Up North

10 images

I stand a few feet from a 55-gallon drum bonfire sometime around midnight. The music from the farm across the road had faded away earlier in the evening. A sometime neighbor picked up my brother down near the sinkhole—he was walking out to the house from town after arguing with his wife after a memorial for a friend who’d just killed himself a few days before. The music that I didn’t hear anymore from the farm across the road had been played loudly in celebration of another life, ended (a car accident over in Marshfield, I think it was). Wakes and bachelor parties on the same weekend; and wasn’t everybody just in town for Labor Day? A cold front had come through earlier and so I pulled on my wife’s fleece because I didn’t pack anything for this weather. Beerless, and therefore (so far) uncommitted to bullshitting at the moment, I slip away to set my camera on the hay bales for long exposures of the stars. My wanderings of the house and the yard with a camera in one hand and a beer in the other the past few days haven’t exactly been inconspicuous. When I come back, they’re impressed with the camera that can see in the dark—sees more stars than me or you, my dad tells my mom the next day. Someone convinces me to drink a “regular” beer, which I do, but they know I’d rather not and someone (kindly) returns from the kitchen later with an APA from down near Madison and the glass I’d commandeered upon arrival and used exclusively up until that first Miller 64 from the can. We talk as siblings do (I assume). The mean things we did to each other. I confess I’ve felt bad for years for folding a sister up into a hide-a-bed; we argue about which house that happened in. We unexpectedly learn what caused the loud BOOM! that’d shaken the house the night before: the neighbor who picked up my brother had found a mortar somewhere and set it off to see what would happen. Nieces and nephews are sleeping in chairs, on couches and floors; the TV is still on in the house. Some of the women have went to bed—but not all. I don’t like that dark stuff, someone says, as we try in vain to open the beer bottle with a Green Bay Packers Bic lighter. (No one carries a bottle opener.) In the end, it’s opened with someone’s teeth. For some reason someone is climbing into an old Little Tikes Cozy Coupe and manages to fit, sideways; a few moments later they’re face first in the gravel driveway bleeding from their forehead. The mood sobers for a minute, but no longer, because she’s okay (it’s just some blood and the scalp bleeds quite a bit, ya know) and the whole thing is ridiculous and you have to laugh because what in the hell were they thinking? I open another Miller 64.

The next morning I don’t make it outside in time to photograph the pile of crumpled aluminum cans at the base of 55-gallon drum. My dad has it all cleaned up. My wife and daughter and I jump in the car to go pick up some rotisserie chickens from the grocery store twenty miles away for my mom, and maybe stop at Packerland Plus to get Nicole a new shirt (since she forgot hers on the shelf back home when she was packing). I pick up some beer, too, to drink during the game and for later, during dominoes. One six pack would’ve been enough, but I grab two anyway.

When I pack the next day, our last day, I first descend to the new basement for the box I’d filled up at various stops between Minneapolis and Glidden. Berliner Weiss, wild sour, bourbon-barrel aged Scotch ale, beer with rhubarb, beer with rhubarb and strawberry, beer with strawberry and cherry and apple. You can’t get this Wisconsin beer out in Seattle, I said to them. I pack my bag carefully and ask my dad if he has a hanging scale. He’s not sure where it is and even if he could find it he can’t vouch for its accuracy, so we take turns lifting it up and agree it’s probably under 50 pounds. My mom trims my daughter’s long hair. We all shed tears as we load up the rental car.

It’s a long drive to the nearest major airport.