Wisconsin: Land of Cheese, History, Outdoor Activities, and Fine Weather

The first few times that I visited Wisconsin I wouldn’t have described its wintery terrain as evidence of “fine weather”. But certainly for a southerner (I will discuss my status as a southerner a little more below) it was a land of “fun weather”, to see snow in amounts that was actually worth going out and playing in. Down south in the U.S. you just simply do not get knee-deep snow or frozen lakes in the winter, unless there is some history-making freak snow storm. The last such storm in Alabama that I remember was back in 1993 and I think we got 6 inches of snow or more, which was a lot to us (back then we were thinking “What? We can make MORE than one snow man this time without using every inch of snow in the front yard just to make one midget snowman? And we can even make one that isn’t a dirty ‘mud & grass’ snowman that we normally have since the snow isn’t shallow! Woohoo!”).

In Alabama you certainly wouldn’t have the experience of playing football on a frozen lake, much less of going four-wheeling on one; both of which I have done in Wisconsin on previous occasions. Wisconsin has been the manifestation of the proverbial “winter wonderland” for me in the past when I’ve visited, and therefore has always had a special and even exotic feel to it, attached to very fun and fond family memories. Thus recently I am so much more impressed upon making my first trip to Wisconsin in the early fall, in mid-September. I’ve been here for three days so far and the weather is a dream outside, worthy of wearing shorts and a t-shirt most the day, and has been in the high-60s to low 70s with a refreshing breeze outside. I found it humorous that certain of my cousins who have lived in Wisconsin most of their lives thought that the house was too cold today, but I was blissfully walking around in shorts all day. Since when is the southerner the only one who is not cold? Eh, I’ll chalk it up to the elevated amount of body fat from all that good southern cookin’.

Most of my trips have been to northern Wisconsin near Rice Lake, about an hour north of Eau Claire, to visit an aunt and uncle who live there. It just gets more and more beautiful with the increasing sight of evergreen trees and rolling hills the further north that you go. I honestly didn’t recognize it as I came up this last time because I had never seen Wisconsin without snow. Upon telling my uncle this he said that that was a 4-letter word around there. I think they are enjoying their fall just fine at the moment, so I settled on referring to it as “sner” instead. As we crossed from Illinois to Wisconsin I was thinking: “What’s up with all this verdant foliage and fine weather? This is Wisconsin?! Man, I’m loving it!”

Now for a brief historical digression on my north/south relationship:

My grandparents and their four boys (my dad being the oldest, and the uncle mentioned above the second oldest) all grew up in the north, mostly in Wisconsin. They lived near Beloit, WI for some time while my grandfather worked for the now-extinct Beloit Corporation. My grandfather became the co-owner and chief engineer of his own company by partnering with a German business partner who was from the founding family of Passavant-Werke in Germany, when together they bought off the engineering department of Beloit Corporation in Wisconsin. Passavant-Werke in part produced metalwork for various public city works throughout Germany (I actually saw manhole/drain covers with the name ‘Passavant’ stamped on them in Potsdam, outside of Berlin, and in Dresden when I visited Germany). While I have only been privy to certain details about the early history of how my grandfather’s company started (which was called Industrial Machine Division, IMD, at first and now Innovative Machine Corporation), as I understand it Beloit Corporation was originally a foundry for metal works (and apparently also was a producer of paper-making machinery), hence its business relationship with Germany’s Passavant-Werke which was in a similar industry. From IMC’s website it says this of the company’s history:

Innovative Machine Corporation was established in 1954 as Precise Engineering Company. In 1964 it became a division of Beloit Corporations (Industrial Machine Division) – (IMD) and later Passavant Corporation. In 1987 long term employees acquired the company and in 1999 the name changed to IMC (Innovative Machine Corporation). Our present facility was constructed in 1989.

All this is to say that sometime in the late 1970s the great, northern Nielsen family descended from the brisk hills of the land of cheese into temperate southern territory, not far south from the Tennessee Valley, by settling “the tribe” in Birmingham, AL (my birthplace) because the company was moved there. And so I can in some respects take upon myself the moniker “transplanted northerner” vicariously by virtue of my family moving mid-life down to Alabama from Wisconsin; although, I truly regard myself as a southerner with northern (and ultimately familial Scandinavian) roots.

On account of the “transplanted northerner” status I am sometimes told (about 75% of the time) that I do not have a southern accent (or alternately “You speak very clear for a southerner” like that’s not patronizing/stereotypical at all :-)), whereas occasionally some people I meet tell me that I do (about 25% of the time). I do not have the characteristic southern drawl that most people think of, although my pronunciation of some words may be influenced by it. I have been told, however, that you actually have to be a second generation resident of a region to fully adapt that region’s accent because first generational-ists, like myself, still have the influence of their parents’ accent from their native region. [I wonder if families of new immigrants to the U.S. have noticed this phenomenon as well]. So I have been exposed to a fair share of northern accent growing up along with southern accents, so I like to fancy that I have a good overall balance.

My eldest uncle (whose family I am visiting now in Wisconsin) was also dragged along down to the South with the rest of his siblings, but in the late 90s moved back up to his home state, which since has provided excuses and occasions for the rest of the family to visit periodically. So now all family visits are back-to-the-roots experiences. What intricate paths in life we take! I’m proud to have such a diverse family history and heritage not only within the U.S. but also from our Nordic roots. I dare say though that Wisconsin is more temperate than Norway, so my present enjoyment of amazing weather in Wisconsin might not have been a very common experience this time of year for my great, great, great grandparents in Norway!

But it is a fine occasion at present to be visiting Wisconsin – that land of cheese, history, outdoor activities, and fine weather! And did I mention beer? I visited the Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, WI for a taste testing of their different draft beers, and went just one week before Oktoberfest starts so they started breaking out the seasonal Oktoberfest beer there as well.

This time my whole family is up for my cousin’s wedding that is to take place in Eau Claire in order to celebrate his new life together with his wife and the continuation of the Nielsen line in Wisconsin! And what a great place and time of year to have it. It turns out that Wisconsin is a fine place to live, and it lays its claim as the region of my origins and of my cousin’s future. May there be many more happy memories made here!

Viva la Wisconsin!

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