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  • Nora Koch

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

July 22, 2019

I know this may sound unfair, paranoid, or cynical, but I believe it is true. Only one of the people who have asked me today how my summer has been going, or what I have been up to, if they even ask at all, cared to hear. If I did talk about how I just spent the last five days, I suspect it would make most of them very uncomfortable, even though none of what I did was any threat to anybody in any way. It was simply counter-cultural and these days, that is a big threat.

I am struck by how closed everyone is: their tone, their eyes, how they respond to questions, in comparison to how open everyone was over the past five days.

I did not know the majority of the people I spent time with at the beginning of our five days. There were only a handful of the 230 people whom I had ever met before. Yet there was an open heartedness, a willingness to be vulnerable and to want to truly know each other. We did not always share a language, a culture, or a faith. Yet I trusted them. If someone asked me a question about myself, it was clear they wanted to know what I had to say and valued what I said. Nobody talked any politics all five days.

I spend more time with the closed people than with the open people, but it is such a sad, truncated kind of time. Though I doubt they would admit it, I am “the enemy”. 

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  • Nora Koch

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

July 2, 2019

I found out later that she was as surprised as I when she answered the door, that instead of her being taller than me by 2 ½ inches, I was now taller than her by the same! I’d driven 3.5 hours to have lunch with my Aunt Adeline in the town where I was born. At 92, she supplied the meal. She does not like restaurants; neither did her husband, my Uncle Gary, who died last December. I was delighted to eat barbeques that tasted just like those my mother made – they were very good, as was the cheese, pickles, potato salad, watermelon, and ice-cream that went along with them. Aunt Adeline has lost much of her hearing, but we communicated just fine. 

We spoke of the sad, deserted downtown of this place to which she returned after teaching and living in Oregon for 50 years. When I was a girl it was a bustling, thriving town where we went for all of the needs we could not supply from our farm. I had a nightmare one time, barefoot in town; we ran barefoot at home but wouldn’t think of being barefoot in public. The dime store was my favorite, of course; there was a fabulous toy section and an area where tiny glass and ceramic animals were sold. Dress shops supplied us with clothes, a department store had astonishing pneumonic tubes that the cashier used to exchange money in a little brass cylinder with the office upstairs. I purchased my first Beatle album: Beatles 65, in the Music Store, where one could sit in a booth and listen to records before purchasing them. Hunter’s, the grocery store was physically connected to a farm store. In springtime, we’d push the swinging doors and go back in time to a barn-like atmosphere with rough wooden floors, to see live chicks under a heat lamp.  

All that is gone now, and main street buildings are empty – one after another. With the demise of Shopko, the only place to buy clothes is Walmart, hunkered down north of the town proper, where it has been sucking the life out of the area for 30 years and which now finds itself preyed upon by Amazon. My Aunt, who does not use a computer has no other place to purchase what she needs, and she doesn’t like cheap things.

Avarice has its victims.

When we had finished our meal, I was admiring a photo of my grandparent’s home in winter, and of younger Aunt Adeline and Uncle Gary in photos on the wall in the hallway. My Aunt described the locations of the photos and commented on one of a buckskin horse, in a saddle and tied to a tree obviously in the wilderness. She and Uncle Gary used to go packing and camping on horseback in the mountains. She told me once that she was scared to go but didn’t want to be left behind, so she went anyway. I’ve always admired her for that courage. They had many adventures together, and owned numerous horses, some were Peruvian Paso Finos,

Aunt Adeline invited me to choose something, if I was interested in that sort of thing, from her curio cabinets and walls for myself for after she died. It felt a bit odd to do this, and yet was wonderfully freeing – the truth is, she will soon die, and we spoke of that during my time there. The first thing I chose was the photo of my Grandparent’s home, but that had already been claimed by a cousin, so I asked for the photo of the horse. It was a mare who both my Uncle and she rode in the mountains. She put my name on a sticker and put it on the back; I’m hoping Aunt Adeline remembers the mare’s name before she is gone, she couldn’t then. The last thing I need is another thing for my wall – we are overrun by art, but this is what I want to remember about them. She encouraged me to choose other items, so I found a delightful little creamer and sugar bowl in an Art Deco style from Austria. If I’d found it in a second-hand store, I’d have bought it even though I didn’t need it, so it is especially meaningful that it is from her. When she no longer needs a beautiful hand thrown ceramic bowl, I’ll get that as well.

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  • Nora Koch

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

June 18, 2019

We had a family reunion last weekend.

I started down my route to southern Wisconsin along the Mississippi, a trip I’ve taken many times in the past. I wanted to experience the old route one more time alone, something I did for many years before I married Peter in 2005. I have wanderlust; he does not, so I saw this as an opportunity to take my time, and ramble. I plotted my strategy for the “Long way.” Little did I know how much rambling I would end up doing! 

Disappointed to find a detour, pointing me inland just north of Alma, after a cup of curried pumpkin soup at my favorite little café, Pier 4, on the north side of town, I decided to drive to County Rd. E and go up the hill on the south end of Alma towards Buena Vista Park. Instead of going into the park I went over the ridge to find a road that lead downstream.

Once off Co. Rd. E, I followed Canada Ridge to HWY 88, but 88 came back to HWY 35 before the end of the detour, so I backtracked to the next road that headed in the general direction I wanted to go. Glimpsing distant peaks through breaks in the trees jutting out of deep valleys illuminated by the sun, I marveled. I would never have seen this landscape had I not taken that route over the top of those ridges adding at least 50 miles to what normally would have taken 15. I have no idea which roads I drove on, in those hills they twist and turn, go up and down and they are beautiful. I finally came out at Marshland, near Trempealeau.

Foolish perhaps, but so far, I’ve gotten away with it.

I had a pleasant time visiting Peter’s brother André, during dinner that night in Middleton, then headed to a family reunion the next morning after breakfast with him in another favorite restaurant the Sofra Family Bistro.

Remnants of my Mother’s family gathered at my cousin’s place near Lodi, where upon arrival I encountered both Aunt Angeline (91) and Aunt Marge (84), making dozens of cream puffs for all of us. Aunt Angeline and cousin Penny were in Wisconsin from Oregon where they moved in the early 1960s. We ate well as we always do, with my cousin perfectly grilling brats. It was great to see everyone.

Aunt Angeline had a radio show when they lived in Wisconsin. She brought her guitar from Oregon and played songs for us from way back then. She and Aunt Marge sang a little bit, as they used to when I was little, then Penny and she sang several songs, harmonizing beautifully. I tried to sing Waltz Across Texas, with her. I know that song and only know the melody, but if Aunt Angeline tried to harmonize with me, I’d dip into whatever note she was singing. I knew I found it hard to harmonize, but I didn’t realize how harmonizing impaired I really was until then.

On the way home, I took the free Merrimac Ferry, across the Wisconsin River, went to Mass at Reedsburg, where I ran into a fellow St. Michael parishioner, who was visiting her mother there! Somewhere between Reedsburg and Lacrosse, I took a wrong turn and ended up putting another 50 miles on the trip, but again saw fantastic Driftless landscapes. I have to say, it was not as much fun as on the way down. It was getting late and by the time I got to Lacrosse it was dark and pouring rain. I was glad to get home, and think I’ve gotten solo tripping out of my system – perhaps for the rest of my life.

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