NEW GLARUS, Wis. — "Do they have gel in Wisconsin?" my Southern California born and raised teen-age daughter asked apprehensively.
She was packing for our vacation on a dairy farm. Perhaps I had made a mistake. For the first venture out of her native state, I wanted her to see the real Midwest. If there are dude ranches, I reasoned, why not dude dairies.
An inquiry to the Department of Development brought a packet of information on the best ways to "Escape to Wisconsin:" events, scenic attractions and where to eat and stay, including farm accommodations.
I chose as our escape for the week Bill and Eloise Kuenzi's 350-acre dairy farm 21 miles south of Madison. After leaving my freshman son at the University of Wisconsin, we navigated a tangle of freeways to Interstate 90 and were immediately in the open countryside.
We drove through rolling hills of alfalfa, timothy and quack grass, punctuated by tracts of tasseled corn. Occasional herds of Holstein and Brown Swiss were sauntering toward distant barns for the evening milking.
"Does corn grow underground?" inquired Miss Sun 'n' Surf. I jammed my foot on the accelerator. It was time to get to the farm.
We were welcomed by 8-year-old Rhoda, who gave us a tour of the guest house, which was attached to the family's century-old homestead. Formerly the hired hands' quarters, it has been remodeled by Eloise and decorated with family handicrafts.
"My grandma made this quilt," our little guide explained as we surveyed the master bedroom. "That's Aunt Hulga's lace nightgown hanging on the wall. Uncle Jim carved that footstool. Come into the children's bedroom, everything in there's mine. I painted the picture at school."
The two-story, pine-paneled house comfortably sleeps eight. The bedrooms have cathedral ceilings and there is wall-to-wall carpeting throughout. Downstairs an ample living room overlooks fields in the east and south forty.
The sun shines warmly into the breakfast nook in the corner of the spacious kitchen, which is fully equipped with fridge and freezer, self-cleaning stove and stainless steel double sinks. There is even a paperback copy of "The Joy of Cooking" in the cupboard.
The full bath with shower and tub adjoin a laundry room, which is available to guests.
Time for Evening Milking
We had arrived in time for the evening milking. Rhoda's big sister Mary, the milkmaid, offered to let us help. She was leaving for college in Florida that weekend, her chores to be assumed by a younger brother. Two older brothers have also left the farm, an increasingly similar trend in the region. Notices for impending house, herd and property auctions appear frequently.
"Thank heavens, Dale's father didn't live to see this," Eloise said of a neighbor's 500 acres that were to go on the block soon. "His grandfather cut the timber on that place and every one of their kids was born there."
Milking on the Kuenzi farm is a semi-automated process. Stainless steel cylinders are attached to the udders and the milk is siphoned through plastic tubes to a huge vat in a room just off the barn. A tanker truck from the processing plant comes daily to collect it.
"Ask any questions you want," offered Mary, setting the tone for the stay. At Bills Hills you are welcome to help with the chores; join the family in an old-fashioned pastime, conversation or stroll alone to the ridge and watch the deer darting from one thicket of trees to the other.
When I returned from the milking barn, the house was dotted with bouquets of wildflowers in jelly glasses. "A lot of them are weeds, but they're so pretty," mused Rhoda, who had shown my daughter her favorite escapes.
The cornfield was an apartment house, and she had led her through the "front door" into the center of the sighing, swaying stalks. There was no question in her mind now as to whether corn was a root vegetable.
Litter of Kittens
They had climbed into the hayloft and discovered a new litter of white kittens. There was another family under the trough beside the silo. They had crawled into the hutches where the calves are housed after birthing. They had rolled under the electric fence into the pasture but had second thoughts when the bull snorted and shook the ring in his nose.
What really sent them scurrying was a low, growing sound. "That's a badger--they're mean," Rhoda warned. Local legend has it a badger once ate a person.
It was hard to believe that this was the same breed as UW's lovable mascot, Bucky Badger.
We had a barbecue of brats, as bratwurst is fondly called in Wisconsin. It comes in varieties of pork and veal and is grilled slowly and ceremoniously. We laced them with Green County sweet hot mustard, on hard rolls, and lettuce picked from the garden beside our porch.