street corners.
We arrived at our parking lot -- a small home with a "10 dollar parking" painted sign hanging from the tree -- and were greeted by a man who parked our car on his square grass lot and who invited us into his home for food, for drinks, for the bathroom, or for anything else we needed. Judging by the garage filled with various television screens playing various pregame shows and by the number of people already watching them, we figured he did this often.
Because we already had a tailgate planned for ourselves, we kindly thanked him and made our way. We exited the neighborhood and found ourselves along the main road -- and among the sea of green-and-gold friends and families simultaneously making their ways. And then we saw in the distance the historic Lambeau Field. It rises solitarily and proudly above the quaint downtown of the city of 100,000 people, easily visible from every front-lawn parking lot and from every backyard tailgate, a marker of the town's and the team's small-town roots.
As we walked, we passed homes of strangers where my father and his father used to spend subzero winter games from past decades warming up during halftime with food and a fire -- homes that still were opening their doors to any visiting strangers donning the familial team colors. And my father explained this tradition: from the first few decades during which The Green Bay Packers played their games in high school football stadiums to the opening days of Lambeau Field and the Lombardi generation to the present days in which the Packers have remained professional sports' sole publicly owned team, Green Bay has prized its sense of community, and Sunday game day has become synonymous with family.
From the gracious man first parking our car on his lawn until he bid us farewell after the game, kind and warm and genuine characters filled our day, ones from families that packed up cars and drove in from small town to small town across the state to settle in Title Town for the day, a place where similarly small-town arms open to welcome these families.
And as we left the dazzling lights of the post-victory stadium at night and joined the line of families headed back across the state, exiting the small highway at their various towns, I could only hope that a little of this is in me.
A genuine nature, a little bit of warmth. Kindness. Arms that can open, than can turn stranger to family.
And a little bit of green and gold in my blood.