The Ballad of Milly & Gordy

Once upon a time, colored margarine was illegal in Wisconsin. Smugglers brought contraband across the border. This is the tale of one such smuggler.

First, there are a few things to understand about butter and margarine. The color of butter varies with what the cows eat. In winter it is a pale cream color. In summer it is more yellow.

Margarine is naturally white. It looks a lot like lard. The margarine makers didn’t think they could compete with butter with a product that looked like lard, so they dyed it yellow to look like butter.

The butter makers were now faced with a problem: their product didn’t look like itself; that is, it didn’t have the uniform yellow color that folks were trained (by dyed margarine) to think was “normal”. So butter is now dyed (usually with anatto, from the seeds of the achiote tree) so that it looks the same all year.

Now Wisconsin, being “America’s Dairyland”, didn’t want the competition from cheap margarine, so it was banned – unless you bought it in its natural white state. It often 1948-us-magazine-delrich-margarine-advert-KKK819came in a plastic bag with a little capsule of yellow dye that you could break open and squeeze through the margarine until it was a uniform yellow. Then, if you were really fancy, you squeezed it out into a mold to make sticks.

If you wanted margarine that was yellow and in sticks, you crossed the border into Illinois or Minnesota (or the UP, if you lived up north) to smuggle it back. That’s where Milly comes in. Milly was an ordinary Wisconsin housewife, not prone to breaking laws. But she had 6 hungry kids to feed and a husband who gave her a household allowance that meant corners had to be cut. Butter was one such corner.

When supplies ran low, Milly and her husband packed the kids into the station wagon and headed for South Beloit to score. The contraband was available right on the border – a store with a white line painted on the floor. On the Illinois side of the line, a cooler held the golden elixir. It was cheaper farther into South Beloit, but some days we were in a hurry.

We’d pick up a few cases – for us, the neighbors, the cousins. They’d go under a blanket in the back of the station wagon, along with the youngest child, or however many kids didn’t fit in the seats. The irony of the situation is that we would stop outside of Orfordville for Sunday dinner with family friends who were dairy farmers.

The smuggling came to an end, not with an arrest, but with a change in the law. Gordy was a State Senator. He was the chief proponent of the margarine ban. He finally agreed to take a taste test on live TV and, if he failed, he would end his opposition. He failed, and colored oleomargarine became legal in Wisconsin in 1967.

I thought that was the end of the story, though I wondered how Senator Roselip failed a test that I’m pretty sure I could pass. It turns out that his wife had been secretly bootlegging margarine and feeding it to him for years. He identified that familiar taste as butter. The law repealing the ban still forbade restaurants from serving margarine unless the customer specifically requested it.

A few years ago I talked with Peter Berryman, in hope that he would turn this into a song reminiscent of “The Limburger Ballad”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZEraW8K2G4

He hasn’t written it yet. I told this story to someone the other day and she said I had to write it down. So here it is. And just in time for the return of winter.

I’ve got nothing to say, but it’s OK

My friends at The Dihedral put up another thought-provoking post this week. The jumping-off point was the TV show “House”. They used it to talk about making excuses and not having enough time to do what you want. “If you want to do something, you do it”, they quote House as saying.

I put in my two cents as a comment, then realized I had more like two bits to say, so took it over here. Since we’re using pop culture as a jumping off point, I’m going with Frank Capra’s 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

In that film (I hope I’m not giving away any 73 year old spoilers), the protagonist, George Bailey, has big dreams. He repeatedly puts those dreams aside to fulfill his obligations. When he calls the antagonist, Mr Potter, “a warped, frustrated old man”, Potter asks what he is other than a “warped, frustrated young one.” On the verge of suicide, George gets to see what the world would have been if he’d never been born and has an epiphany.

I am going to assert that we are already getting what we want. Exactly what we want. But we lie to ourselves about it.

Let’s take a small example. I want to watch TV. I have to take out the garbage. I skip my TV show, take out the garbage, and feel resentful. Let’s reframe that. I want to take out the garbage. Why? Maybe I have a partner/roommate/parent who told/asked me to, or it’s my agreed-upon job. Maybe I have thought ahead and realize I don’t want to live in a pig sty. Maybe I realize that garbage attracts vermin, I don’t want vermin, and vermin are harder to get ride of than garbage. Maybe I like feeling resentful.

Whoa! What was that? Maybe assigning blame is more satisfying than taking responsibility. Maybe, if I can blame someone else for missing my TV show, and blame someone else for a lot of other small things, I can escape responsibility for my generalized unhappiness. Maybe it’s all someone else’s fault!

What if all the things I’m doing because I have to are actually things I’m doing because I want to? What if I’ve done a bunch of mental calculations (mostly unconscious) and they have led me to the choices I’ve made? Maybe none of this is true about you but it is about someone you know…;) What if I want to take out the garbage and want to feel resentful about it and want to blame someone else for my feelings?

Does that look like George Bailey? Did he skip his trip to Europe and put his father’s estate in order because he really wanted to? Did he skip college and run the Building and Loan because he wanted to? Did he skip his honeymoon and bail out that family business because he wanted to? Did he consider the alternatives and decide that was the best one under the circumstances?

What would it look like to want what I have instead of what I don’t have? Have you ever noticed that, when there is something you really want, you feel some sort of real aliveness during the pursuit? Maybe you just absently want it, maybe you actively seek it, or save up for it. Maybe you get it and it makes you happy for a while and then you go back to your humdrum existence. What was that about? How long do you hang out with that feeling before you find something else to pursue?

I touched on this once before. I’m even going to bring back the same cartoon for another round. In the first panel, Mr Natural starts to do the dishes. He’s resentful. He doesn’t “want” to do them, he “has to“. By the third panel he is just doing the dishes. In the fifth panel he is invested in doing the dishes. In the sixth panel he wants to do the dishes.  In the final panel, he is pleased with having done the dishes. Question: Does he go on to want whatever he’s doing next, or does he continue to want the feeling he had while doing the dishes, try to recapture that feeling, and fail to do so? Just because you’ve learned something once doesn’t mean you have learned it for all time. My teacher Peter Ralston calls that “the lava syndrome”. The very breakthrough you have made hardens over and becomes something you have to break through in order to learn anything new again.

I haven’t talked about bikes for this whole post – not even about the weather. How many times can I talk about riding in freezing rain, sleet, snow, subzero (F) temperatures…? But I’ll leave you with one last image. I’ve talked before of hoarfrost – the stuff that forms when it is foggy and cold. Instead of mere water droplets, ice crystals form in the air; or fog forms and the water droplets freeze as soon as they land. From a distance, hoarfrost is white. The ice crystals reflect all light. Just like snowflakes, up close the crystals are clear. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” We had another morning of hoarfrost this week. Visibility suddenly dropped and I wondered if my glasses had fogged up. I looked to my right and saw fog in the lights of a parking lot. I realized the world was foggy, not just me. I rode out of the fog bank and my glasses continued to ice over. Imagine sticking a glass in the freezer and getting it nice and cold. Take it out and spritz it with water and stick it back in the freezer. When you take it out, there are tiny droplets of ice, giving the glass a pebbled texture. That’s what my glasses were like. I stopped, removed a mitten, and scraped the ice off the lenses, then continued on my way. The picture is hoarfrost, up close and personal.

 

 

 

 

Giving thanks

It is 15 degrees F (approx -10 C). The sun is bright. The sky is a brilliant blue. There are no clouds. There is no wind. We have fresh snow, so the sun glints off of countless facets. It is the sort of day that those who don’t live in snowy climes may not be able to appreciate, and those who do often forget to appreciate.

As I rode home from the library, I began to ruminate over things I am thankful for (most, in some way, related to this blog). I am thankful for:

  • construction workers who work outside all day all winter long.
  • constrgarbage trucks blocking the road so I can practice my cyclocross skills.
  • shanty
    ice fishing shanty, snowy day

    the lake near my house that becomes a massive and nearly private park in the winter. After skating on the street last Sunday, I skiied across the lake this Sunday.

  • Ally, Ed, and Steve – who turned a 105 mile slog through 40 degree (4 degrees C) rain inIMG_0363to something do-able. While they claim misery loves cold raincompany, company can also make it not misery, as evidenced by this smile at the end of that day. (Not to mention that we were even smiling for the picture.)
  • Steve (a different Steve) and Kevin, who stuck with me through thick and thin (and thinner) on a long and hard day in the heat and headwind.
  • Anders, who picked up a new helmet for me at the end of said long day, so I could Andersride again the next day.
  • the entire Cycle America staff, for handling the logistics so we could ride. A special shout out to Ed (a different Ed) for delightful surprises on the routes; and to Dan, who never met a hill he didn’t like.
  • the half-fast cycling club, including those I started riding with more than 40 years ago, and those I haven’t yet met.
  • the glaciers which all managed to miss the driftless area, making for great bike riding in the area of the Horribly Hilly Hundreds (and to HHH, as I just learned that I was selected in the lottery to ride this year).
  • icicles. Snow to sculpt.
  • the Parks Department, for plowing the bike paths.IMG_1494.jpg
  • public libraries.
  • getting old. I’ve seen a lot of folks the past couple of weeks with broken ribs from slipping and falling on the ice. Many tell me how horrible it is to get old.  I think it beats the alternative.

sleet, freezing rain, goggles?

Tiny balls of ice falling from the sky; like sweeping sand off the steps. Sleet was followed by freezing rain – with the air just warm enough to keep it liquid until it hit the ground (or any surface). Maybe if I’d held off on clearing the sleet, removing the layer of ice would have been possible.

The temperature then dropped below zero just to be sure that salt wouldn’t melt it. Luckily I had sandbags left over from the summer flood and could spread that on the sidewalk. When I saw that the temperature was to drop below zero again, I ordered some ski goggles, as local stores were out for the season. They arrived just in time for these before-and-after pictures.

After a one day trial, preliminary results indicate that I am pro-goggle. The blobs of ice stuck to my eyelashes don’t help visibility, but they do make intriguing sounds when I blink. The smaller dots off to the side of the lens are salt spots, from evaporated tears.

I found some bikes that remained parked through the storm:

IMG_1477

Best of all was ice skating down the street. It wasn’t easy taking an ice skating selfie, and I can’t upload the video. I hope you get the idea between the stills and the sound file. Near the end of the sound file you can hear a 180 degree turn, as the ice was getting bad in one direction.

Next up is more snow – 6 to 9 inches expected overnight.