Debut author Kuehn collaborates with debut co-author Ruggeri to pen a tribute to his paternal grandparents in this look back at Wisconsin farm life during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.
Driven by a desire to better understand his grandparents, Carl August Kuehn and Hulda Theresa Bandt Kuehn, Kuehn returned to Ripon, Wisconsin, in a quest for information about the Eastern European immigrants who settled as farmers in the northern part of the state. The work traces scant documented family land transactions, adding general historical data about the area as well as Kuehn’s personal recollections of the two decades spent visiting his grandparents on their farm. The result is this celebration of the “dignified, quiet, and unassuming lives” led by the simple, hardworking folk who populated rural Wisconsin. Both Grandpa Charly and Grandma Hulda were first-generation offspring of Prussian immigrants who had separately arrived midcentury in Princeton, Wisconsin. Charlie married Hulda in 1894 when he was 24 years old, she only 16. They lived with Hulda’s parents until the spring of 1895, when they rented a house in Metomen, where Charly helped work his father’s farm. In 1907, Charly purchased his own farm in Ripon, remaining there until his death in 1956. Much of this first-person narrative, written in Kuehn’s voice, is culled from reference books and is therefore not specific to Kuehn’s family. The authors enhance what are sometimes rather dry historical and geographical details with long passages that imagine what Charly might have been thinking: “Sitting on the porch stoop before going to bed, I took in my surroundings. Short loud trills of gray tree frogs filled the air. The warm summer breeze had cleared the sky and all the stars were out looking down upon us.” The text is overloaded with recent family genealogy, which becomes tedious, but it’s also sprinkled with some historical lifestyle gems; e.g., how to bake bread in a wood-stove oven and why women often wore black wedding dresses.
Occasionally repetitious; best for history trivia buffs and Kuehn's family members.