Driving across town or across country roads, I can’t help but admire all the lovely homes of every shape, size and description. We are justifiably proud of our homes, but as I think back I am also proud of the little log house where I was born.
Around 1916, my parents, who had immigrated from Denmark in 1908 to South Bend, Ind., found themselves in a predicament. My father’s health dictated that he quit factory work and move north to clearer air and pine trees. So he took off on an investigative trip to northern Wisconsin to try to find a suitable plot of ground or house.
I’m told that when he arrived in Rhinelander, very weak but determined, he rented a boat at the livery, hired a guide and traveled up the Wisconsin River to try to find “his spot.” Not much was available, he was told, but about 10 miles up the river, after many twists and turns in the main channel, his guide pointed to a small log cabin set back from the river. It was for sale by the Brown brothers who were getting firmly established in Rhinelander in the lumber business. This property included the small three-room log cabin and two 20-acre parcels of river-front property. I have no idea what he paid for it, but at the time he must have made a down payment and then quickly headed back to Indiana to get my mother and their belongings.
I remember my mother telling me that it felt like living in the deep forest. She was not used to country living, and the nearest neighbor was a mile away. But they survived-the first winter was hard as they had not had a chance to grow a garden. The McNaughton Store did carry some supplies and necessary commodities, but the next nearest store was 10 miles away.
My mother was terrified of the rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks-she had not seen such animals before. The first time she saw a porcupine, she screamed for help and my father had to rescue her.
After several years at this Northwoods location, my brother was born. Two years later, my mother decided to go back to Denmark with my brother for a visit to see her elderly parents one more time, and to bring back my father’s two younger orphaned brothers. The 21-year-old brother went to Michigan. Uncle Emil, then 14, came home with my mother. While she and my brother were gone, my father began fixing the log cabin so that it would hold at least one other person; in another couple of years, I would join the family. In my very early years, Uncle Emil became of age and left his Wisconsin home.
In this first house, there were no storm windows, no basement or insulation, so the cold winters were felt inside as well as outside. Later an upstairs was added, also a screened back porch and a beautiful fieldstone front porch the length of the house. The inside of the house was partitioned using wallboard. These walls were painted with calcimine-a powder mixed with water and applied with a brush-usually tan or beige. The exterior of the house was finished with narrow wooden siding, painted white; the roof was green rolled roofing. The house now was a far cry from the original log cabin.
Another building on the property was a flat-roof garage made of large sheets of metal, and there was also an outhouse. My father built the first barn, as we did have a milk cow and a horse to pull the buggy (before the Model T). He also built a chicken coop. By the mid 30s, we had a few more cows, and a new barn was built-tall and modern with concrete floor and gutters, feeding toughs and a roomy hay loft. In 1935, it was struck by lightening and burned to the ground. Luckily the cows were in the hardwood that warm August night.
A new garage in place of the old tin structure was built in the mid ’30s using logs pulled from the edges of the river (those stuck in the mud and weeds as they were jammed down to the many lumber mills). This garage had a cement floor, windows and a heater so my father could work there in the cold weather. It was a neat, clean building and house our car.
As I think back, I realize it was a privilege to be born in a log cabin along the Wisconsin River. I am always amazed at the turn of events that allowed me to enjoy a wonderful childhood, and a loving family and many joyous memories. It also makes me appreciate how my parents worked to provide a good home life and a good house, even from such humble beginnings. Hard work and love for family gave us the feeling that we were indeed loved and cherished.
“A house, bathed in love, become a home”-no matter if it is made of brick, wood or sod. How true.