Wisconsin

Play Ball!

IMG_2484Hilda and I never played baseball with uniforms, referees, coaches, or practices. Baseball, to us, was the game you played on the diamond by the well pit or out in the sheep pasture, whenever a family picnic brought in enough players. Players ranged in age from the six-year-old just learning to swing a bat, to Dad, who was permanent pitcher.

With Dad pitching, the young child’s hit managed to roll right past the pitcher’s mound, yet Dad always seemed to catch the ball hit by the teenager. Our games were more about everyone playing together than keeping score.

When writing Hattie’s War, we drew on our childhood experiences to create the neighborhood ball games in Hattie’s yard. This Saturday, we’ll be watching the Milwaukee Cream Citys play vintage baseball. Their games, played in an open field in a park ringed by oak trees, are much more like our games in the pasture than like watching the Brewers at Miller Park.

Please join us at Greenfield Park at 1:00 on Saturday, May 2 to see how base ball was played in Hattie’s day. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and enjoy an afternoon outdoors.  Details can be found on the Cream Citys webpage. Books will be available for purchase as well.

 

 

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Categories: Childhood Memories, Hattie's War, Racine County, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A Glimpse of Hattie’s War

soldiers' aid fair signold abe at soldiers' aid fairEarly in Plank Road Winter, Hans and his father reminisce about seeing Old Abe, the eagle mascot of the Eighth Wisconsin regiment, at the Soldiers’ Home Fair in Milwaukee when Henry Hoffman returned from the war.  Later, when Sophie visits the Soldiers’ Home, she notices that her mother is “as proud of the new building as though the donations from Yorkville ladies had funded the entire project.”

 

women at soldiers' aid fair          The Soldiers’ Home Fair of 1865 was the most significant fundraising event of Civil War Wisconsin.  In this grand version of the popular soldiers’ aid fairs, Milwaukee women enlisted the help of communities statewide to raise over $100,000 to purchase land and build a permanent home for returning soldiers on property that still serves veterans today.

fish pond at soldiers' aid fair

 

In our forthcoming book Hattie’s War, Emily and I tell the story of eleven year-old Hattie Bigelow, a Milwaukee girl deeply involved in relief efforts, including the Soldiers’ Home Fair.

On June 21, 2014, the modern West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society of Milwaukee recreated the sights and sounds and smells of that fair, treating visitors to the Civil War Museum in Kenosha to a glimpse of Hattie’s world.  In the spirit of the dedicated nineteenth-century citizens who continued to support American soldiers after the war, the sponsors of this modern fair donated all proceeds to the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative.

Emily and I are eager to share the rich heritage of Wisconsin’s Civil War history with readers of Hattie’s War this fall.

Categories: Hattie's War, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Authors and Artists

Plank Road dolls needle-felted by fiber artist Kat Lutze

Plank Road dolls designed by Kat Lutze

Once a story has been read, the characters are no longer solely the author’s creations; they are continually reshaped by the minds of readers.

Recently my daughter Kat Lutze literally shaped the Plank Road Summer characters Katie McEachron and Florence Mather by needle-felting little dolls of wool roving, Katie with brown braids and a crimson dress, Florence with fair hair and a green dress.

When the dolls were posed with copies of our books for a craft fair in Union Grove, Wisconsin, I was reminded of another artist’s interpretation of the Plank Road characters. In 2009 Kathleen Spale sent several cover sketches to our editor Phil Martin of Crickhollow Books. As you can see here, one of those concepts looks startlingly like the photograph of those felted dolls.

An early cover concept sketch by artist Kathleen Spale

An early cover concept sketch by Kathleen Spale

Categories: On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Uncategorized, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thanksgiving at the Mather Inn

May readers everywhere give thanks with those they love.  In honor of the day, here are two timely excerpts from Plank Road Winter:

(from Chapter 21: At the Smithy)

On the day before Thanksgiving, the aroma of cinnamon
and nutmeg and baking pumpkin wafted through the Mather
Inn.

Sophie looked up from her task of rolling dough.
“The Grand Duke’s latest banquet, you know, featured a
charlotte russe. And it was adorned with spun-sugar eagles and
bears, and the flags of the United States and Russia. I don’t see why we have to serve something as ordinary as pumpkin pie.”

Mother set down the mixing bowl with a thump. “I hope
the Grand Duke’s kitchen crew works harder and complains
less than mine. Go out to the smithy, will ’ee, and tell Father to give his arm a rest.”

“I think we ought to honor the Grand Duke’s visit by cutting little eagles and bears of pastry scraps to decorate the pies.”

“Sophie, go out now.”

Sophie wrapped a shawl over her shoulders and crossed
the yard to the smithy, stepping in time to the ringing of the
hammer as Father and John Alton worked together at the
forge, singing the refrain of one of their favorite songs:

And sing WHOA, my lads, sing WHOA!
Drive on, my lads, I-HO,
And who wouldn’t lead the life
Of a jolly wagoner?

* * * * * *

(from Chapter 22: Thanksgiving)

Though Hans was in no mood for celebration, all of
the McEachron families joined the Caswells at the Inn for
Thanksgiving dinner. The sideboard in the dining room was
covered with pies, and the aroma of roasting turkey wafted
through all the rooms downstairs.

After helping Elsa take her coat off, Hans piled their wraps on the bed in the freshening-up room. In the dining room, benches lined the end of the long table where extra planks had been added to extend the length.

Sophie rolled her eyes. “The benches from the plank road
days appear again. Mother likes to have them out on family
occasions. But, of course, she never has to sit on them.”

“Plenty of folks would be thankful to have a solid bench
and a fine feast like this,” Hans said, but Sophie had already
flounced away.

Elsa climbed onto a bench, and Hans sat down beside her.
Across from them sat Linnie and Birdie. Other cousins jostled
for seats on the benches, the boys elbowing one another and
the girls smoothing their skirts to make room. Billy slid in next to Hans, while Maggie Banvard, home for the holiday, was
given a chair among the grown-ups.

Grandpa and Grandma sat beside Sophie’s grandfather at
the head of the table. Granfer Mather had opened a hotel in
Burlington when the teamsters’ wagons no longer traveled the
plank road during the harvest season. Everyone joined hands
as Granfer Mather gave thanks for the harvest, though for
weeks the McEachrons had been talking of what a poor yield it
was. When Granfer Mather prayed that those who suffer would
be comforted, Hans tilted his head to glance at Mama, whose
shoulders gave a slight heave as she clenched Uncle Amos’s
hand.

Categories: Mather Inn, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Independence Day in Wisconsin 1852

Happy Independence Day!

This passage from Plank Road Summer shows how our American holiday was celebrated 160 years ago:

Now known as Pioneer Park, the riverbank along which Richard Ela’s factory once stood in Rochester, Wisconsin, is still a beautiful picnic spot.

Along the river between the bridge and the factory, many families were spreading quilts on the grass.  Katie and Amos spread theirs in the shade of a maple where they had a good view of the side door of Mr. Ela’s factory.  The speakers would stand on the stone steps of the factory.  Nearby, the American flag flapped in the breeze.  Ma and Matilda unpacked the fried chicken, black raspberry tarts, thick slices of bread and butter, and peas in the pod. . .

A distinguished-looking man climbed the stone steps.  He held up a hand for silence, and the crowd quieted to listen.  “On behalf of my townsmen,” Richard Ela began, “I welcome all of you to Rochester on the anniversary of our Independence.  This glorious day on which our freedom was declared is one we Americans must never forget.  In honor of the occasion, Rochester’s own schoolmaster will now recite the Declaration of Independence.”

The schoolmaster’s clear voice rang out over the crowd.

   We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .

The familiar words echoed across the hot July air.  A shiver went down Katie’s back as she realized that across this vast country, from New York all the way west to California, Americans would pause from their daily work to hear these words and mark this day.

Categories: Plank Road Summer book, Racine County, Rochester Wisconsin, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Signs of Spring

Lilacs blooming on March 28, 2012, near Valparaiso, Indiana

For the first time in my Midwestern memory the lilacs are blooming in March.  The white lilacs in the front yard of my Indiana farmhouse must be confused indeed.  Years ago I dug up these shoots from the enormous hedge that rings the back yard at the McEachron homestead in Yorkville, Wisconsin.  Like the settlers who brought lilac bushes to Wisconsin from their homes in Eastern states, Emy and I have both transplanted lilac bushes from Wisconsin to our respective homes in Illinois and Indiana.

Most years my blooms in Northwest Indiana are about two weeks ahead of those in southeastern Wisconsin.  In fact, when Emy and I planned the Plank Road Summer launch party for May 2009, we ended up gracing our table with lilacs from Elmhurst and Valparaiso because the Yorkville lilacs were not yet in bloom.

It seems propitious that the lilacs are blooming again as Emy and I sign our contract for Plank Road Winter. We hope that readers of our first book will appreciate the fact that even in this wintry tale, the lilacs of Yorkville make an unexpected appearance.

Categories: Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Writers’ Retreat over Winter Break

After celebrating Christmas and the New Year with our families, Hilda and I snuck away for a much-needed writers’ retreat. We escaped to Wisconsin, where we holed up for two nights at the Lawson House Bed & Breakfast in Hales Corners.

Though we had already completed several drafts of “Plank Road Winter,” we worked through another rewrite, changing the point of view from first person to third person, shifting a main character in the book, and strengthening the sequel’s connections to “Plank Road Summer.”

The Lawson House could not have been a more perfect place to write. We learned that the house is located along what had once been the old Janesville Plank Road, which runs into Milwaukee. We enjoyed fabulous breakfasts and wonderful hospitality. The large front room with a fireplace and comfortable furniture allowed us to settle in for hours of reading our manuscript aloud, editing old chapters, drafting new ones, and laughing and crying together as sisters do.

During breaks from our writing tasks, I leafed through various historical books scattered about the room. In one, I read about the Hales Corners Stock Fair that had taken place once a month from 1871-1958. This bit of local history actually wound up in our novel. We left the Lawson House inspired and refreshed with a manuscript ready for our editor to see.

Categories: History of Plank Roads, On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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