Lake Michigan-Racine, Wisconsin

Wisconsin, and Thanksgiving

by Helen Holter

Wisconsin Thanksgiving: Grateful to be with my mom, say thanks to my 7th-grade teacher, Mr. Armbrecht, and return to my teenaged haunts: a lighthouse, and a lake called Michigan.

Is it sacrilegious to take a selfie in church? Caught in an Advent song moment; and anyway we knew the words by heart. My mom and I are in our family's Lutheran church of more than 40 years.
Is it sacrilegious to take a selfie in church? We were caught up in an Advent song moment; and anyway we knew the words by heart. My mom and I are in our family’s Lutheran church of more than 40 years.

Lutheran Church of the Resurrection was our “home away from home” growing up, especially after our family was transferred from Montana to Wisconsin, a foreign country and a foreign culture to me. Just 12 years old, I’d left my best, life-time friends behind in Billings, and had no friends in Racine. Actually, I didn’t know how to make friends, and I hated everything, anyway. I missed Montana: rodeos, a cowboy culture nurtured by my relatives, mountains, rattlesnakes, country-western music, and room to roam. Here, it seemed, Racine was a concrete wasteland of factories and warehouses, and rotting alewives along the lakeshore you could smell putrid fish odors a mile away. It all looked fine from a distance – but up close, it all stank.

But church was different. My mom – whose heart was broken about moving but never let on how much she missed Montana – decided she and she alone would find our forever family church. She stepped into this one – the first one – sank into the pew, and thought to herself, “This is home.” We were confirmed here. Married here. Funeral services here.

And me? I sang in the choir and played piano for everyone and everybody. Lutheran Church of the Resurrection was my secret getaway, where even on weekdays after school I’d climb up into the choir loft and play piano by myself – Bach mostly – for hours at a sitting, with a backdrop of shimmering ultra-modern stained-glass windows set into the soaring teepee-like ceiling. On Sundays, though, my apparent devoutness was laced with ulterior motives. I had a terrible 12-year-old crush on Pastor Piper, and on God’s day of rest, I was busy every Sunday listening to his every word, every verse, every sermon. God works in mysterious ways, speaking to me through him, with my young crush the conduit. Sadly, Paster Piper was too good for us: he became a university dean and moved away to Ohio and – heartbroken – I wrote Pastor Piper an earnest 13-year-old girlish letter thanking him for his service, and may I have a copy of his last sermon, please? He obliged, and I pasted it into my diary.

Thanksgiving: what better time to thank my 7th-grade teacher, Mr. Robert Armbrecht, who encouraged me to think, see, and believe beyond my small world of what I thought possible in life. To him I am forever grateful.
Thanksgiving: what better time to thank my 7th-grade teacher, Mr. Robert Armbrecht, who encouraged me to think, see, and believe beyond my small world of what I thought possible in life. To him I am forever grateful.
The first lighthouse I saw in my young life: Wind Point Lighthouse, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The first lighthouse I saw in my young life: Wind Point Lighthouse, on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Fall edges into winter on the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan. This was a "secret place" I'd bike to and write in my journal, sitting on the rocks looking out... and beyond...
Fall edges into winter on the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan. This was a “secret place” I’d bike to and write in my journal, sitting on the rocks looking out, and beyond…
Signature_80