Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 7, 2009

End of an Era in Wisconsin

12-5-09 Waupaca Bowl

Quote of the Day, on an ad at the bowling alley:
at King Tattoo – ‘Done While You Wait’

… Good. ‘Cause I wouldn’t want to leave my left arm here overnight and have to come back for it.

12-6-09  Arson and The Old Place (Written at the Cornerstone Cafe, Saxeville, WI)

Peterson’s original Saxeville farmhouse burned down last Friday morning, just a half-day before we arrived at our weekend lake house from Chicago, intending to cut down our Christmas tree at a nearby tree farm.

Peterson’s old farmhouse was the last remaining part of Lake Kristine’s earlier history — from back when it was just a creek and some farmland, before Mr. Peterson sold to developers in the Seventies. The creek was dammed, and lots around the new lake subdivided, thus initiating our little lake settlement of about fifty houses. According to one of the area matrons at the local coffeshop, the house dated back about a hundred years and still sports a fieldstone and cement foundation. Now, however, the site has become strictly the stuff of history, some footnote in the local lore of this sleepy central Wisconsin town.

The family that most recently lived there had only owned it three or four years, but lost it to the bank this past summer.  I didn’t know them well, …and I didn’t really understand what I did know. Mean dog, unkempt yard full of vehicles and toys under repair (or not), and loud, bored teenage kids that made me nervous. And the husband was pretty surly, even by stoic Wisconsin standards.

Mary (the unofficial Sunday morning coffee shop hostess, and one of my year-rounder neighbors on the lake) told me the family had just moved out last weekend. Now a week later, a 4am fire. Suspicious? I thought so.

The curious question is this: who owns the property? Had the bank already assumed the mortgage and thus become eligible for the insurance money? Or did the desperate family move all their secondhand furniture out in their last weeks of technical ownership, and then commit insurance fraud? Criminality, heartless corporate greed, old-fashioned stupidity, or just bad luck? Who knows. Some insurance investigator’s gonna have his or her hands full this month.

This economy, meanwhile, is forcing all kinds of desperate moves by the rural poor, some of whom may have been just one or two ladder-rungs away from middle class safety and security two years ago, but now have to start from scratch… or even from underwater. There are lots more fire sales and losses going on behind closed doors. This was just one of the more obvious bad situations.

There are no superheroes for crises like these. This is the real, unromanticized face of rural and underemployed people’s lives throughout much of America. Makes me thankful for what I’ve got (even though I don’t have a new job yet…).


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