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.
I begin my memoir, Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story, with an opening tribute to Germany, the home country, The Fatherland, from where all my ancestors came in the second half of the 19th Century.
My great grandfather, Christian Brabender, emigrated from Butzheim, a small farming village in Prussia near the city of Cologne and the river Rhine. I once believed Christian had traveled to Ashton alone and settled among strangers. But why Ashton, I had always wondered? Why would he travel to this tiny place with an English name in a state with a Native American name that he probably couldn’t pronounce?
Well, he wasn’t alone when he traveled here on the Belgique and landed in New York Harbor, June 19, 1857. Of his 463 fellow passengers, almost all were Germans and almost half were from Prussia, his home state. I bet 50 of them were people he knew before he boarded the ship because their names are all bunched together on the ship's manifest, meaning they all got onboard together, with Christian first in line.
He certainly wasn’t alone once he settled here. Some of his German countrymen and women had moved to Dane County almost 10 years earlier. I’m sure they sent inviting letters home. Their messages were clear: come to America, come to Wisconsin, come to Ashton. In fact, dozens of immigrants who settled in and around Ashton and the Township of Springfield came from Christian’s hometown, Butzheim, its sister village of Nettesheim, and the nearby communities of Anstel, Dötzdorf, Eckum, Frixheim, Gill, Gohr, Hüchelhoven, Rommerskirchen, Sinsteden, and Vanikum. Others settled nearby in Cross Plains and Sauk City and the Townships of Berry, Dane, and Roxbury.
So, Christian wasn’t alone in America. Many of his new neighbors were old neighbors or new German friends that he had made during his journey here. Some were relatives.
In this chapter of “Whole Hearted,” I reflect on what Christian, my German ancestors, and others left behind in the old country, why they left, and what they endured to get here. In the following chapter, The Mother Land, I explore how they fared in Ashton during those early years. In the chapters after that – Father Farm, Mother House, Brother Barn, Sister Silo, and Granny Granary – I concentrate on the history of the Ashton farm where Christian and his wife, Cecelia, settled down to make a living and raise a family.
I know that’s a lot of personification, but I think my old professor would approve this time.
Author’s note: I upload posts as I complete them, so one written about a recent event may precede posts about earlier events. The introduction to each post shows where it fits into the history. For an introduction to my memoir, visit Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story.
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.