“When my parents were in their late 30s, my father’s parents died, and the family farm was put up for sale and there was no way for my dad to continue farming in Switzerland. There were ads in an agricultural magazine about farms for sale in Wisconsin and my parents made the very difficult decision of leaving their homeland to come to a new country. My father, Michel, was always a farmer at heart and it was the only way he could continue following his dream. So, he flew over on a visa in October of 1966 and stayed with a family that had come from Switzerland years before. They told him winters here were really harsh and he would be better off waiting until spring to bring the family.
That fall, he found a farm, made a down payment, and returned to Europe for the winter in preparation for the big move in spring. Part of that was applying for our US residency. It was much simpler in those days so we got approved quickly.
My parents knew they were leaving their family and friends and moving to a different country where a different language was spoken and did not know when or if they would ever return. Our extended family figured they would never see us again. Leaving our homeland was extremely difficult.
The decision was made to bring the family automobile, a 1966 Volkswagon Beetle, and a small trailer which was loaded with a huge wooden box. All the possessions that we could bring had to fit inside that box. We drove down to Le Harve, France and boarded a ship that took us to Long Island, New York. When we arrived, we were processed through immigration and then drove from New York to Wisconsin and arrived in April of 1967 at our new home in Waumandee. I was four years old.
My dad got the name of a cattle dealer and he ordered 30 dairy cows for the farm. All of the money he had saved went towards the down payment of the farm so he was unable to purchase the cows outright. Luckily he was able to set up a bartering system with the cattle dealer which allowed him to pay by raising a certain amount of bull calves and giving them to him as a payment. For other expenses, the bank issued a loan and held a lien directly off of the milk check in order to be assured of their payments.
As I got older, I realized how hard it is to be a farming family. We were either milking, on a tractor, or preparing food; either for the animals or the humans. Mom did all the cooking and then she gardened and milked in the morning and at night. We butchered all our own meat and did everything ourselves. Mom would make the lard. She also knew how to pull the sausage casings out of the butchered animals and how to clean and prepare them. She made homemade butter and french bread. My father did all the field work and fed the cows while we milked. My brother (Maurice) and sister (Janine) also had to work extremely hard. They milked before and after school and spent the summer haying, and helping with everyday farm work. Haying was a big job in the summer, not like it is nowadays.
I think about laundry and how people complain about doing it these days. Growing up, I watched mom have two Maytag wringer washer machines. She would start with the whites, then go to the work jeans and it was all washed in the same water. Then, she had to pass every single article of clothing through the wringer into the rinse water, and then pass them through the wringer again. Finally, mom would have to go up and down the steps to hang them on the line and then in the winter time, she would hang them in the basement. I mean every single item of clothing would be hung up with clothespins down to each sock.
Although the work wasn’t too different in Switzerland, it became more intensified here. Mom had to cook a lot in Europe because there was an uncle, an employee, and her husband, but here in Wisconsin, she had three growing children to feed. She also had to learn how to drive tractor because she would be the one to run the baler for haying in the summer. Even though it was hard living in a new place, she is grateful for the move here because she knows that they would not have accomplished in Europe what they did here.”
Rachel, Helene’s Mom:
“I did all of this hard work as it was a thing of economics. If we butchered everything ourselves, we didn’t have to buy the meat; if we cleaned the casings, we didn’t have to buy the casings. I have fonder memories of the first 20 years or so of being here farming, when we were still raising our kids. There was more joy when the kids were around. In our later years, it became more difficult because my husband suffered from dementia. Now that he has passed, I feel free and yet guilty in a way. He had diabetes and heart problems and was a bit stubborn; not wanting to do what the doctor said and it was hard to help him.”
“Unfortunately, my dad’s dementia was not diagnosed soon enough and we didn’t realize what was happening. My parents moved back to Switzerland after they retired and it was hard having them so far away. When dad passed away in 2017, mom decided to come back to Wisconsin. She is totally retired and enjoying it. We’re always afraid she is bored, but she never is and always finds something to do. Mom loves to read and enjoys watching westerns, hockey, and couples ice skating. When someone in the family is watching something that she is not into, she does her word search or reads. My brother lives in Texas and she gets the chance to spend winter there with him. The rest of the year, she will continue spending her time between myself and my sister here in Waumandee.
The Waumandee Valley is a beautiful place to live. I have been here most of my life. When I was 26, I went back to Switzerland with my parents, but I got super homesick and came back after three months. That is when I started the job at the farm that I still have to this day
In 2010, I was able to buy my piece of paradise and now I have a few small animals of my own. For me, I love living where there is peace and quiet. I was a first responder for 10 years and a member of the snowmobile club for many years. Being a first responder helped me strengthen bonds in the community and make connections. I have a few close friends, which is perfect for me.
We will take care of mom as long as possible and I hope we can keep her home until the end. We are enjoying having her with us and vice versa. I feel grateful that we are able to help my mom and work towards peace and unity in the family.