On the 29th of September, my friend Sandy and I (I was her guest) attended a wedding at the Heidel House in the beautiful village of Green Lake. The bride, a godchild of Sandy’s brother, comes from a farm family outside of Chilton where they cultivate crops and milk a multitude of Holsteins. It is not the biggest farm by today’s standards, but it has been well tended through the years with ambition, ingenuity, determination and commitment.
The wedding ceremony was an outside affair overlooking the shore of Green Lake with boats passing in the distance and a migrating loon plying the waters in front of us. The groom and his attendants wore blue suits reminiscent of a fall sky while the bride’s entourage was draped in long, strapless gowns in an earth tone somewhere between peach pink, a maple’s first fall blush, or the dried red clay of field knolls in eastern Wisconsin — they were unique, stylish and memorable.
It was a lovely, elegant, double-ring affair with a lingering outdoor line of happiness, hugs, and congratulations from family, friends and acquaintances followed by a three-hour interlude before the more formal indoor reception and dinner. We had driven over for the afternoon and evening, about 60 miles, so a return home for the break in activities was not practical, nor was the cost of a room for an afternoon of drowsy leisure. And so, with time to fill, I took Sandy on a road tour of the Green Lake environs for a little local history and a blast from my past.
As a junior and senior in high school, I was the first president of our new FFA chapter and attended the three-day FFA State Convention held at the American Baptist Assembly Grounds on Green Lake. I am unable to relate much of anything about the actual meetings except for throngs of teenage students, but the grounds and buildings have never left my mind and have always seemed somewhat magical. It was an extraordinary place with manicured lawns, miles of winding roads through hardwood hills, white farm structures that have stood the test of time, and a lake as blue as our FFA jackets.
My lack of recall also goes to any mischief so we must have been on our best behavior most of the time we were there. Either that or we were scheduled quite heavily from the time we entered the massive gates off Highway 23 until we departed and started looking back. I remember using the Assembly bicycles with my buddies and freewheeling downhill on some of those wood-lined roads at what seemed like death-defying speed. It was great fun and we slept well at night in the barn-like dormitories after consuming plenty of their passably good food, which I now recognize as high-praise from a teenager!
I have been back to the Green Lake Conference Center, aka the Baptist Assembly Grounds, several times over the years for meetings of one sort or another, but have never taken the time to cruise around and through the grounds as we did on the recent afternoon in September. Sandy had never been there so it was all new to her as we passed the elegant old boathouse, the towered conference center, rode up and down a few hills in my pick-up, and came to a couple dead ends in the adjoining parking lots.
For me, it was a farm boy’s trip back in time with my best friend along for the ride. We soaked in the ambiance and, near the heart of the excursion, I resurrected the most powerful image left over from my then 16-year-old brain. It had to be 1964 and the first FFA convention that I attended because parked in front of one of the buildings was a brand new, 1964 Ford, Galaxy 500 XL Convertible. As a farm kid, it was a car that you only dreamed about after seeing it in Hot Rod Magazine or Car and Driver. Not only was it beautiful to look at, in my young opinion, but it also had the 427 cubic inch motor and a four-speed transmission — one of the hottest combinations on the road back then. It was burgundy in color with a matching interior, black top, bucket seats and a console. Like I said, I was 16, and it made one heck of an impression even if I could never afford that vehicle back then in any conceivable fashion. Now, of course, it would feel like you were driving a tank — albeit a very powerful tank — compared to the vehicles of today but there it was and it sure was something!
And there we were, a couple of old farm folks touring the hinterland with me hearkening back to the good ol’ days and Sandy trying to absorb it all in one passing without tuning me out. We have had these types of conversations before where I talk too much and she eventually tires of listening, but this time, like an exclamation point parked precisely in a side lot at the end of my sentence, stood a virtually brand new 2018 Corvette coupe in nearly the same burgundy color as the ’64 Ford. We did not stop to gawk at the beautiful car because we are getting a little beyond that age — and besides, as I must confide, I cannot afford it now either….
Still, it was a beautiful afternoon for a wedding and a ride through time. The reception was marvelous, the dinner was exceptional, the parents were beaming and the newly-weds danced to their heart’s content. A couple cows probably covered the cost and I am sure milking came early on Sunday morning for more than a few people. The world moves on after a slight pause and we find our way even if some long-standing questions remain unanswered — questions like: How could I ever buy a car like that?