The first time I flew to Wisconsin, to meet Lynn, I started in the middle of the state and went north, and everything was flat and dotted with evergreens. For every subsequent trip, to visit Lynn’s family, we flew into Madison, in southern Wisconsin, where the topography is far more varied than I expected.
As it was told to me, southern Wisconsin was as far south as the glaciers made it during the Ice Age. Eventually the ice receded, leaving large (this is an understatement) deposits of rock and soil that now form the hilly charm of places like Mt. Horeb, where Lynn’s mom lived.
Mt. Horeb was a place not unlike Gunnison, although I did encounter my first roundabout there. The last time I visited, they had added five more roundabouts, anticipating a large amount of growth. Sadly, Lynn’s mom died of pancreatic cancer in 2005, and we haven’t had reason to return to Mt. Horeb, since Lynn’s brother and family live a bit more to the west, so I have no idea if the town has increased fivefold to warrant the optimism of all those roundabouts.
When I visited, I found all kinds of things to win my heart over. Most of the town was eminently walkable from Carol’s duplex, and a couple of streets were lined by marvelous stately old homes. The grocery store was locally owned. They had an actual pharmacy, and the bank had this rich, warm, wood interior.
My favorite stop on Main Street was the Mustard Museum, which the Internet tells me has now relocated to Middleton. An entire building devoted to my favorite condiment, it was the best place for Shop Gifts, a requirement at Pat’s Screen Printing that you bring back gifts from your trip for all your co-workers who were left behind. And, of course, there was my favorite food stop, the Grumpy Troll.
Mt. Horeb celebrates its Scandinavian heritage through designation of Main Street as The Trollway, with an abundance of troll statuary, and the brew pub, located half a block off Main, celebrates this theme as well. How could you not want to eat at a place with a name like the Grumpy Troll? Lynn has already had to replace my souvenir t-shirt once.
Of course, the main reason to go to Mt. Horeb was to see Carol. I only got four years with her, but here is the story that I think best encapsulates her: Carol (unlike some people you might know) liked to travel. At some point, she made an off-the-cuff decision that she might do this traveling via RV. She went to a dealer and made her purchase.
Then, about a year into this experiment, she decided the RV was too clunky to travel with, so she went back to the dealership and bought a pick-up and fifth-wheel travel trailer, which she and her friend Donna drove to Gunnison.
I don’t remember why, but a year or so afterward Carol decided the RV had actually been a better bet, so she went back to the same dealership and purchased yet another RV. This is my favorite part of the story: “They were so nice to me,” Carol marveled, in genuine astonishment.
Carol, retired by the time I met her (although she rented out half her duplex), was a serial entrepreneur during her career years. Some ventures succeeded better than others, and it seems that she left several while they were still doing well. She ran a very popular restaurant in Black Earth (Lynn’s hometown), and a bed-and-breakfast at a farm near Portage that found favor with guests. Above all, she was a gracious host, a skill that served her well in her businesses and with friends and family.
She volunteered as a board member for the Mt. Horeb library, and when I wanted one year to go visit my friends the Gaylens in Illinois, she let me take her only car for four days. She loved the roundabout (I don’t know about five, but one was special) and her tsih tzu rescue dog Sydney. She had several friends and enjoyed the company of her family. She and Lynn had an especially tight-knit bond.
As I do less and less traveling, I think more about the trips I did make. I imagine, if it has expanded to fill those new roundabouts, that Mt. Horeb today is a far larger and more impersonal place than it was when I encountered it. But like a snapshot, I shall always remember it as I found it — and a certain denizen — with great fondness.
Another picture of a picture. The screenshot above I helped myself to from the Mt. Horeb Chamber of Commerce website.