June 25, 2022

COLUMN: Walking memory lane

For a story this week, I walked through the rubble of Wilson Hall, named in memory of Mary Wilson. After hearing the passion and the history behind the building, I could feel the memories in the air. I looked at the gray stone foundation and pictured students laughing as they placed brick after brick. I wondered what they would think if they stood there with me - a place once so familiar, now a shell of what it was.

It took me back to the house I grew up in. It was an old house. For awhile, it served as a duplex. One family was downstairs, the other upstairs. I can’t imagine it was a very good duplex - at least for the latter family.

My room was upstairs. The biggest in the whole house, although I had to share with my little sister. So many memories were made in that room. I wonder if the scars still show. I was a bit of a pyromaniac. One time after lighting pieces of paper on fire, I was afraid my dad would smell it, so I made the obvious choice. I put three long stripes of deodorant on the door to mask the smell. Ten years later, you could still see the marks.

My sister and I were always obsessed with the idea of someone moving in after us. We hid things in the tiled ceiling. We wrote notes that started “If you’re reading this, my name is Cheyenne and I am 10 years old.” I can’t remember if we left the notes or not, but I hope we did. I hope whoever lives there now knows all about the rambunctious girl who grew up in that bedroom.

I wonder what I would do if I could walk in there today. I might check to see if the heat vent is still outside the upstairs bedroom. The house was always so cold and drafty. I would put a big shirt on and sit over the vent until my whole shirt blew up around me like a big marshmallow. Maybe that’s why the house was always so cold.

That’s not the only house I wonder about. After high school, my dad moved out of that big white house to a city several hours away. When I came back home after college, I wanted to stay in our small town with my boyfriend (now my husband.) So I moved in with him and his parents for the summer and winter breaks.

If I thought my house was drafty, this old farmhouse was akin to a freezer. There was a summer living room and a winter living room. In the freezing Wisconsin winters, the summer living room would be closed up to preserve heat. If you needed to go in there to grab something, you could see your breath fog up around you.

Somehow, despite the fact that we would wake up with frost inside the windows, my husband slept with only one ratty blanket and a fan pointed on him. Luckily, I took over the room his older brother had moved out of, so I wasn’t a victim of his fan. That’s still a battle we have today, although the heat works much better in our current home.

My in-laws sold that house several years ago to the family that had originally lived there. Since then, the house has been redone. They painted it blue, added a balcony, redid the porch and I’m sure they fixed the insulation.

I don’t know that I would recognize it if I walked in. I don’t think I would want to see that family room without the coal stove we all huddled around in December. I can’t imagine walking up the stairs without the telltale squeaking of the old wood.

It took this walk down memory lane for me to really understand why the people that loved Wilson Hall have trouble driving by now. There’s a sort of emptiness. A failure to understand how something that was once your entire life could just simply be gone.

“Time moves on,” Marnie Cline, Mary Wilson’s daughter, told me last week. And so it does.

Cheyenne Roche


Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.