Slip Sledding Away

Is there any better Midwestern childhood staple of winter than sledding?

The kids from my neighborhood had a great option with the hill next to my grandparents house just up the street from me.  It was also the first meeting place destination for all of us on “snow days” from school.

We would trudge our various sleds-from saucers to rail sleds to toboggans to the cheap, hard plastic body length ones-up the hill.

Each sled offered a different ride. The toboggans were for a handful of friends to experience together–our snow-covered boots criss-crossed over each other’s laps, we formed a sitting centipede speeding through the snow.

The one man saucers always gave you the extra spins and speed you wanted while the body length sleds gave you more steering control.

The old fashioned, wooden rail sleds gave you speed but also a loss of control.  Sledders ascending the hill had to keep an extra eye out for those traversing on the rail sleds…lest they get struck by an errant traveler and end up flipped flat on their faces.

The inner tube sleds came into play just as I was getting into my teen years and out of sledding but later in life, I got to try these tubes down the hill. The tubes sure make the ride smoother, no more feeling every bump on your stomach under the 1/4 inch plastic sleds, and went at a decent speed too. They also are easy to connect an arm onto and co-sled with others.

Hour after hour, we’d get our little endorphin rushes, even building up snow piles to act as ramps to shoot off for more speed and height and danger.  It was always a snow badge of courage to make it into the lawn of the house across the street from the hill.

My friends and I would take breaks by heading over to my grandma’s house. We’d leave our boots at the door and swap war stories in our socks over the hot chocolate drinks she’d prepared for us.

Later in life, I’ve had some of my buddies share that my grandma will always live on in the warmth of their memories because of these little snow break sessions around her kitchen table.  Me too.

Honestly, sledding was one of the first activities I was excited for Cash to experience. I’m happy to report, last week, Meghan and I walked up the block to our local snow hill, Garner Park to give Cash his first sled run!

As the veteran sledder in the family–Meg grew up in California and had her first sledding experience only a couple years ago when I brought to Madison on a visit–I put Cash on my lap for his first run.

I conceded to Meghan to start halfway down the hill and we “sped” down. It was too slow for Cash’s liking according to his bored face.

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This made me happy because I knew we could up the ante…and by “up” I mean start further up the hill the next run.

Cash and I made a few more runs and Meghan even got a few in and a couple more with all of us.

It was one of the more fun days this we’ve had this winter as a family. Plus, Cash can now say he’s a sledder.

Actually, his first words about sledding will likely be “faster, faster…”

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Cash Cow

As Cash’s one year birthday nears, one of the milestone changes we’ll implement is weaning him from his momma’s milk to cow’s milk.
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As his father who comes from a dairy farm family dating back to the early 1900s, I am proud to assist in the transition my son into the family and the state’s livelihood and heritage.
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Cash fast became a dairy connoisseur devouring cheese from the first moment it swirled amongst his taste buds. These days, the little guy has no problem downing an entire piece of string cheese, one nibble at a time.
I’ve been known to milk puns about the dairy important role milk plays in a healthy diet. Or how udderly crucial it is in delivering calcium. I butter not do that though before I’m met with lactose intolerance or put you in a bad moo’d.
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Wisconsin farms produce over three billion gallons of milk a year and my boy will be drinking 2 and a half cups a day. We’ll be serving him whole milk, none of that weird, bluish-hued nonfat nonsense.
Heck, I pretty much drank milk directly from the cow’s teat as a kid. My dad and I would drive over to the farm with empty plastic pitchers, walk into the milk house and scoop into the creamy milk that filled the stainless steel tank when the large stirring blade allowed.
We’d go home consume and a few days later, come back and repeat. Call it our family convenience store.
I didn’t realize the quality of the milk I was drinking until one morning after spending the night at a friend’s for a sleepover, I spit out my first bite of cereal. “Who put water in here?!” To which my friend’s mom looked at me quizzically and said, “That’s 2% milk.”  Geesh, if 2% milk tasted like water…what was I drinking on a regular basis?! Half and half?
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As a husband, I’m happy to “free the breast” of my wife. While Meghan has treasured her time breastfeeding Cash, bonding and nurturing, she looks forward to no longer having the sleep-deprived “soothings” several times throughout the night.  She no longer has to be the sole provider of sustenance for his milk wants and needs.  Time for daddy to step up to the bottle.

*side note: For those small few who argue against drinking cow’s milk or the milk of another animal, “we humans are the only “animals” who drink the milk of another animal.” I would agree and only also add, “yes, and we humans are the only “animals” who have rocketed to the moon, invented the internet and composed symphonies…so good enough for this human animal.

I have no problem with alternative milks-such as almond and soy-other than terming them “milk.” Just because you can secrete fluid from an object doesn’t mean you should call that fluid “milk.” We don’t do it for oranges and we shouldn’t for legumes, nuts and drupes either.

Anyway, cow’s milk is important in a child’s development. It is a rich source of the chemical element, calcium, which builds strong bones and teeth and regulates blood clotting and muscle control. And it’s one of the few sources of vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium and is crucial for bone growth.

Milk also provides carbohydrates and protein for growth and energy. There’s evidence that with early introduction to calcium, children have a lower risk of high blood pressure, stroke, colon cancer, and hip fractures later in life.

And later in life, if Cash is anything like his old man, cereal will be a main subsistence, sometimes utilized for a few meals and snacks per day!

Milk, it does a baby body good.

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View of Vilas

Many Madisonians have visited the Henry Vilas Zoo since it’s opening in 1911.

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I went as a kid and a few times this past summer and just this weekend, Meghan, Cash and I spend some there.  This shot was taken there.

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The Vilas zoo is a Madison staple, especially for local families and tourists alike.  There are some nice exhibits with a wide variety of animals, a new polar bear exhibit and beautiful grounds nestled beside Lake Wingra, an expansive green lawn with play areas and the picturesque homes and streets of the Vilas neighborhood.

Even more impressive than the surroundings is the story of how the park and zoo came to be.

William Freeman Vilas was an accomplished, respected man. He has a building, a county and a neighborhood named after him for starters. Vilas was a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who went on to lead, as a lieutenant colonel his regiment in battle in the Civil War.

Following the Union victory, Vilas got his law degree and became a Law Professor at the UW.

Vilas was then elected as a Wisconsin state assemblyman until he was appointed the Postmaster General and then Secretary of Interior of the United States by then President Grover Cleveland. Vilas was renowned nationally as a good speaker and writer, valued by the president and the Democratic party. From 1891 until 1897, Wisconsin elected him to the United States’ Senate.

William married Anna Fox from Fitchburg and they went on to have four children making their residence on Wisconsin Ave (near the Edgewater Hotel) with views of Lake Mendota.

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Sadly, their son, Henry, died at a young age from complications related to diabetes.

A few years later, the couple decided to donate 63 acres of valuable land to the city of Madison under the conditions “for the uses and purposes of a public park and pleasure ground.” The donation came with a mandate–that the park and zoo forever be admission-free.

A 28 acre portion of the land would be used for a zoo-the Henry Vilas Zoo-named in honor of their deceased son.

Today, the grounds are enjoyed by 3/4 of a million visitors per year–for free. Many of whom don’t know the past generosity that allows its existence. I didn’t know it until recently but for any of us who use the park and zoo for any times of recreation should learn about, empathize with and appreciate this Madison family’s legacy.

Though the Vilas’ worked with Presidents and other highly elected officials across the world, their donation to the city of Madison was a gift intended to be enjoyed by its citizens, regardless of their position in life. Citizens they would never meet and, like us, many who didn’t even know them or about them but benefit from their gift. I hope to change that a bit.

I don’t work for nor am I affiliated in any way with the Henry Vilas Zoo but I support it now more than ever and enjoy it and am impressed by its existence.  I encourage you to throw in a few bucks next time you visit and/or become a member and/or donate online if you’d like. It’s good to pause for a good cause every once in a while.

http://www.vilaszoo.org/membership

Vilas View

On a typical summer day,

Wingra’s wind gently greets the green grass

where families picnic

and children jump, twirl, crawl and play,

one could imagine a young Henry Vilas 

amongst them, enjoying the fray.   

Maybe William and Anna and see him too.

Their vision is why all are here today.

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Fill in the blanks

Since this site is named Wisconsin Dadger, it’s about time I start writing about Dads. This week and next, I will go back a bit and profile my grandDADs, both of whom have passed on. This week will be my mother’s Dad, William Cork.

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In Spring Green, Wisconsin, in 1920, William Cork became the sixth child born to Antonia (Kratcha) and Walter Cork.

Only six months after William’s birth, his father, Walter, fell to his death while at work on a construction site. It was Walter’s 40th birthday.

As my son, Cash, turns six months today, I can’t help but be horrified that if something ever happened to me at his current age, he would have no memory of me, of his dad, who is trying so hard to establish a fertile world for him to grow into.

Walter didn’t get to watch his son William grow up tall into a boy, a teen, a town athletic star and a man and a father himself.

William’s best sport was basketball.  At 6 feet 2 inches, William was considered a “Big Man” in the late ’30s.  He was recruited by several colleges and eventually decided to stay relatively close to home by attending UW-Lacrosse so the family could watch him play his Freshman year. Then, History set in.

The United States became involved in world war 2 and William joined hundreds of thousands of other young men, putting off personal interests for his country’s.

Young Wm Cork

William began a military career that became his entire work life as an airplane mechanic for the Air National Guard. He went deaf in one ear from year’s of plane noise but never complained about contributing his skills for the betterment of the fighting forces. He went up the ranks as highly respected Lt. Colonel.

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William married Charlotte Manning and they raised two sons and three daughters together. A military man of his era, he was a strong, silent father. An intimidating presence at his size, 6 ft 2 in tall and well over 200 pounds, not many of his children or anyone, crossed him. He was legendary for getting great deals on anything he bargained for-cars, houses, clothing. Slick salesmen dropped their act and their eyes around him.

His hard exterior had a soft spot for his kids and Charlotte.

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Upon retirement in his early 50s, he tapped into his Bohemian roots and Charlotte and he hit the road each year as the Wisconsin temperatures dipped below 40 degrees. They bought a small place in a Tucson, Arizona housing development and meandered across the Western interstates and highways to get there.

William and Charlotte had the playful bickering worthy of a television show. He had his worn upholstered chair and grandma her own faded blue lounger. Never did the other sit in the other’s chair nor did any guest. Grandma would sit back puffing her cigarette and recall an instance from their past or the name of an old neighbor’s daughter. Grandpa would question her memory by announcing to the room, “Sounds like someone’s telling stories.” She would reply, “Quiet! It’s true.” He would respond with a smirk, “Is that how it goes?” Grandma would grunt, “Dad! Anyway, as I was saying…”

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William continued his athletic pursuits throughout his life, a scratch golfer, a high-average bowler, and shooting buckets with me in the driveway, he still could swish a jump hook from ten feet out at the flick of a wrist and hop of the leg.

Off the athletic arena, he also surprised those around him. He was an early adaptor of the internet in his 70s, checking his stocks daily, and even sending emails to family members.

I eagerly awaited their return to Wisconsin each mid-Spring and what lumbering new Recreational Vehicle would turn into our driveway. Seemed they would upgrade to a new RV every few years, each one more “decked” out than the previous. They put the miles on. I remember running my little fingers along a plastic map of the United States mounted on their RV.  They colored in the states they’d been to on it. By the age of 12, I’d only been to a handful of states outside of Wisconsin, all thanks to a visit to see them in Arizona. I was easily impressed.

After a number of years, the map had only a few blank states remaining.

But, in 1992, the blank states would stay unfilled, as Charlotte was diagnosed with lung cancer, liver cancer that eventually crept to her brain. and died at the age of 67. William lost his travelmate.

Outside of his children, who tended to him, William became lonely and found a spark in his life with an old high school friend, Helen. They married and enjoyed each other’s company for seven years before William acquired a blood clot in his foot which caused the toe to die, and so had to be amputated.

After the surgery, he got an MRSA-a staph infection that got misdiagnosed which led to his rapid deterioration of health.  He died a little more than a year later.

William was a stoic, proud man and that’s why I treasure a rare glimpse into his softer side, a memory made a few months before his death at the age of 81.

Grandpa was lying in his bed and needed his crutches to get up and go to the bathroom.  Helen and my mom were out grocery shopping, so he called out for me.

Grandpa was a good size guy so I really had to heave him to get him to sit up at the bed’s edge.  I noticed the bandage on what was left of his foot was unspooling.

I reached down to tighten it and saw the purplish bruising around the amputation. It looked like half his foot, not just a big toe, was gone.  I pretended not to act a bit shocked at the sight, but I guess he knew I saw it.  I quickly secured it and pulled him up to his crutches. As we found ourselves in an accidental hug, he said in a steady, soft, sincere voice, “Thanks, Chris.”

A moment of vulnerability from a man who never showed much, struck me deeply. In that one moment, though he was never demonstrative with his gratitude and love for others, I felt both from him.

At his cold, February funeral, three old men, veterans as well, stood at attention, dressed in their military uniforms that fit them better in their younger bodies, were standing in shin-deep snow wearing inadequate dress shoes, as the brisk winds redded up their faces to honor my grandfather. Before the blasts of the 21 gun salute, one the men read a soldiers eulogy…something about being a brother through eternity.

Even more than a brother, William Cork is a father, grandfather and now, great-grandfather through eternity.

Considering he didn’t get to know his father, that is quite a legacy, I’m lucky to be a part of.

Life gave you some blank slates and blank states and you did your best to fill them with color.

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