|St. Ann's Church|
The countryside is beautiful in the classic Wisconsin style -- gentle rolling hills that are verdant in the late summer. It's a wonderful place to visit during the late summer, even if you are saying goodbye.
My Uncle Frank and Aunt Judy settled in this region, ran a dairy farm and raised a family. They had recently celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary when my aunt Judy passed away last week. She was 77 years old. Frank and Judy had seven children. The first two, Paul and Mary Alice, died shortly after they were born. After those early tragedies, five other children arrived and took their place in the world -- my cousins Dan, Steve, Lois, Gerry and Sarah.
Those are the basic facts, but life doesn't reside in simple recitations of such details. Life happens in places like the farm where Frank and Judy made their life. I was a city kid and we would make the drive through the countryside to the farm a number of times. Uncle Frank would regale us with tales about how he had a man who worked for him named Clarence, who we were told lived in the silo. We were gullible enough to believe it for a while and even after we figured things out, we still wanted to see how Clarence was doing. Uncle Frank never hesitated to hook up a wagon for a hayride and eventually he let Dan, Steve or Gerry drive the tractor. We had family reunions at the farm, with the cousins playing wiffle ball all afternoon long while the adults enjoyed a cool beverage.
We didn't get to St. Anna that much after we started to grow up. My cousins eventually had other agendas besides farming and Frank and Judy decided to sell the farm and retire. They stayed in the area and lived in the nearby town of New Holstein. Family reunions, when they happened, took place at Dan's home in the city. We had returned to St. Anna four years ago to celebrate Frank and Judy's 50th wedding anniversary. That was a great event and it was a great opportunity to see family that I hadn't seen in a while. It had been over 20 years since I'd been back to St. Anna.
August is a problematic time in our family. Both of my parents died in the month of August, and we've marked those grim anniversaries each year. Now we had another milestone to add. As my brother and I approached town, we drove by the old farm, which was as tidy as we remembered it, although the tractors had been replaced by the plows and horses of the Amish family that had bought the farm. It's nearly a six hour drive from the Twin Cities to St. Anna and my brother and I had plenty of time to talk about the family, the farm and many other things. As we climbed the hill on School Street and approached the church, we realized that for the memories we had shared and all the questions we had considered on the long drive across the state, there were still a lot of mysteries to solve and questions that we needed to ask. And we knew that the people who might know the answers were continuing to disappear from the scene.