I claim to be related through marriage with at least half of Grant County, but I’m actually more directly related, though to a much smaller extent.
My mother is from Boscobel, where my grandmother had a second-hand store next door to their house, and my grandfather worked at the Wilson State Nursery. My father was born in La Crosse, but grew up in Richland Center, where my grandfather owned a farm implement dealership. (From that, I got an orange Allis–Chalmers pedal tractor. Neither the dealership nor Allis–Chalmers exist anymore.) They met in, of course, Madison, but that’s a separate story.
Until my grandmother died in 2007, not a single year went by without my spending at least some time in Boscobel, which means I’ve at least visited Grant County every year of my life, in addition to living here seven years now.
This came to mind in part because our children are in that interregnum between summer activities (summer school, baseball/softball and swimming) and the start of school, preceded by the start of fall sports practices — to be precise, their every-summer rotation between grandparents.
This also came to mind because of a story one of our Southwest Wisconsin Newspapers reported in July that the Department of Natural Resources is looking to consolidate its two seedling nurseries, in Boscobel and Wisconsin Rapids, into one facility, operated by lease, at either Boscobel or Wisconsin Rapids.
Grandpa worked there for, I believe, 35 years, retiring a year before he died. After his death, I became Grandma’s truck driver, so to speak, when I came to visit. The “truck” was my 1975 Chevrolet Caprice two-door, with a trunk big enough to hold hundreds of pounds of bagged black dirt, peat moss, potting soil, mulch or whatever else she needed for the gardens on her three lots. The only downside was high-aproned driveways, which the rear trailer hitch would hit, producing a loud thumping noise.
I can’t explain it very well, but summer heat feels hotter here than where I grew up, Madison. (And it was definitely hotter the first year I lived in Grant County, 1988.) Maybe it’s the pine trees along the Wisconsin River, or its greater distance from the giant refrigerator along the eastern border of Wisconsin. But in the days before moving here, when we’d visit the in-laws for Memorial Day weekend, I always knew that however unspringlike it was where we were living, it would feel closer to summer here, to the extent the term “Wisconsin spring” can be defined.
The irony of all the time I spent in Grant County before I graduated from college is that I spent little time in either Lancaster, where I first started working, or Platteville, though I drove through Platteville a few times to cover basketball playoff games at UW–Platteville, lose money at Dubuque Greyhound Park, or other reasons. (So I do remember when Business 151 used to be U.S. 151, although I was born well after 151 moved from downtown.)
At the season-ending youth baseball picnic a week ago (hint: hot dogs on the grill are always better than boiled), I struck up a conversation with someone who remembered where the drive-in theater was (on Ridge Avenue), Platteville’s second downtown movie theater (across the street from the Avalon), the seasonally open drive-in on South Water Street, the A&W that preceded Dairy Queen, and grocery stores other than what used to be Dick’s and now is Piggly Wiggly.
The picnic was held at, of course, Legion Field, or Legion Park. Not being a native here, I can’t really distinguish one from the other, although I tend to use “Park” because to say that Platteville High School baseball games are played at “Hill Field at Legion Field” is repetitive and sounds strange. Hill Field was where both PHS and UW–Platteville played football before Pioneer Stadium opened. That too is hard to imagine if you’re looking out at Hill Field’s outfield from home plate, since the football field apparently fit in between the Hill Field foul poles, and, like few remaining high school football fields (one of which is Belmont), included part of the baseball infield, like Packers games at the late Milwaukee County Stadium.
Readers of community newspapers tend to like reading about past history, which is why, when I found someone else doing it, I instituted “I See by the Journal,” photos of previous front pages of your favorite weekly newspaper, which is on page 12B this week. (It’s a nice marketing touch to be able to use as the name for the feature the actual name of a former section of the newspaper.) We only have bound volumes going back to 2005 in this office, and I wouldn’t call something that happened nine years ago as history.
Reading old newspapers was one of my first weekly-newspaper duties. I’ve been doing this so long that the first year I was doing an old-newspaper column, the first year was 1858 — yes, before the Civil War. The other years were 1938 and 1963, just before World War II and the Vietnam War, respectively. I read a number of columns and letters to the editor suggesting that the world appeared to them to be going to hell. That may be a comfort to those of you reading today’s apocalyptic headlines — from the perspective of the present, the world is always going to hell. (Of course, some year that prediction may be correct.)