Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 21, 2021
A place for all seasons
Wisconsin seems like a second home to me, after visiting it dozens of times since husband Art and I married in summer 1988.
Part of the Christmas holiday and New Year's were celebrated with his mother Donna, brother Tommy and various other relatives. Often we’d return in March for Donna's birthday. Her family reunion gave us an excuse to escape part of Kansas' hot summers. After we purchased a cottage in the state's North Woods in 1994, those summer visits included swimming in the nearby lake, picking raspberries and blackberries, Art fishing for trout, taking long drives through the many forests, and checking out antique shops and flea markets with our then-young daughters Mariya and Katie.
In the mid-2000s, I was able to experience yet another "season" in Wisconsin's year. I joined Art for long weekends during his autumn trout-fishing adventures. I've always loved the fall, and I was thrilled to see the brilliant reds and yellows of the maples, birches and tamaracks hugging the forest roads and lake edges. The state is the nation's largest cranberry producer and the red berries floating in the bogs during the fall harvest is indeed a sight to see.
We've explored other parts of the state as well, including its capital Madison. Friend Jo has a small farm that we've visited countless times in the state's Driftless Area - a region not glaciated during the last Ice Age. We've repeatedly stopped along Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, and sought out the many waterfalls in the northern counties.
Door County - the long peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan - is famous as a holiday getaway. In 1997, we drove its perimeter, beginning on the Lake Michigan side and returning along Green Bay. At Fish Creek, we partook of a delicious "fish boil," whose beginnings can be traced to the county's Scandinavian settlers. Towns with names like Denmark, Brussels and Luxemburg, mixed with others such as Sturgeon Bay, Bailey's Harbor and Whitefish Bay suggest the colorful nature of an area famous for its strawberries, apples and cherries.
In just the first few months of this year, we've already made two 700-mile trips to Appleton, Art's hometown. We first came in February to begin the slow process of cleaning out the family home after Tommy's late-January death. At that time, temperatures plunged below zero, underscoring why the Green Bay Packer's home field is referred to as "The Frozen Tundra." Snow and ice packed the driveway and sidewalks, which meant the short trips to the garage with bags of trash were treacherously slippery.
Our next visit began in April. Spring had sprung, evidenced by the yard full of dandelions, spring rains, and blooming daffodils, tulips and flowering crabapple trees. In some places, the woods were carpeted with white trilliums. About the size of large daisies, these three-petaled flowers are typically found in the undergrowth of trees that protect the plants from too much sunlight.
While the 50- and 60-degree temps seemed cool to me, I noticed many "natives" were out and about in shorts, flip-flops and short-sleeved shirts. Art fit right in with his ever-present denim shorts!
We enjoyed visiting with Art's cousins Jeff and Kris and their spouses Lorraine and Jim. Jim had the questionable honor of helping us take seven pickup loads of trash to the county landfill! Jeff got in on part of the "fun" by helping trim branches from one of the overgrown "shrubs" in front of the house. We took them and Kris and Jim’s daughter Sarah out to eat at our favorite local Italian restaurant in a celebration of Tommy's 88 years. We’re all fully vaccinated, but being inside a restaurant for the first time since the pandemic began seemed slightly surreal. But within a short time, it felt normal.
We also helped Katie and hubby Matt unpack boxes and set up their new digs after their recent move to a small town not far from Madison. They, too, are vaccinated and it was the first time we’ve been "up close and personal" with them for more than a year! Katie and I walked their dog in a nearby conservation area home to ducks, geese, egrets and sand hill cranes.
Katie also came to Appleton to see her grandmother's house again. We took a ride around the city, and Art pointed out schools he and family members attended, homes they lived in, and where some had operated businesses. Since his grandfather's and father's work was connected with the railroad and Art spent three summers during college working for it, the locations of now long-gone depots were included on the tour.
Along with our clean-up activities, we became acquainted with the neighbors across the street. They've lived in Appleton about 15 years, but they grew up in Rhinelander, not far from our cottage and our summer "headquarters" for buying groceries and hardware items. We made arrangements for Henry, their middle child, to mow the lawn this summer. His mother Sarah was curious whether Art remembered much about their home. He recalled little regarding the interior, but shared stories concerning various family members. Jerry, one of the children, had built an observatory in the back yard. He's now in his 90s, and Art encouraged her to get in touch with him.
Another it's-a-small-world experience occurred when former neighbor Bobby drove up when he saw us outside. He said he comes by at times and knew from Tommy that Art now lived in Kansas. So when he saw our car tag, he decided to stop. The two spent half an hour recalling incidents involving former neighbors and family.
Reflecting on all these experiences spread out over 30 years, the Badger State for me has indeed been a state for all seasons - and I never once even mentioned cheese!
Top-left: Skaters in Tenney Park in Madison. Art's daughter Karen learned to skate there. Top-right: Art's cousin Jeff "attacking" one of the overgrown shrubs in front of Tommy's home. Art has already "trimmed" the one on the right. Lower-right: Supper at Victoria's restaurant in Appleton. (l-r): Gloria, Art's cousin Kris, Jeff, Kris' and Jim's daughter Sarah, Art, Kris' husband Jim, Jeff's wife Lorraine. Lower-middle: A Fish Creek fish boil. When the cooking is nearly complete, kerosene is added to the fire, causing it to flare. The pot then boils over, eliminating all of the oils from cooking. Lower-left: a trillium. The boil photo is from the Door County Visitors Bureau.