The Last ½ of the Last 1/3 of Mom, Part I
Today is the day.
It is the day after the great Cuzinpalooza dinner. We are all basking in the afterglow and in great anticipation of the day ahead.
We are starting out on our collective journey carrying the last remains of Mim, my mother, off into the Wisconsin countryside to spread them on the actual land where she was born. The precise farm to be exact. You may want to refer back to a previous blog post, The Last 1/3 of Mom, to get a picture of why only 1/2 of a 1/3 but for the purposes of today’s journey, know that she is happily ensconced in a frosted cocktail shaker that Claire and bought on Castro St in San Francisco at the outset of our journey and I’m sure looking forward to having this multiple year odyssey of my own invention come to a close!
Cousins Mary and Susie who live here in La Crosse have done a remarkable job of laying the foundation for our day. They have contacted people, opened doors and set the stage (more on stages in a bit) for yet another astounding adventure we will share together.
First stop, Galesville, home of Gale College, an historic institution that our great great grandfather helped found and run and that our grandmother, Clara, attended as a teenager in high school. Today, it sits somber, dark, brickly eerie, its countenance guarding the grounds of the unused square where students once gathered. It is today, a fledgling museum of sorts and stands testament to the ambitions and goals of generations past who created the educator that my mother was her entire life. Nice symmetry.
Mary had arranged for the docent of sorts to open the building and show us around. We come entrusted with some old family photos of our grandmother, Clara, posed with her fellow thespians on a stage, in costume, circa 1905. Not only was this a school that featured an advanced drama department, an oddity in itself in this very rural, almost pioneerish community even then, but it was coed!
Clara, posed and poised, looks happy, engaged and full of the spirit and promise that only youth and lack of life experience can engender. It is a revelation to us. We only knew her as the exhausted mother of seven and wife of our fairly abusive and Germanically tyrannical grandfather. Shortly after these photos were taken, she was pregnant (can you say scandal?), married and her life as a pioneering wife and mother was set in stone and laid out in front of her. The careless days of joy spent in her grandfather’s school were done. The business of running her ever growing family was all now.
As we wandered the building, the echoes of those distant students tromped up the creaky wooden stairs before us, leading us inexorably to the top, the giant open auditorium that takes up the entire floor. And there, taking up one complete wall, was the stage. The very stage that we were looking at in the pictures we held in our hands. Our Grandmother’s stage.
What play were they rehearsing?
What part was she playing?
Who thought to bring a photographer to this rural spit of a town and document these eager young people so seriously posed and obviously eager to show off their talents?
We will never know but we are grateful for these few images.
And now, 106 years later, Clara’s “kids” stood on her stage,
And instinctively we went to re-create the pose that those long ago students had struck, aping their long forgotten faces and reflecting on the astonishing fact that we stood, now, in 2011, exactly where our grandmother had …. 105 year ago.
We couldn’t help but drift to what her thoughts would have been back then.
Was she aware how lucky she was to even BE in school no less a performing arts class coming, as she did, from this outpost of immigrant settler stock?
Did she know about theatre in a greater sense?
Was New York a beacon of art and performance or was Europe the dream of young performers.
What I’d give fro a journal! But in the end, we had each other…and the pictures of Clara..to fuel our current contentment.
One of the last photos we had with us was a class picture, taken on the front porch of the main building. Not having a ham among us…..we just had to do a final re-creation, I give you Cuzinpalooza, Class of 2011.
As we left Galesville on to the final leg of Mim’s journey, Marty and Claire posed for a last shot. Marty, in a stroke of truly unexpected and wildly appreciated sentimentality, had worn Mim’s Norwegian sweater. Mim and I bought this sweater together on a trip to Norway in 1968. Even then, Mim was searching out her roots and I suppose instilled that wanderlust and curiosity in me. I’m happy to carry in forward. That sweater was one of her most prized possessions. I’m so comforted that is rests on sturdy shoulders.
Postscript of sorts: The Gale College Historic District had just purchased the ebony baby grand piano that sat on the stage. They were looking to raise money to help pay for it and further restorations and performances in Old Main. We all leapt at the opportunity and each “purchased” keys for our mothers and one for Grandma Clara, picking the register we wanted them etched on and grouping them together as a family.
As we pulled away from Old Main and turned towards Ettrick and Mim’s final adventure, we glanced at the sign on the road and all fell silent.
This was meant to be!!
Had we stumbled into a time/space continuum?
Were we being guided by unseen hands?
Without hesitation, we all agreed……….yes.
Next up. The long and winding road………comes to a conclusion with purpose and place and heart all intact. Stay Tuned.