I took notes as we traveled in the car from our home in middle Minnesota to the home of my cousin’s daughter, Debbie, in Lake Geneva, WI, the first leg of my reunion trip. I guess the best way to proceed with this is to share with you my notes. This is long blog.
We are driving down highway 35 along the western border of Wisconsin. It is a beautiful drive along the Mississippi on a beautiful spring day. I have set aside my book. My family roots are here and I need to pay attention. We stop at a few small towns. Highway 35 is “Main Street” for each of these so there is no need to turn off the path. In Stockholm there are shops with Amish furniture and quilts, but these are closed, waiting for tourist season to begin. The Laura Ingels museum is closed in Pepin. This is a place to visit with grandchildren are along, anyway. We find the cheese factory in Nelson where be buy some cheese and crackers to give to the relatives we will be imposing upon during this trip.
Toward noon, I tell Bernie that I want to have lunch in Dodge. This is close to Pine Creek where my grandparents owned a farm until the depression forced them to sell and move to Chicago. He doesn’t want to, but Bernie’s travel is all about getting there…not about the journey. We’ve been doing this for 47 years. My insistence is getting stronger, his resistence in getting weaker.
To get to Dodge, we have to turn off on state highway 95, then onto P, out of Fountain City. I wonder why Wisconsin names it roads with letters of the alphabet. The practice doesn’t help one find one’s way around one bit. I notice that there are byways called “P” and “W” all over the state. I guess one has to be a local to make sense of it. As we turn off of 35, I pull out a small note book and start to write in phrases:
Driving the P and M byways to Dodge,
roads my grandparents traversed on carriage or wagon drawn.
Markings: An old shed behind a modern house.
Further down the road,
around a curve, an old barn, too dangerous to enter
but begging for the right to stay, “grandfathered in”, you might say.
I ask, “Did you see them ride by?”
John and Frances coming from Winona,
a wagon full of widgets and yard goods.
In Dodge, we see from a distance a truck parked in front of the old restaurant.
I think about chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes and home made pie.
But we draw near and see that she dark and empty.
She was bustling when my family came to lunch there
during our family reunion a dacade ago.
It is where we found people who knew our ancestors who were neighbors to theirs.
Now, the gathering place, too, has passed on.
We take J out of Dodge and we turn onto G to go to Pine Creek.
G is freshly paved with a bright yellow line down its middle.
Bernie says, “They must have paid their taxes.”
The little old school house has been renovated and there is a sign in front: “Storyville”.
I want to come back to see it when it is open…with a grandchild.
Pine Creek is where the cemetary is,
the sleeping place of family members.
We don’t get out to visit this time.
I see a young priest walk between the rectory and the church.
It occurs to me to stop and talk to him.
But I think, “What would he know?”
We don’t get out…my first regret of this trip.
I have still not yet learned the lesson to disregard the voices in my head.
We head back down G which will take us back to 35.
There is another old barn that leans a bit. It has boards missing.
Reminds me of an old mouth that has lost some of its teeth,
the rest turning brown from years of thick dark coffee.
There are cows fenced in on the right that watch as we pass.
Later, we visit Janesville, Wisconsin, where Bernie and I spent most of our child-rearing years:
We get off I-90 at Janesville.
State highway 26 becomes Milton Avenue and runs through the center of town.
I am touched by the town’s beauty, especially the old houses so meticulously maintained.
We drive by Nativity of Mary Catholic Church
where Becky was confirmed and Chris and Katy received their first communion.
The Church was still in Vatican II renewal
and the manner of the sacraments reflected this.
Becky was not exhorted to be a soldier for Christ.
Chris was able to drink wine directly from a cup and hold the host in his hands.
Katy wore wore a simple spring dress instead of the white dress and veil.
She received in our home at the hands of a young priest who did a whole mass at our family table.
We drive by the elementary school where Chris was picked
on by a boy half his size whose strength was in his temper.
We drive out Ruger Avenue and turn onto Greendale Drive
to see our house, still green, looking across the street at the greenbelt.
We pass the old school where Chris and the Kronquist boy started a fire
and were then lectured by the fire chief.
(This was one of the many close call in Chris’s life…he is either a cat or has a mission)
The greenbelt is now a manicured park with a paved path for bikers and walkers cutting through it.
The trees are grown thick.
You can no longer see the creek that runs down its center
nor the houses on the other side.
We pull over and take a picture of the house.
Bernie estimates that the pine tree he planted in front is 25 feet.
It now hides half the house’s front window like a pirate’s eye patch.
Driving out of town, I realize that when we lived here,
I did not realize the town’s beauty.
I wonder why this is so.
Perhaps it is because we were so caught up in the lives of our children, their schooling, marriage and career building, heartaches,
our family’s all consuming involvement with the Green Beret Marching Band.
I suppose it is good if this is the reason for my lack of attention.
The evening was sweet. Debby and her husband Bill have taken over a deli in town. They have renamed it “Salami Sam’s”. We hung out there for a long while, talking about family and about their new adventure. Debby gave us a key to the house, a large pink Victorian, protected by a Schnauser as vicious as a butterfly. When we settled in, I realized I’d left all of the papers that lay on my dresser back home with the tickets to the reunion and the phone numbers of friends I’d planned to connect with here. The remainder of the evening was spent hunting down the information as best I could.