Hard winters lead to warm memories for Wisconsin woman who provides perspective on region's weather
NEW RICHMOND, Wis.—The good old days. Nobody knows exactly when they were except that they were before your time. And as it turns out, each generation has its own good old days.
That is why Lois Krampert wanted to share her story. She had heard enough whining about the tough winter and awful spring our region had this year, and she wanted to share some perspective.
Krampert is 78 years young. Her life's resume is all the credibility she needs to distinguish a tough life from a single awful spring.
"My grandpa moved to the U.S. from Sweden when he was 12 years old with five sisters. They all wound up on adjoining farms, back to back. I grew up between Boyceville and Connorsville on a farm.
"I had three older siblings and one younger. There were five of us kids in a five-room house, three rooms downstairs and two upstairs. We had a car. The only time when a phone was used was when my dad had to run out to call for a vet or doctor, usually in an emergency-type situation. He'd go to the neighbor's to use the phone. There were only two neighbors that I knew of that had phones. One was between us and the school and the other one was just past the school. Nobody else that I knew had a phone in those days," Krampert said.
She attended a small country school with just a few students.
"I went to a one-room grade school, Chimney Rock School, for eight years. When I was in first grade, I had a classmate. When his folks moved just to the next farm, they put him in the next school district over, and until I was in high school, I never had another classmate.
"All eight grades were taught in the same room. One teacher not only taught all the grades, but she had to be there in the morning to start the fire in the winter time in the stove, because she was also the janitor," Krampert recalled.
Two grades ahead of her also had a single student, and the sixth-grade class lost its student and remained empty through eighth grade. Krampert's high school class was 51 students. After all those years alone, it must have seemed like the big city to suddenly have 50 classmates.
A school bus was not an option in 1945.
"I was in the first grade at the age of 5 when I first began walking to school about a mile and half each way. We all walked together, me and my siblings and the neighbor kids. When I was in first grade, my oldest sister was in the eighth grade. Because I was so little, she carried my lunch in her dinner pail. School started at 9 a.m. to give us time to finish morning chores at the farm and walk to school. We were finished by 4 p.m. in time to walk home and do evening chores," Krampert said.
"I still remember when I was in first grade, there was that one week for a few days when it was really cold. I had gotten my front teeth knocked out by a sixth grader who had run into me head-first on the ice pond at school. My mouth was so bad my dad drove the tractor to school with us in the wagon behind it, he figured my mouth might freeze otherwise," she said.
She remembers a lot of snow. This last winter didn't surprise her. This is how she remembers it.
"We probably had some winters where there was more snow than others, but there always seemed to be plenty of snow and there was cold. I remember the snow banks we played on all the time on the way home from school. You didn't play on them on the way to school because you would get wet.
"There were times when we would get to the school house, and the teacher hadn't been able to make it. Well, then we'd have to turn around and go home. There was no way of notifying anybody. My folks didn't have a telephone until long after I left home," said Krampert.
There were benefits and drawbacks to living such a self-contained existence.
"I was in third grade when there was this big thaw where everything began to run with the water from the snow. Then it turned real cold, and it froze so there was ice everywhere. I mean the roads were covered with ice because the water rose over the roads and froze.
"I was the only one in our family going to school at the time because I had just gotten over the chickenpox, and my siblings all still had the chickenpox. I was the one who brought them (chickenpox) home, but we didn't know where they came from. I walked that day. I got down there to school and there was no teacher, so I turned around and went back home. When I got home and tried to tell my folks what it was like, they wouldn't believe me. So my dad went out walking and when he came back he said, 'She's right. Nobody's leaving here until it thaws.' They thought I was exaggerating," Krampert said.
"That was the same year my older brother had brought home the measles at Thanksgiving time. Because the high school and elementary school were all intermingled in the same building, that's probably where he caught the measles, from the elementary kids. So that Thanksgiving, we all went through the measles, then in February we all caught the chickenpox."
The changing landscape of farming
Krampert married Karl Krampert on Oct. 18, 1958, and moved onto the farm where he had been born and raised—the same farm she lives on today. They raised two sons, Kraig and Allen, three if you count her neighbor Tom who lost his father when he was young.
It is not clear what will happen to her farm.
"When my oldest son graduated, if we had stuck a pin in here, in our farm, and made a 5-mile circle and not included anybody who lived in town, there were 39 seniors from his class in 1977 in that circle. When my younger son graduated in 1979, which was an even bigger class, there were only 25 in that same circle.
"Neither of my kids are going to be farmers, and we never encouraged them to be. Farming is just not that easy. They could get an education and do something else," Krampert said.
Today, Krampert rents part of her land for cropping to Tom, who lives kittie-corner across from her. She has the rest in a Conservation Reserve Program. Her sons and two grandsons hunt on the farm.
"It's a whole different world than I grew up in," she said.
There wasn't a moment during any of these stories when Krampert wasn't smiling surrounded by her stacks of photo albums. These were good memories, fond memories. Snowbanks twice as high as a car, a train half underwater, school closed because you were the only kid without chickenpox, marshmallows and hot dogs roasted over a pile of burning autumn leaves, a ride to school behind the tractor because of missing teeth.
Memories become larger than life, a way to measure your time against your children's and grandchildren's and great-grandchildren's. They become the family legends that get told over and over, growing with each generation's retelling. Stories have a way of melting that biting January cold on a mile-and-half walk to school.