• Jena

Growing up Yooper: intensely loyal

Updated: Feb 15, 2020

It’s hard to write from the heart sometimes, but not if you are actually unafraid to write what’s on your heart.  Then it is easy.  On my heart, especially during the holidays.. is my precious homeland–the U.P.  The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, known as the “U.P.” and its inhabitants.. known as “Yoopers” respectively.

One thing that strikes every Yooper as odd is how non-committal (non-Yoopers) are.. really about anything.

Let me explain something that I never really understood until I moved away, and I am, in fact, still learning it.  Every time I do something “weird” by social standards, it is generally because of my upbringing.  Oh, it’s not that I have had a bad or weird upbringing, it was what it was.. and well.. you’ll get the point soon enough.

Funerals:  In the U.P. ,everyone attends funerals of everyone, primarily because everyone knows everyone.  I guess that’s normal.  But what is odd about Yoopers is that we bring food to funerals.  I grew up with my mother making “sympathy bars”, and I always wondered what they tasted like.  I still, to this day, do not know.. but I’m guessing they were pretty good because she probably still makes them.  When I was in my late 20’s, I went to a funeral of a friend in Panama.  I brought a Pastie pie. (Ha! now there’s some food for you)  and do you know what happened?  Everybody went on and on about how nice that was.. even though I thought it was no big deal.  That’s just what you do.

Weddings:  Outside of the U.P.  people have very small weddings with very small guests lists.  When they invite you, they may or may not invite the children.  And you may or may not be invited to the reception.  What the??  They may or may not have “actual” food.  Here again, what the??  It’s a very weird culture below the bridge, people.  When I was growing up, all the people were invited, and everyone came.  And everyone brought food.  We always helped each other out.  In non-yooper cultures, weddings appear to be a big performance where they try to impress everyone and spend a lot of money doing so.

Graduation parties: Same thing.  Big event.  A lot of food. Everyone came.  Everyone brought food.  I felt like a cultural oddity suggesting that my friends help out with food for the grad party of one of my kids.  I can remember scads of my mother’s friends helping out with all of that stuff, making watermelon boats and all of that.  Yes, some friends did help, but I could tell it was a stretch for them.

Snow blowing:  Yes. Snowblowing was a social event.  I would not think of having someone blow the snow or plow or do any amount of work without inviting them in for a cup of coffee and a snack.  Unthinkable.  Cement mixing, roof work, you name it. They got fed.

What’s the common thread? Loyalty.  We were intensely loyal to our friends, our neighbors, our community.  It’s how we got along.  It’s how we rolled.  We stepped in and helped at our friends’ kids weddings, and they helped at ours.  We never worried about not having enough food.  Everyone had food to share.  And they did.  They shared a lot.  They gave you the shirt off their backs, if you needed it.

The Yoopers were this very unique bunch of intensely loyal people who kind of twisted and turned with the pulse of the community and their own families.  We, the Generation X Yoopers, are still wondering if it was our upbringing, our culture, or some sort of hope for something better.. that wishes the undying loyalty that our parents and their friends had with each other would somehow transcend into our generation.

And it is, but in a very unique way.

Facebook.  Yes, I’ve gone back and forth about this social media thing.  But it has connected a very tiny patch of Gen X Yoopers together in a very unlikely way.

One of our good friends got in with a real loser of a guy, who seemed like a prince at the time.  I was amazed at the amount of support and encouragement she was getting from her friends from her past when she discovered the truth about him.

Another friend–lost a dear loved one– everyone is there, cheering her on.. giving her hope.

A few of my friends are “making it” in the famous sense–one as a model and the other as an artist, but really.. most of us are just “making do”  and getting by..  either way, we are all each other’s fan clubs.

And some of us have faith, but I would be surprised if most, if not all, believe in a God of some sort.  It’s just part of the culture.  Yes.  How do you spend that much time in natural beauty and not believe in a higher being of some sort?

How has this intensely loyal mindset affected me personally?  It affects me the same way it affects my mother.  We both grieve (intensely grieve) over the loss of a friendship.  There is no place in our paradigms for “lost friend”.  There is no shelf to neatly store “this used to be a friend” type of thing.  It is a pain that we will carry forever.  And we still carry a place for that person in our hearts.

My mother, who is the most loyal of all Yoopers, has probably carried empty spaces in her heart for lost friends more than anyone.  She never forgets the good times, even though the friendship isn’t what is once was.

This loyalty factor is not perfect. It doesn’t bode well for critical thinking or other factors.  It keeps the small businesses running.  It keeps the lights on.  And it is what it is.  And that is just one thing that characterizes the Yooper.

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