Today, Dec. 29, is our wedding anniversary. Ellen and I were married in 1973 on a sunny but frigid minus-29 Saturday morning at St. Charles Catholic Church in Cassville.
I remember taking cars to the local car wash and having them ice up as my brother Del and I returned them to grandparents and Mom and Dad. We stopped once at Bob and Inies Tavern where my grandpa was buying for the house to celebrate his first grandchild’s wedding. I think I had a shot of apricot brandy — yeah, I know. Anyway, we had a traditional wedding Mass ceremony celebrated by Ellen’s cousin, Father, now Monsignor, James Uppena. Our theme was, “This day I will marry my friend; the one I laugh with, live for, dream with, love.” That’s more true today than ever. Ellen’s bouquet froze on the walk to the car.
We had a reception at Bertha and Ed’s Supper Club near Potosi. The Larry Busch Orchestra made the music. We practiced the barbaric custom of leaving the reception after our dance. After attending hundreds of weddings and then photographing our first of several hundred weddings together in 1977, El and I have seen that custom fade. Today the new couple usually stay for the reception, and that just makes sense to us — why miss a great party thrown in your honor?
Anyway, I used to make the joke that on Dec. 30, 1973 that I got slowed down and so did the entire country as we began to see 55 mph speed limit signs everywhere. The Arab oil embargo was on. Those who can, might remember the horror of gasoline prices rising from 38 cents a gallon to 55 cents a gallon in June 1974. In cars that got 8 to 15 mph, that cost a lot.
Anyway, we lived in Bangor for a few months, driving our 1970 Ford Mustang to La Crosse for me to work at Channel 8 and her to attend college at UW-L. That spring we moved to an apartment on the top floor of what was once one of the grand old houses on 10th Street. The $105-a-month-including-a-garage apartment was small but perfect. It even had a working fireplace, although a little more conventional heat wouldn’t have hurt. El graduated in 1976 and started working in the chemistry lab at Gundersen Lutheran. We started house shopping.
Most every place we looked at in the country was too small, too shabby, too far away or too much. On Valentine’s Day 1977, our friend (and Realtor) Bill Skyrzmoski called to say he found a farm near Stoddard. We drove up Proksch Coulee for the first time ever; the snowbanks were piled pickup cab high along the narrow winding road. I was thinking, “Where the heck are we and how will we ever get a pizza delivered?” As we turned up the driveway and saw the red house and farm buildings framed by deep snow and many trees, Ellen just said, “This is the one. It’s perfect, we’ll take it.” We didn’t even make an offer, we just said we will take it. I was skeptical at the price; $35,900 seemed like a lot in 1977. Oh well, we somehow managed to make the $236 a month mortgage payment. It’s been home ever since.
We marked 40 years here this last June. We raised our sons here at Grouse Hollow — named for the many ruffed grouse we used to have. Ben was born in 1979 and Mark in 1981. They love the woods and hills and river. Ben writes on his Koelker Photo website, “I grew up outside of La Crosse, WI, in a valley of farmland below a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River. Natural scenic beauty is something that has always been a part of my life, and my parents instilled in my brother and I a respect for this and the hard work associated with living in an area of rugged wonder.” Mark always tells us, “Never sell this place. I am going to live here some day.”
Like everyone, Ellen and I have had ups and downs, illness, funerals with loss of family and friends. These downers are usually offset with time and new adventures, projects and, most importantly, reconnecting with old friends and having new people coming into our lives. The actress, Bette Davis once said, “Growing old ain’t for sissies.” She nailed it I guess.
Until next time, get out — I have been sharing our lives with you for 27 years now. Hard to believe it can be that long. Ellen is doing well at Gundersen’s rehabilitation program, improving every day. The best news is that she has a tentative go-home date of Jan. 25! I can’t wait. She got to come home on Christmas Eve for a few hours to decorate and eat a meal. May you all have a peaceful new year, filled with family and friends and the making of good memories and stories. Enjoy.