Kyle L. White has lived in Sycamore, Ill., since 1991 but he grew up in Stevens Point, Wis. His humorous stories and illustrations, inspired by the Dairy State, have appeared in Peninsula Pulse newspaper, Christianity Today and PRISM Magazine.
His new book collects these stories, and pen-and-ink drawings, in a single volume called Wisconsin River of Grace, published by Cornerstone Press.
White's book is the first installment of WNIJ's Winter Book Series.
Many of the stories in this book were inspired by his childhood in Stevens Point. Christmas, Packers games and polish sausage were a way of life there, along with tube socks and bible readings. One story, "Wisconsin is Grace," recalls a hare-brained rebellion against his parents that culminated with him running away with his brother:
6:00 p.m. Freedom! We scuffed and shuffled down Torun Road. A dark night. Winter in Wisconsin. Our cheeks were stinging hot as kamikaze snowflakes dive-bombed our frozen eyelashes. But it was the right thing to do.
6:06 p.m. We had walked for hours. But there we were, stalled in our tracks. We had come to that particular spot in the road. On one side, that abandoned gray house. Weathered. Windows broken. Every kid for eight blocks knew it was haunted. And, on the other side, my brother remembers, “…There was a logging road and it made that whole area seem like a black hole that you would get sucked into and never come back.” We didn’t dare walk past that place in the daylight, much less that dreadful night.
“I ain’t walkin' past it."
“Me neither. Maybe we should go back,” I said.
“Home? No way!”
We looked back towards where we had made our escape, through the smudge of swarming snowflakes and blurred streetlights. A double take. A figure in the gray distance. We squinted through the dark, through the wet snow. It was coming closer. Some one. Carrying some thing. A club, in its right hand. Oh yes, it was a club all right! Some cartoon caveman, chicken drumstick club!
We were trapped. January sweat. Feet frozen by fear. We shivered between lurking ghosts and a madman stepping up to deliver the Gorman Thomas homerun blow. Crack! Over the fence, into the ditch, laying us out like two deep-freeze Ball Park® franks. But, our eyes strained through the dark to capture our winter assailant. The last image we would ever see before…
“Mom? Is that you?” (Or, maybe it was like that scratch-and-pop LP at home where Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Match Girl had only enough light to show her just what she didn’t have before she froze to death. Who gives their kid that record?) But, no, it was Mom. And, she was carrying two scarves in her right hand.
“Why don’t you come back home? We’re having Polish sausage for dinner,” she offered.
And this is what came out of our mouths: “Okay, Mom,” we said, like it was our bright idea. And we headed for the porch light of home. Rescued. And, just like that, ghosts and fear melted like snowflakes in the hand. There was never a word mentioned about our rebel offense. It was Grace. Grace wrapped in Polish sausage and applesauce.
White returns to his home state whenever he can. Most summers his family visits Door County, one of his favorite spots. Asked what it feels like to drive across the Wisconsin state line, he answers, "It feels like a great weight being lifted. Just going back to where there's water and trees and some geography to the place. It feels like going home."
He says this holiday season will be the most "Wisconsin" ever when he takes his family to a Packers game at Lambeau Field. "I'm hoping for frigid temperatures," he says, "and tons of snow."
Only a true Wisconsinite would say that.
You can thumb through the pages of WNIJ's Winter Book Series collection on display now at these locations: Aristotle's Corner in Rockford, Bab's & Coco's Tea Emporium in DeKalb, Books On First in Dixon, and Prairie On State Wine Cellars in Sycamore.