Sunday, August 28, 2011
On our spring photography trip to North Carolina in 2010, Joann and I stopped at Murray's Mill Historic District. We finished our visit with a late lunch near the old mill.
As we packed up from our picnic, Joann asked me if we would be on the backroads or if we would be driving on the highway for a ways. Sometimes during vacation when we will be on the highway for a while, I drive to give Joann a break. I said it was highway for a ways to get closer to our motel, but there was an old store that I wanted to see that was just north of the highway.
We hit the highway and drove until we found the exit for the old general store. Driving just a few miles north, we came to the two-story building.
The community of Cana was named after the first store owner and postmaster, James H. Cain. The store is a gable-fronted building which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
While we were at the store, a white cat lolled around the front steps. I’m sure it was taking every opportunity to find mice around the old building as well as to meet anyone who stopped at the store to photograph the history.
The post office was closed in 1954 while the store continued to operate until 1964. The store has been carefully preserved, but is not open to the public.
This summer it was announced that the US Postal Service would be closing many small post office locations for budget reasons. One of the articles I read stated that they may open what they are referring to as “village post offices” in grocery and convenience stores. They would be responsible for hiring someone to staff the village post office, and they would not be able to do everything that the closed post office locations could. In some cases, this would help the elderly or mobility challenged in these small communities.
I can’t help but think that as our economy continues to evolve, we are reverting back to some of our previous ways. Maybe in some ways, the old timers did know best.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
“Hey, you know, everybody’s talkin’ about the good old days, right?
Everybody! The good old days, the good old days,
Well, let’s talk about the good old days…
Come to think of it as, as bad as we think they are,
These will become the good old days for our children.”
(Spoken lyrics from The Way We Were/Try to Remember by Gladys Knight & the Pips)
Last Sunday, we celebrated our father’s 90th birthday. It was an absolutely beautiful day with blue skies and puffy white clouds. Roughly 80 members of our immediate and extended family attended.
In preparation for this party, my sister Phyllis and I decided to put together a slide show that chronicled our dad’s entire life. Knowing that this would be a huge job, we got together about nine months ago and pulled out the oversized box of family photographs, of which Phyllis is the keeper. Looking through this window to our past and the past of our father and his family was rather overwhelming due to the sheer volume of memories contained within that box. I must admit that we weren’t very productive that day, but it was probably a necessary start to the process.
In January of this year, Phyllis and I visited our dad and stepmom for a day to go through some of the photographs we found in the box and ask Dad some questions. He, of course, was told that we were beginning to organize the family photographs and that’s why we were asking questions. In reality, it was because there were parts of his life for which we didn’t have the facts for our slide show.
In March, Phyllis and I began the arduous task of chronicling our father’s life, starting with the marriage of his parents, Herman Joseph Ringelstetter and Mary Barbara Lehner, in 1919. Shortly before their marriage, Herman had purchased a farm in Section 27 in Spring Green Township, Sauk County, Wisconsin. This area is known as Wilson Creek, and it is located halfway between Spring Green and Plain.
In putting together the slides for this part of our family history, we were fortunate to have the help of our dad’s twin sisters, Beatrice Blau and Bernice Ringelstetter. They gave us some wonderful old photos of the farm as it looked in the 1920s, along with a hired man driving a three-horse hitch pulling a grain binder. The old farm buildings are in the background.
They also gave us a photo of the Wilson Creek farmhouse, in which 11 of the 12 Ringelstetter children were born. We visited the old farm in 1996 and I shot a couple rolls of film there. In May of this year, I and my four sisters spent a day with Dad in the Wilson Creek area. It was a beautiful spring day and we had a great time visiting all the places Dad frequented when he was growing up. We were saddened, though, to find that the barn and most of the outbuildings on the old farm are now gone.
The good news, however, is that the old one-room schoolhouse that was attended by Dad and most of his siblings is still standing and is being well cared for. It’s called the Upper Wilson Creek School and the old water pump in the photo below still stands next to the school.
On the day of the party, after lunch and birthday cake were served, we started our slide show, projecting it on a large wall above the fireplace so that everyone could see it well. After the slides about our grandparents and their farm, there were many slides of our father, Lawrence Aloysius Ringelstetter, and his siblings as children growing up in Wilson Creek.
These were followed by slides of his cars; his jobs; meeting and marrying our mother, Dorothy Rose (Barman) Ringelstetter; their seven children being born; the two houses they built; the two farms they bought to make a living; the auction of the second farm; the beginning of their retirement; the early death of our mother; meeting and marrying our stepmother, Mary Jane (Franke) Ringelstetter; and the combining of her family with his.
After the chronicle of Dad’s life, there were 90 memory slides to match the 90 years of his life, which started with the Gladys Knight tune mentioned above. The entire slide show ran a full 35 minutes, but no one was bored – quite the opposite, in fact. Everyone laughed often, some cried a bit, and many said it was the best slide show they had ever seen. Later that afternoon, many watched it for a second time.
It took the two of us, Phyllis and I, much of our spare time throughout the spring and summer to complete this huge project. But it was worth it. It was a labor of love for our Dad’s 90th birthday, but it was also for the entire family to reminisce and remember the good old days and those who have already left us.
On our trip to the Wilson Creek farm in 1996, while Ruth and I were exploring the barn, we discovered our father’s initials carved on the inside of the barn door. We ended our slide show with this photo saying that, over the past 90 years, our dad has certainly left his mark in time.
Happy 90th Birthday, Dad, and Happy Shunpiking!
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I received my first copy of A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold for my birthday. It was a gift from my first boss. She said she thought the book was perfect for me. Little did I know that 25 years later, Joann and I would volunteer for a bird survey at the Leopold Memorial Reserve and we would meet his daughter, Nina Leopold Bradley.
Our first meeting for the volunteer work in 2005 was one Saturday morning at her home on the reserve. She was so excited to have a group of birders in her home talking about surveying the reserve for birds. The survey would also include some state-owned land and some private land. Joann and I were lucky enough to volunteer for and get the land of the reserve for our survey.
As we did our volunteer work, we would occasionally stop after one of our surveys to see if she was home. She would invite us in and ask us what we had found for the day. She was interested in what we thought were exciting finds from the day. I don’t think it was so much for what was on the reserve as it was for hearing our excitement over what we had found. It made her extremely happy to know what birds were using the reserve, and to know that people enjoyed being able to do the survey and share it with her.
She would record our findings in her journal along with her notes on the birds at her feeders and the plants she had observed. She told us she took a walk every day and observed the new plants in bloom. She had many wildflower locations that she knew by heart and visited them every year to observe their bloom time and recorded it.
She was a phenologist and kept a journal recording the return of migrating birds to her feeders, and the first bloom of spring wildflowers. Her father had kept records on the same land while she was growing up and they had made it into a family affair. Who would be the first to spot a returning bird or the first bloom of a wildflower species?
When Nina returned with her husband to the farm (now the reserve) in 1976, she began keeping the same records of spring occurrences. She collected data in her journals every spring. Records exist for this same location from 1936-1947 and again from 1976 until 1998. Those records are an amazing resource for scientists.
As Joann and I surveyed the property for birds that were using the land as they migrated through, and then later in the season for those nesting and raising young, we also enjoyed the wildflowers we came upon. Sometimes we would take note of the location and then return after finishing our birding for the day so Joann could photograph the flowers.
At the end of that survey, the staff at the reserve hosted a celebratory dinner near the Shack. The Shack was the weekend retreat of Aldo Leopold and his family in the 30’s and 40’s. It was an abandoned chicken coop when they bought the land, and they renovated it into their weekend retreat using found windows and a door, along with recycled wood planks. It has a fireplace made from local stone and the original beds were made out of snow fencing and hay. It is the only chicken coop on the National Register of Historic Places.
One of the staff members of the reserve gave us a tour of the Shack and told us about the family and the times they stayed there. We also walked a trail that took us past the old farmhouse foundation and basement and on to the site of “the good oak,” from the February essay in A Sand County Almanac.
This spring, we again volunteered to survey the reserve for migrating and breeding birds. Sadly, Nina Leopold Bradley passed away on May 25, 2011 at her home on the reserve. As we finish up each of our birding trips, we’re disappointed that we can’t stop in to tell Nina what we found that day. But we were lucky enough to have known her and to have shared conversations with her on the land that she loved.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
For the past several months, I’ve been working with one of my sisters on organizing our old family photographs. Among those photographs are a couple of images of an old stone chicken house that was on the first farm our parents bought when I was almost two years old.
The people who owned the farm before us had left an old horse in the barn and chickens in the chicken house. Our father’s intent was to eventually support our family with a working dairy farm and I’m not sure whose decision it was, but the decision was made to get rid of the chickens. So, our mother prepared to butcher them.
A number of years ago, as I was sitting in a Milwaukee restaurant waiting with friends for our meal to be served, one of them said, “Let’s take turns sharing our earliest memory.” When it was my turn, I said, “Well, I’m not sure anyone is going to want to hear this right before we eat, but my earliest memory is of being chased by a headless chicken.”
In the old black and white photographs of the stone chicken house, one of them shows some old-fashioned snow fence next to the chicken house. The purpose of the snow fence was to contain the chickens when they were outside the chicken house. And if you look closely, you can see us kids peering through the snow fence at the chickens.
On the day of the butchering, Mom set up a chopping block and we kids, not wanting to miss anything, stood by to watch. It doesn’t seem like such a good idea to let a two-year-old watch something like this but, in those days, there was no one else to watch us, so Mom had us with her as she worked.
I really don’t remember if it was the very first chicken she butchered, but at some point, she laid a chicken on the chopping block and, as soon as she chopped off its head, its body began to run in a frenzied fashion. And, unfortunately, it ran right towards me. I tried to run away from it, but it seemed that no matter which way I turned, the chicken followed me.
Being only two, the chicken seemed almost as big as I was, and as it chased me, its blood spattered on my dress. The worst part of it, though, was that my older brother and sister found this scene to be very funny. Years later, as an adult, I asked my sister if it was just my imagination that the chicken followed me no matter which way I turned. She told me that it wasn’t my imagination. The headless chicken did, in fact, turn whichever way I turned. This is, of course, a story that I will never live down, but I keep my sense of humor about it.
When I was 13 years old, we moved from that farm to a much larger farm in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. The interesting thing is that the previous owners of this farm also left chickens in a chicken house. I think it was part of the agreement that they would be allowed to leave the chickens until they could get them moved to their new farm because I don’t remember us having to actually get rid of the chickens.
The thing I do remember, though, is that my sister, Linda, who was not quite four years old at the time, was fascinated by these chickens. She spent a lot of time in the chicken house watching the chickens and ended up being labeled with a nickname associated with this fascination. She, too, has not been able to live this down. After the chickens were removed, we turned the chicken house into a calf barn.
As Ruth and I travel the backroads of Wisconsin and other states, we often find old chicken coops. Many of them are easily identified by their slanted roofs and row of windows across the front of the building. Oftentimes, these old chicken coops are now being used for a different purpose. The most interesting design we’ve encountered is the poultry barn at the Star Barn Complex in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. The buildings at this farm were built in the 1870s and are on the National Register of Historic Places.
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