I was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1947. The lake in this case is Lake Winnebago, and my grandma had a house on it. Along with my two brothers and many cousins, I whiled away the summers there, spending hours in the shallow water, hopping from sandbar to sandbar. Our grandpa would grill corn and bratwurst for supper and serve them up with his recipe for German potato salad, the same potato salad he served at his tavern on Main Street, the Cozy Inn. We kids were welcome there, too, on Friday nights for the perch plate special that was a family affair and a town favorite, especially with us Catholics.
Fond du Lac, population 35,000, supported five Catholic parishes, each with its own elementary school. I went to “St. Joe’s.” My cousins went to St. Pat’s and St. Mary’s, after which we all funneled into St. Mary’s Springs Academy for high school. The boys wore ties, the girls white blouses and black skirts, the hem of which had to touch the floor if a nun put you to the test of a kneel-down in the hall.
After eighteen years of Mass every Sunday and twelve years of schooling by the Sisters of St. Agnes, I went secular at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It felt radical and heady. A third of the campus came from the East Coast and spouted ideas I’d never even considered. “I’m not smart enough for college!” I wailed to my parents over the phone, within months of arriving and receiving the first “C” of my life. “I’m going to drop out and become a stewardess.” Back in the ‘60’s, being a flight attendant was all glamour and white gloves.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” my mother said. “They don’t take girls over 5’7”.
So I buckled down and got the grades, first at Madison and later at the Universidad de Costa Rica in Central America, after a summer fling turned serious during my first venture out of the United States. I married Carlos, a local, had my two children, Jennifer and Michael, and taught at a couple of bilingual schools before we came back to the States together.
First stop was Colorado Springs where I taught adult basic education classes, before divorce and a move to Albuquerque and a job in telecommunications. Then came Denver and a job in Big Oil, and finally Massachusetts where I met Marsh and you pick up my life in Remember the Sweet Things. Jennifer and Michael had lived in seven cities and gone to eight schools at that point. It was time to settle down, and I picked a nice guy to do it with.
The settling down didn’t last for long, however. Once the kids finished high school, Marsh and I hit the road. We lived and worked in Shanghai, China, for three years, took a year to sail our boat across the Pacific, then another year to traverse Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and Mexico, where we picked a tiny beach town as our new home base.
I still have a home in San Pancho, Nayarit. But now I spend more time in San Jose, California, with my daughter and granddaughters, and visit kids and grandkids in Austin, Texas. It’s a modified version of what Marsh liked to call “our lovely little life.”