• 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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  • Nora Koch

Updated: Aug 15, 2019

April 18, 2019

I was pitching a fit; it was my day to ride our pony and my visiting cousin was on him. Suddenly my Grandmother quietly said to me “Your Grandfather thinks so highly of you; how do you think this would make him feel?” I was stunned to silence. I hadn’t known that my Grandfather even knew I existed. He lived in a higher world than I, benignly remote; he was always in the background, quietly smoking his cigars.  I don’t remember ever talking to him, but I recall him sitting in their Living room, with a spittoon and a totem of chewed gum next to him.

He sang for weddings and funerals in his beautiful tenor voice. My Aunt Darlene often accompanied him with her flawless soprano (as they did at my wedding). My aunts sang when they did dishes ranging, from alto to soprano. Aunt Angeline had her own radio show when I was growing up singing and playing the guitar, and probably accordion, but that’s another story.

Grandpa’s hands were legend they were so big. Forgetting his sports jacket in the car that drove off with a relative after my sister’s wedding, he borrowed my Father’s for pictures and had a hard time getting his hands through the sleeves.

I know most about Grandpa from stories told about him: his days running a lumber camp in Northern Wisconsin when my mother was young, being knocked out by his Percheron workhorse team as they ran on either side of a telephone pole with him between them. I also know him from images, some of which I took. My favorites are of him as a middle-aged man sitting listening to the radio, with my Grandmother when they were old, and as he met my nephew for the first time.

  • Nora Koch

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

April 1, 2019

My Grandmother’s name was Elenora, Wilhelmina, Johanna, pronounced “yohanna”. My name, a shortened version of hers, was one of many gifts from this intense woman.

During the Great Depression, to make ends meet, she ran the dairy farm as Grandpa ran a logging camp further north in Wisconsin. After Grandma and Grandpa left the farm and moved into town, they were fortunate to land in a place where they could in effect keep on farming on a smaller scale. They raised and sold produce from their “Garden of Eat’n”, raised chickens, geese, sheep and even a heifer. From that “farm,” she created goose down pillows for all her grandchildren.

The town decided to put fluoride in the water system. Incensed, Grandma took a dead chicken, to the hearing and slung it in front of whoever was in charge. She wanted to make the point that she used fluoride to kill the lice on her chickens; that it was poison. She was hauled forcefully out of the room.

I was enchanted by both my Paternal and Maternal Grandmother’s homes. One day when I was around eight, I told Grandma how beautiful I thought her chandelier was. When they left the farm, it was mine. The structure of the chandelier has not survived the years, but I use ten of the crystals on our Christmas tree; the rest I gave to my nephew.

Even after she left their place in town, after Grandpa died, Grandma raised chickens until she went to the nursing home. She couldn’t stand store bought food.

Next to Grandma’s kitchen sink, only a few inches deep, was a glass cake pan in which fluttered fan tailed gold fish amid feathery water plants. A philodendron grew out of the water. The set up was enchanting, especially looking down on the undulating fish. She created many such beguiling environments, including the gardens that surrounded their home.

Grandma wore her wedding dress dyed gold for their fiftieth anniversary, and trundled Grandpa into the church in a wheelbarrow.

At her funeral my sister was scandalized when the pastor said “Now, there were some who did not like Nora.” I found it wonderful – he clearly knew her and was not of that group. Not long before she died, she wrote a Christmas play with parts for people from the congregation. Not only did she write the play, she also sewed costumes for everyone: elder men as wise men, younger as shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and so on. She was annoyed that someone switched out the hymns she had chosen. At the time I thought “Good grief, Grandma, they did your play.” Now I am in complete agreement with her.

She was intense; she was not a sit back and criticize kind of person, she was a go for it and put in a lot of work to make something excellent kind of person.  She was not always easy for people to “take”. I share that quality of her intensity; I hope I share her excellence.