We inherited the Green Bay Packers from my father-in-law. He was born in 1920 in the curiously-named Poy Sippi, Wisconsin to Danish parents who still spoke Danish at home. His early years were spent farming in rural Wisconsin. In young adulthood he lived in Beloit and found his way to Chicago and eventually far to the south through the changing fortunes of the War. In old age he was afflicted by Alzheimers and was variously cranky, difficult and downright mean. In some ways it might be fair to say that parts of our family were destroyed on the rocks of his personal shipwreck, but that's a story for another time, my dears. This evening, we're thinking of one tiny connection that has successfully persisted as we watch the NFL playoffs and rally, as always, around the Pack.
This morning we happened upon an old movie on TCM. It was a typical Margaret O'Brien movie of the mid-40s, sentimental and simple, yet resonant thanks to a cast that included Edward G. Robinson and a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, it was called. Set in Wisconsin among Norwegian farmers, it had faint echoes of Pop's childhood, seen through the eyes of Hollywood, of course, but no less unmistakable.
A year or so before we were married - and many years before the perceptible effects of Alzheimers - we traveled to WIsconsin to visit Pop's family and see the places he'd known as a young man. It's a beautiful place with its great spaces caught in boreal forests that must have reminded all those Scandinavian emigrants of the snow-bounded and blue-skied lands of coastal and inland waters they'd left behind. And though the geography and some of the cultural fine points seemed foreign or even exotic, there was - and is - a common sense of warmth and openness between those of the south and those of the midwest as though they are cousins of cultural etiquette. Certainly they're cousins of the table; there was never a more abundant, homely, delicious board than the one we shared with Pop's sisters and their families. They were kind, generous and unfailingly polite, their pronounced northern midwestern accents shaped by nearly-forgetten Danish and Norwegian cadences. One of these aunts and her husband would, some years hence, travel to Florida for Pop's funeral at considerable inconvenience simply because it was the right thing to do, and for the love his sister always kept for him.
Long years later, we cheer faithfully for the Packers in memory of Pop, letting the sharp, jagged memories of recent years recede into the distance. It's still good to recall the words of Aunt Thelma, a Norwegian girl married into the family and often-uttered where Pop was concerned. "Well, you can always tell a Dane," she would say. "But you can't tell him much."
Go, Pack, go.