Not exactly the most inspiring call, but what are you gonna do? We're going to load the family up for a quick trip back to Appleton this weekend. My nephew Eddie will be baptized on Sunday at St. John's Church in lovely Little Chute. We're only going to be gone one night, but it will be good to see my siblings and get a change of scenery. As readers of this feature well know, I've been out of work for some time now and while we're surviving this blow, it's been getting more difficult as the weeks go on. I haven't left the state of Minnesota since Jill and I test-drove the Portland area in December, so we're long overdue for a change of scenery.
Every time I return to my home town, I get to resume my ambivalent relationship with it. I've long believed that Appleton was a great place to grow up, but throughout my youth I was eager to find a larger canvas and I haven't lived there for well over 20 years now. In many ways, Appleton is a very different place than it was in the 1970s. The population has swelled and has opened its doors to the world, for better and worse. The Appleton I grew up in was prosperous, provincial and sometimes uncurious about the larger world. It sent a famous magician (Harry Houdini), a largely forgotten early female literary lion (Edna Ferber), a genuine American hero (Rocky Bleier) and a greatly reviled villain (Joe McCarthy) into the national scene. Some 20 years ago now, Sports Illustrated chose Appleton as Sports City, USA, for the varied sporting opportunities available there. It's a baseball town that has sent numerous teams to the Little League World Series, but it also lies in the shadow of Green Bay, professional football's holy of holies. In the 20 years since, Appleton has continued to prosper, growing into a modern small city. As Appleton has grown, its contradictions have become more visible, but from my perch 290 miles to the west, it seems like a better place now than it was when I grew up. It has changed, and so have I.