Like any story, a life has a beginning, middle, and ending. In the Prologue, I shared my beginning – my birth on July 13, 1946. The body of this memoir fleshes out the middle portion of my life. That leaves my ending. Of those born in Ashton since the 1850s, I know I share a birthday with Emma Mary Meffert, born July 13, 1904. She lived to be 102. I hope I share her longevity, but I didn't want to take a chance so I went right to the top with a final request .
Join my dog, Nobu, and me on a car tour of Ashton, my home town. Along the way I share some of Ashton's history and my thoughts on the changes that mark today's rural life and landscape. Remember to buckle up!
My name is Wayne Wienand William Brabender, born at 6:32 p.m., Saturday, July 13, 1946, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. My birth certificate confirms that I was a male, born alive. My parents were Rosalia M. Friedl, 33, homemaker, and Hubert P. Brabender, 34, farmer. I was their fourth child; their three earlier children were still living. E. F. Schneiders, M.D., was the attending physician. Inky footprints atop my birth certificate proved that I had inherited my mother’s flat feet.
On one bone-numbing morning last winter, my steely will was weakened for a moment as I wished our farm were in a warmer climate – Florida warm, equator warm – at least for a day or two. Four billion years ago I would have had my wish because Ashton and the rest of Wisconsin were still a thousand miles south of the equator.
The rolling hills of south central Wisconsin first attracted Yankee farmers before Germans like my ancestors settled here during the mid 19th Century. Though Ashton is named after one of those early Englishmen, the president of the British Temperance Emigration Society that purchased land in Dane County through a lottery system, most Ashtonians today are progeny of German settlers.
Welcome to “Mother House,” our family home, the heart of The Old Brabender Place. I had been fond of the name since the 1960s, after two of my St. Peter’s Catholic School classmates went to the convent in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to become Franciscan nuns. When I saw them during a summer break, they affectionately talked about their convent's “Motherhouse.” In 1982 I helped host a family reunion that drew 500 people to our farm. Among them was Sonja from Washington. Her great grandmother Catherine, a sister to my grandfather Hubert, grew up in this old house. When Sonja and I re-connected on Facebook, she said she was so moved during her 1982 visit that she hugged our house’s limestone wall to feel closer to Catherine. I knew then we had our own Mother House right here.
My interest in history started when I started to talk. I was a pest asking my parents about their earlier lives, their families, their neighbors, and their history. I dug old family photos out of our closets. I wanted to know who these people were. I never stopped asking questions and now I’ve created this blog to share what I find out about our family, with the intent to pull it all together into a memoir that I'm calling Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story.
If you traveled rural Wisconsin during the 20th Century, you were greeted at nearly every farm by a tube-like structure sticking 20 to 80 feet into the sky. Many farms had more than one of these tubes, made of poured concrete, concrete staves, or blue-painted steel, the older ones of brick or wood. All served the same purpose – to ferment and store feed (usually corn or hay) for livestock. These are called silos.
The first time I remember hearing the word “personification” – a figure of speech giving a human quality or name to an inanimate object – was by my journalism professor in college. In one of his class assignments, I had written that a church tower “peaked” over a hill. A church does not have eyes, he pointed out to me. He wasn’t objecting to it, necessarily. He just wanted me to know that I had used it, and that I probably shouldn’t overuse it. Well, if he were alive today he might say, "Wayne, you’re using it again - 'father' land?" I might say, yes, I know, but this time I know I’m using it and I know why.
Though I’ve spent a chunk of my life in one and I’ve been asked sarcastically a few times if I were born in one, I’m not an expert on barns. That would be Jerry Apps, author of Barns of Wisconsin. When I need help recalling the types of barns we’ve had on The Old Brabender Place or the shapes of their rooflines, I just pull out my dog-eared 1977 edition, beautifully illustrated by Allen Strang, to find all I need to know about old barns like ours.
This blog is a book in the making. If you're a new visitor, read Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story. You can also find a copy in Prologue.