Tracking Your Past

Doris Green

Sometimes a family story arrives complete — with introduction, narrative flow and ending intact. More often, it arrives in snippets of information that need to be shaped into a cohesive story.
Consider the memoirs of Gerald Pings (1925-2006) as edited by his daughter, Juniper Sundance, who lives south of Spring Green. In this excerpt, Gerald recalls a short trip he took as a young boy, when the family was living and working at Martin Roelke’s farm near Sauk City:

I recall a particular day when Martin was getting ready to go somewhere and so I asked him “Wo gehest?” … Martin replied that he was going to Madison and consented when I asked if I could tag along. I was dressed in overalls I had been wearing all week and barefoot….
When we reached Madison, I found myself sitting in Gov. Phil La Follette’s office while the governor and Martin spoke with each other. Phil looked to Martin for advice on the rural problems of the times. …
At one point, the governor turned to me and asked: “And who are you?”
I did speak some English by then, so replied: “I’m Gerald.”
“And what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be governor.” What else would a grubby, barefoot kid say? …
La Follette eventually bought a farm adjacent to Roelke’s after he left the Governor’s office. … — Though not Catholic — [he] used to attend Mass at the church in Roxbury. The big news was the day when La Follette put $10 in the collection box ….
After calling on the governor, we went to a radio station where Bill Evjue, editor of The Capital Times …, gave the noon news. Martin met with Evjue … and we listened in as Evjue gave the noon news report. This was my first visit to a radio station and I was properly impressed.

This story’s creation rests on considerable underpinning. Juniper explained, “One brother taped an interview with Dad, then typed up a summary and mailed it to Dad, who checked it for accuracy and responded to my brother’s follow-up questions. The summary was a ‘scaffolding,’ which led Dad to add more details. He kept a pad by his easy chair to write up even more memories. After Dad’s death, I inserted these pieces into the first story and added maps and research on land ownership to flesh out Dad’s memoirs.” More scaffolding.

Doris Green authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Cave, Mines, and Tunnels In and Around the Badger State.” Both are available from http://henschelhausbooks.com, Amazon, or, your bookstore. Contact Doris at https://dorisgreenbooks.com.