Category: Midwest Life

September 29, 2017 Linda Ruggeri 1 comment

Green Lake, Wisconsin

Green Lake, a small city in rural Wisconsin
Ed and Sherry’s house

Late in the Fall of 2014, Ed was out on one of his daily walks, while I was working in the garden. The setting: Rural Wisconsin. I was probably weeding with my then 2 year old in tow, who was (most likely) eating tomatoes off the vines. When I saw Ed heading back, I met him halfway between our yard and the street to say Hello.

Our properties were the last two of a very quiet little cul-de-sac, in the immediate outskirts of downtown Green Lake. We each had an acre lot, and Ed’s garden was always immaculate and beautiful. There were seasonal flowers, a manicured green lawn, and a tall pole in the middle of the yard with flags that changed according to national holidays.

wildlife in rural Wisconsin
Nicolas follows a snapping turtle down the street

I was an avid gardener too, with a native Wisconsin landscape in our front yard and a fruitful 15’ x 20’ vegetable plot on the south side. Ed and I would often admire each other’s garden work, talk about new tools, yard problems/solutions, and about our endless encounter with backyard wildlife (deer, woodchucks, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, wild turkeys, migrating birds and the occasional snapping turtle passing through, on its way to the lake.)

wild turkeys in Green Lake, rural Wisconsin
Wild turkeys visit the backyard deck in their daily afternoon stroll

Ed Writes a Book for His Wisconsin Family

Ed was born and raised in Ripon, Wisconsin and now lived in Green Lake with his wife, Sherri. Both recently retired, they enjoyed life, traveled locally and took excellent care of their home. What surprised me about Ed was that at 76 (when we met) he drove a very stylish 2012 BMW 135i convertible (which he later changed to a decked out black Camaro), while Sherry drove a two-door Jeep Wrangler. Pretty hip retirees!

We, instead, were California and Italian transplants, having moved to rural Wisconsin because of C’s work. I found a job as director of the Green Lake Country Visitors Bureau, and Nicolas had just turned one. The three of us lived in our quiet rural community, surrounded by the freedom of nature and the wonder that only a country landscape can give (for Nicolas, who spent years 1 through 4 here, this was a truly priceless experience).

In one of our weekly talks Ed mentioned he had written a book for his family, and offered me a copy. Being an avid reader (and freelance editor and writer myself), I was very curios to read it. The booklet had lots of photos, personal recounts, and a lot of technical land transactions. In going through the chapters and looking at some of the photos, many more questions came up for me. Questions that likely required research, but that were answerable. Facts and information that a college-educated, west-coast, city-raised person like me, knew absolutely nothing about.

 

The Annotations Begin

manuscript about Rural Wisconsin life
The original manuscript

Though the story was not a novel, or had a solid plot, I related to many of its themes: His great grandparent’s immigrant story from Prussia to the Midwest (mine emigrated from Italy to Argentina, then my parents emigrated from Argentina to the U.S.); the fond memories of visiting our grandparents, Grandma’s home cooked meals (always memorable), the strange tools and artifacts we’d found at our grandfather’s workshops, etc. What’s more, the farm life Ed’s grandparents had (to sustain themselves financially and to produce enough meat and vegetables to feed their family) was in line with my own passion of having a sustainable vegetable garden that could nourish my own family.

At every turn of the page there was always more information I needed. I specifically remember reading a line that referenced the size of the land his grandparents lived on as insufficient: “…assuming the area taken up by the buildings was approximately ¾ of an acre (home, barn, tool shed, stalls) that left only four acres of tillable land, hardly enough to grow crops and provide grazing land to support the amount of income producing cattle a family this size (7) would have needed.” What? What did he mean four acres of tillable land were not enough to support a family?

 

The Proposal

Rural Wisconsin NewspapersI nudged Ed to turn this into a longer, more thorough book, and open it up to a larger audience. If we both continued with the research that was needed to fill in the gaps, I could help co-write it. I wanted to learn more about that time period, and Ed’s simple family story was the gateway, making those lives tangible, real. I was also certain there were people like me, who would be curious and receptive to this historical past, if only we had a chance to read something interesting without having to follow ten different Wikipedia links to get information, or dig up a four-hundred-page tome at the library and sift through the interesting parts (which honestly, would never happen).

Rural Wisconsin Newspapers
One of my favorite project days was reading newspapers from 1914-1917 at the Ripon Commonwealth Press

Ed’s grandparents could be both the main characters and the medium through which we could see the world and learn about a period of time that was long gone.

 

Valuable Rural Sources

By that point (because of my job at the visitor’s bureau), I was facilitating monthly meetings with twelve local historical societies (to promote Heritage Tourism, a valuable niche group within the tourism industry.) The more I got to know each Historical Society, and visit their museums and exhibits, the more I discovered about their areas, their people, their pasts and learned to appreciate their efforts to preserve each towns history (most historical societies in rural Wisconsin are run by very hard working volunteers).

vintage hats in rural Wisconsin
Markesan Historical Society Hat Collection

I came across hand-made dresses, beautiful hats, shoes, photographs, kitchen utensils, entertainment items and toys used during the 1800s. Each single piece, effortlessly transporting me back to that time period. Seeing these items (and touching them where allowed) let me visualize myself walking those streets, meeting those people, being part of that reality. Side note: the Green Lake Country area is rich with Native American artifacts too, beautiful and sad  memories of the Mascoutin, Winnebago, Ho-Chunk tribes that once lived there (just to name a few) along with the fur traders who visited their areas (fascinating characters.) We needed to share this information and the discoveries we were making along the way.

A New Book about Wisconsin Life

In what to Ed must have seemed like a never-ending journey (how long can you research your own family history without getting tired?) at some point we finally had a two-hundred page, solid manuscript that we liked, telling the story of Grandpa Charly through a series of vignettes, making sure that each piece had a historical context to be placed in and reliable sources we could depend on.

Book about small town charm
Stepping Into Rural Wisconsin – released October 2017

After many reviews, we sent it out to a few history buff friends who offered their time, uncensored insights and comments (thank you Genevieve, Bobbie and Gayle!) . The manuscript was well received and motivated us to keep going forward and finally put it in the magical hands of Amazon’s CreateSpace team. There is nothing more rewarding when after 3 years of hard work, you can articulate your concept to a stranger (like our book cover designer and our interior layout designer at CreateSpace) and see all those efforts come to life into something tangible.

This coming October, Stepping into Rural Wisconsin: Grandpa Charly’s Life Vignettes from Prussia to the Midwest will be available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and local print on demand (for other countries).  We were lucky enough to have rural historian Jerry Apps (author of “Every Farm Tells a Story” and “Cold As Thunder”) positively review our book, allowing us to use his words on the back cover. The notion that Ed and I could collaborate and make it possible for one rural Wisconsin family from the 1800s come back to life, is an incredible, rewarding feeling. I hope Charly and Hulda (and Agnes – for whom I have developed a very fond memory) are somewhere up there, happy with what we’ve written and smiling right back at us.

Celebrating Christmas on the farm
Ed’s Aunt Agnes and Grandpa Charly.

 

January 17, 2017 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

Last year I took a walk down this amazing man made path in a little “secret area” called Mitchell’s Glen in Green Lake County, WI. This glen was a place local Native Americans would visit in the summer (back in the 1800s and earlier), to reach a beautiful spring and plants that only grow in the unique micro-climate that establishes itself here.

Picture of a wooden path through the luscious green glen
Wooden Path at MG

On that morning walk, we came across the trunk of this large white oak that had fallen, probably days before, right across the boardwalk. I got to know the person who built this boardwalk really well (and consider him a true and treasured friend.) I’ve learned the care he brings to his work, and his respect for all things living or dead, so that others can walk along this path and experience the creek, the glen and this little sacred space in nature.

But that fallen tree trunk, that log in our path that very vivid spring day, seemed to symbolize so much more… like…

 

  • The strength in Nature
  • The cycle of life
  • The obstacles in our (life) paths
  • That maybe removing the large obstacles in our way can take more than 1 person
  • That we never know when it’s our time to fall/go – nature will have its way
  • That sometimes we can just walk right over some obstacles to get to our destination, but the obstacle will still be there when we look back
  • That nature can be incredible, forceful, beautiful, sad, and destructive all at once
  • That we should take pause in our own glen and take it all in, seeing both obstacles and beauty at once, for what they are and for what they may not be.

That log in our path turned out to be anything but a log.

 

December 3, 2016 Linda Ruggeri No comments exist

In 2013, we found ourselves living in Green Lake, WI (for three years). It was an incredibly exciting opportunity and one that allowed us to truly experience nature and the seasons like no where else we had been before. First (true) winters are always exhilarating because the world opens up to you in ways you never knew existed. Your first sled ride down the hill, the first time you snow-shoe or cross-country ski, midnight walks on the frozen lake under a full moon, or seeing the winter architecture in the trees, all so very beautiful.

But winters can be harsh and long too, and in places like the northern states, by February you are longing for the green leaves to come back and you wonder how you’re going to keep it together during those short very cold days when by 4pm darkness has set in, and you still have the long evening ahead of you.

I learned a lot from our winters in Wisconsin, and keep those memories safe in a tiny place in my heart.   I wrote the following piece hoping to convey at least a little bit of sense of what it was like (for me) to be there.

 

 

WINTER’S HOPE

img_6716The hope is, we make it through this winter.

Away from loved ones and friends,

from the warm beaches of your Mediterranean Sea

and the wide sandy esplanades of my California Coast,

holding on to this small family of three we’ve created.

 

The hope is, we have enough white oak and black locust

to make it through this Green Lake winter,

that root vegetables stay dry in our cellar

and there are wool blankets a plenty.

That underneath the vast winter quilt outside,

our lifeless garden renews itself in silence,

preparing to become fertile again.

 

The hope is, we find each other once more,

with long, good conversations, like the ones we used to have,

and the comfort of knowing

if we’re together, we have everything we need.

 

The hope is, that amidst our snow covered souls

the sun will continue to shine every morning,

reminding us that spring is but a few months away.