Rolling up the sidewalks

Prepare yourself. It gets really quiet in the winter.

We got that warning when we moved to Door County, Wisconsin, a peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan that attracts thousands of tourists during “the season.” Last night, I watched “quiet” become a relative term.

It’s true that the roads no longer have traffic jams, and the lines are shorter in the stores. It’s also true that a lot of places close down–restaurants, gift stores and hotels. But this is also the time when the locals can congregate together, when the musicians have time to listen to each other, when neighbors can gather on dark, crisp nights, when the mix of faces at public gatherings are probably the people who live here.

Last night, we “closed down” the restaurant where we went for dinner. Literally closed it down.

Mark Raddatz, Marybeth Mattson and Seth Raddatz--music for those who remain.

DC Deli in Sister Bay was serving its last meal until next spring. Local musicians Mark and Seth Raddatz and Marybeth Mattson played and sang some covers, and also their own original songs. There was a “Country Music Menu” of fried chicken, ribs, gumbo or jambalaya with fresh corn bread, and cheese cake or apple pie for dessert. A special price on pints of gourmet ice cream was geared to clearing out the freezers.

But the best part was that the people who were there knew each other. The “quiet” part of winter’s advent was belied by the friendly cacophony of neighborly greetings, the scrape of chairs as room was made for others at crowded tables, as jests were hurled across the room in jovial banter.

A plate of jambalaya--country food and country music.

The performers waved at friends as they entered the room; other musicians, finally with free time, came to listen to and applaud their counterparts.

This is the season for which the open mics were devised. Although many of them continue on into the summer months, they were begun as a way for local musicians to gather during the quiet of winter and share their new, original music, to jam together, to “play” and not just perform. This is when Christmas cookie baking parties are organized, when fireplaces are stoked for friends too busy to socialize during the summer. Already, we’ve received an invitation to a Scrabble party.

This is the Door County tourists don’t normally get to see. This is when the locals take back their favorite spaces, when they focus on each other instead of all of summer’s guests–who are welcome and necessary to the economy but eventually wearing on the spirit.

We pay for this quiet time, of course. For those whose work depends on the tourists–as does my musician husband’s–income also slows. We’ve had to save hard during the summer to get through the lean winter months. We don’t mind, though. The ebb and flow creates an ever-changing life landscape. We get the invigoration of a fast-paced summer, along with the more reflective, neighborly time of winter’s quiet. A steady diet of either would become tiresome.

So now we move into the quiet season. If it means some of our local gathering spaces are closed, it also means we’ll gravitate toward each other in those that remain open; we’ll close the gaps left by departing tourists and revel in neighbors and the closeness of community.

The sidewalks, to some extent, may be rolling up, but the paths to friends’ doorsteps are always kept open, and now we have the time to enjoy them.


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
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