There are so many songs about the open road, taking a trip, beginning a journey or getting lost on a deserted highway. The first sunny day of spring, I always choose an Indigo Girls’ song that directs me to “get out the map, get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down.”
Kit’s family instructed her that exact routine since she was a young girl. One of four daughters, Kit professed that she loved when folks would tease her father, “Oh, no, all those women in one house! Four daughters, how awful!” and he would shock the naysayers, replying with excitement that girls were easier to handle—they were willing to try anything.
What they tried most often, and what I learned about as I spoke with this retired English teacher as she recanted her holiday adventures, was road trips. “We were Sunday drivers,” Kit said. The entire family would pile in the car and their father would pass the map to one of the girls and insist “Ok, get us out of here. Take us away from Madison.” Not only was it a crash course in geography and map reading, but it was also the consistent adventure and reliance on one another that bonded the siblings.
I spotted Kit across the lobby bar thoughtfully putting pen to paper and occasionally pausing to look up and smile, chewing over what she had just written or was just about to. The prose was about the gathering at her family Christmas celebration—all four girls and their families (now reaching the grandchild generation)—more than 30 people in all. “And we’re all like that,” she said. She meant “close” and willing to travel together, willing to have what she and I agreed may be a-typical holiday gatherings where, as she put it, “we all really want to be together. People think that’s strange, but it’s true.”
What Kit was teaching me (though she proclaimed to be retired, she still performed all the patient speaking and careful listening of a great pedagogue) was that old habits die hard. The girls grew up together, braved the highways together and were trained in adventure. Now, as they’ve grown and begun families of their own, the group simply increases the capacity of the adventure: this year was the family trip to Ireland. Ages 8 to 80, big and small alike all flew together, rented a bus and toured the country of their heritage. More than 150 planned destinations and “things to see” and the group accomplished all but four of them without voting out a single member of the family.
Packer football dictates that many of the ticket-holding men head north while the women stay home and have their own party in front of one of the wives’ big screen televisions. The cousins, the next generation in the group, now get together on their own, mimicking the bonding, support and adventure that Kit and her sisters charted for them.
Kit’s not done with her journey, or with leading others in the right direction. She was in the lobby letting the artistry of the Pfister inspire her stage design for a local production of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory—one which she immediately claimed would be the work of all students involved, not simply her contribution to the process. “Oh, no! We all work on it, we all have to or it doesn’t get done!” Kit, the retired English teacher, still offered the perfect lesson in metaphor. Her family’s model, her delight and pride at their cohesiveness and willingness to forge a trail, clearly provides excellent navigation for teaching…and life.
A writer, actor, director and raconteur, West has written for various arts and architecture publications, been a commentator for WUWMs Lake Effect, and shares his opinions and insights on culture and the art of everyday life on his blog Artsy Schmartsy. He served as Head Writer for Wisconsin Public Radios Hotel Milwaukee, and his book Milwaukees Live Theater was published in 2009 by Arcadia Publishing as part of their Images of America Series. He most recently served as Director of Communications for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. West has been an active theatre professional for more than 20 years.
Along with his wife, opera director Paula Suozzi, and two daughters, Dorothea and Carmela, West lives in a cozy bungalow in Bay View, which he refers to as “the finest neighborhood in the world for beer gardens in lush parks, coffee joints, barbershops, record stores and pizzerias.” He can be identified by his signature bow tie.