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Proud to be a Presque-Islian

Yesterday was the Fireman’s Picnic in Presque Isle – my home for the last ten years. Presque Isle is a village of 400 year-rounders that bumps up to a couple thousand in summer with second home owners and vacationers. Our official slogan is “Wisconsin’s Last Wilderness” and many refer to it as “God’s Country” or simply “Up North.” Presque Isle means “almost an island” – and we’re thankfully surrounded by water and trees albeit missing the coffee shops, theaters, and gathering spaces many of us have grown accustomed to. Our gathering spots are on the water, in the sand, at the bars, the fire pits and saunas at our homes.

When we vacationed in the area years ago, it was always “up north” to me but little did I know what that meant… thankfully this weekend I got a fresh reminder of what my new home has come to mean.

On Friday evening, hundreds gathered at the Retreat Bar in honor of Gary Wallace, aka Uncle Gary. Tears, laughs, and stories were told until sun up as Gary would have wanted. I’m certain Gary was one of the gentlest, most true “up north” persons out there. He’s been sick for a while and was in the hospital a couple months ago. I heard the news while out with the kids and Cal, and I just started to cry. How could it be his time? The person who means so much to our little community and for me, is representative of why I love where I live. Gary was nonjudgmental, kind, a crazy-awesome sports fan, a dad, a friend, a hockey and baseball coach, a giver, a lover, a bar owner with a penchant for drinking and more, a fireman, a grandpa, an Uncle to many by blood and by nature, and more, always more. To Cooper, he was a remote-control phenom, and to my daughter Greta he was the best quarter-doler out there and like many of us, was someone she wasn’t ready to see go. To me, he was huge-hearted Gary and I’ll miss him so. On Saturday night, his wife flipped on the first set of outdoor lights at our soon to be named “Wallace Park” baseball field in town. And, they worked.

On Sunday, the Fireman’s Picnic was back with everything pretty much the same as years prior, and that’s a good thing.

Cooper and Greta tossing candy with EMT/Fireman Uncle Adam.
The greatest parade marshall I’ve seen in my lifetime!

Not much of an agenda really… lots of raffle tickets, cans of beer, sweet corn and brats, softball games, music by a local duo, and a goldfish game that annually leaves us with a new set of pets that last either two days or two years. Last year, the mold broke and our fish lived with Mr. Poppinkins (our turtle) for two months until he couldn’t handle it anymore and ate them all on one crazy fall day with Greta screaming and the rest of the family cracking up. They are currently into the name game with our new batch: “Goldilocks” “Little Silver” “Billy Bob Jo” “Stephanie” “Tiki Zeke” and “George”.

The day ends with a beautiful acapella by Bret, singing and inviting the audience to join in with a patriotic conglomerate of songs: Proud to Be An American, God Bless the USA, America the Beautiful. Within a minute all are standing and singing and by the time it ends, the women are wiping away our tears. We look at each other and laugh, remembering that for those that stick around to the end, this happens every year. I’m proud to be an American and am ever grateful to the civil servants and military. I’m also thankful and proud to be a Preque-Islian, where Gary (and the parade marshall) remind us we are free to be who we are and to love and give often. Gary’s legacy leaves us with these thoughts and much more, and I know many of us will work hard to carry forward those pieces of him that should, and will never, go away.

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