Before moving on…

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Log Cabin, Rice County Historical Center

… to the woods and the prairie of Winnesheik (Chapter VII), Hamlin recollects, his school days in Wisconsin.  Instead of attending the village school, he and his siblings joined a few others at the home of John Roche.  He recalls John’s daughter, Indiana, (a very cool name) whom they called Ingie.

The selection of books at Hamlin’s home struck me.  There were none, except the Bible, Mother Goose and a few newspapers laying around.  This reminded me of a story of my own great, great, great Grandpa, Adam Bryan, also a pioneer of Wisconsin in the 1840’s or ’50’s. Adam, brought his family first to Illinois, from Pennsylvania, and shortly after decided to settle at Jug Creek, or Bad Axe, (a bastardization of an American Indian word), which most unfortunately was changed to Vernon County, after the home of the immortal hero, George Washington.  Too bad, for Bad Axe! Well, I am proud to say Gramps was the first pioneer of this area carving out the land with ox and cart, to build a cabin for his family, soon to arrive. Like Hamlin, it is said that Gramps learned to read from the only book he had, which was the Bible.

The Garlands faired a little better than my Grandpa’s family and acquired two books especially good for the imagination. These were Beauty and Beast, and Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp. Nothing like a fairy tale to stimulate creativity.

In continuation, the Garlands move on. Hamlin recalls the reluctant spirit of his mom, Belle, as she packs all their things and gets ready for a three day treck across the February tundra land of Wisconsin.  First they cross the bridge at Lacrosse, go through La Crescent, stay in Hokah, pass through Caledonia, and arrive to their farm about 2 miles from the town of Hesper.  There is a kind Quaker man there, waiting for them to take over the property. As they settle in they find that their little shack doesn’t quite meet up to the standards of their cabin, back in Wisconsin. They make due, but not without hardship.

First their house girl (I found this addition to the family interesting) contracts smallpox from the limited English speaking Norwegians that Hamlin’s dad hires for construction help. She survives, but Hamlin’s father also gets smallpox. It lasts quite awhile, but he also lives. This invasion in the household is worrisome to Belle because none of the children are vaccinated.  They eventually get this done, and the Garlands are spared of the wicked illness spreading in the family.

It must be around the 1870’s when another small creature is added to the brood consisting of Hamlin, his brother Frank, and sister Hannah.  Mother Belle has a baby!

Hamlin gets accustomed to his new home, and school, which is highly populated by Norwegians, or Norskies, who fight with the so called Yankees, like Hamlin.  Hamlin has nothing against his new classmates, but is obliged to do what is necessary to protect himself, using the path of least resistance.

The author grows to love;

‘The colorful and sweet woodland farm, the warm sun on radiant slopes of grass; the meadow phlox and tall tiger lilies, blackberry thickets, odorous grapevines, cherry trees, and delicious nuts that grew in the forest in the north.  

The wilderness of the forest was an endless and solemn playground.  They thought they would spend all their years in their beautiful home and see many more seasons, where the wood and the prairie of their song did actually meet and mingle;’

But, alas, little did they know, father had something else in mind.  They would have to move again!’

David and His Violin

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Meadow

The decision is made! The drive to move on in search of a new horizon will happen.   New land with predictable contours, for plowing, planting and cultivating, will be had.  The last winter in Wisconsin had settled in for the Garland’s. On a visit to Grandad McClintock’s, in the dead of winter, where family gathers round the fire and the romantic Uncle David plays the violin with his Celtic fervor, and mother sings along, dissent is heard by the news that the Garland family will be settling in Winneshiek on the edge of Looking Glass Prairie. Going to Iowa!

Grandpa McClintock doesn’t want to see his daughter go. He says, to Mr. Garland,

Ye’d better stick to the old coulee, ‘…a touch of sadness in his voice.’  Ye’ll find no better here. …ye belong here. It’s the curse of our country, -this constant moving, moving. I’d have been better off had I stayed in Ohio, though this valley seemed very beautiful to me the first time I saw it.

The conflict between staying and leaving continues, as the mother in singing, “O’er the Hills in Legions Boy,” is subdued by the prospects of separation, and her husband, the ‘explorer, pioneer’ can only see the opportunities ahead, in a new land. Hamlin says, “life is a struggle, love a torment,” as the mind set for preparations is formed.  Even Grandpa  knows deep down the heart wrenching feeling of leaving your loved ones behind.

Hamlin’s autobiography is beautifully rendered in a poetic language, imbued with contrasting tones of light and dark, reminiscent of the true romantic spirit of the author and the times.   His descriptions of the land, and the mood they cast are indelibly etched in his memory. It is in his darkest poetic thoughts, where true meaning is found.

The reader is constantly reminded of the perspective of the author of “A Son of a Middle Border,” looking back in time. Remembering the bittersweet experience of being torn from the land of his blood, and his undying search of his childhood roots.

It all lies in the unchanging realm of the past-this land of my childhood. Its charm, its strange dominion cannot return save in the poet’s reminiscent dream. No money, no railway train can take us back to it. It did not in truth exist-it was a magical world, born of moaning winds-a union which can never come again to you or me, father, uncle, brother, till the coulee meadows bloom again unscarred of spade or plow.

Isn’t it what we all yearn for, to return to the ‘impossible past’ and relive the sweet magical scent of the fragile dreams that never really were?