OUT OF SIGHT; OUTTA MIND

I ascribe to the Erma Bombeck philosophy of cleaning: “Housework is a treadmill from futility to oblivion with stops at tedium and productivity.” – or more concisely, “Housework, if you do it right, will kill you.”

This armoire* is my favorite piece of furniture:

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…and this is one of the reasons why:

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Growing up, my dad was proud of the fact that he could always bring someone home with him, knowing his house wouldn’t have newspapers strewn about with dirty dishes in the sink. My mother was a neatnik – even boxes in the big attic were covered with pristine white sheets. She was less diligent when it came to instilling her habits in her daughters. (Speaking for myself here.) I had two tasks: dust the baseboards and “just go over the tops of things.” My sister, Jud, had the unenviable job of dusting the ‘whatnot’ shelves with its myriad of small doodads – later assumed by our younger sister, Duff. In the dining room they were also entrusted with the base of the round oak table, and mom’s impressive collection of unusual bottles, some filled with colored water, some not. All three of us participated in dishwashing which was often fun – filled with aimless chatter, ‘I spy something green’ games and occasional petty arguments. As a result of my sink experience, I’ve never considered living without a dishwasher and garbage disposal a cruel and unusual punishment in my lifetime. Our indefatigable mom passed away as she finished the dishes with our dad. (When the time comes, I would like to be so fortunate.)

As for cleaning in general, the joy of sharing the house with multiple animals has influenced my belief in ‘acquired immunity’ – the ‘five second theory’ is often observed, and I credit my husband for allowing my kids to drink out of the bottle. We’ve all been healthy, which I like to think is the result of not living in a sterile environment.

Resigned to the fact I’ll never be a stellar housekeeper, I can still pull it together when I must, and I do go over the tops of things.

*About the armoire – Bill and I found this in parts on the dirt floor of the farm house basement where we lived for a year after we were married. It had been shipped on a boat from England by his grandmother, Janet Thomas. The wood was ugly but in good shape so we worked countless hours on painting and restoring it. No telling its history beyond that, but more reason I love it.

I COULDN’T JUST LEAVE IT THERE

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I saw it on the floor in the back of Goodwill looking oddly out of place sitting next to a Fischer-Price gas station. Not my style, so I moved on to the purpose of my trip, used books, where I found a 1978 Nelson DeMille novel about the quest for peace in the Mid East, which could have been published this year since tensions remain the same. But before I left, I had to go back to get a closer look. Still there, looking oddly out of place, the tag read:

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Now it looks oddly out of place in my living room – eclectic and unique I like to think, and that’s okay for the time being.

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There are treasures to be found at Goodwill, and I frequently donate many of my own – always happy to support their cause, and be thanked by them at checkout!

513 Lincoln Avenue Waukesha Wisconsin

My home,

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in my 1950’s neighborhood.

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This was the East side Five Points of Waukesha, as opposed to the larger downtown Five Points. The city was, and remains, a maze to navigate, but my neighborhood was a microcosm; a small village connected to the whole by streetcar tracks, intersections, the bus line to Milwaukee and the Soo Line Railroad. The streetcar ran a sidewalk away from my bedroom window, and I could hear the bell that signaled the zinging hum as it accelerated from the corner stop. Only once did it come to a screeching halt as my terrified mom scooped my toddler sister, Duff, from the tracks.

In those days it was safe to play kick the can way past dark. I could walk where ever and when ever I wanted to or needed to. First, to Hadfield Elementary three blocks east, having to walk the day I got my first period wearing what felt like a giant marshmallow; followed by middle and high school about a mile away, waving to the old men who sat on the wide porch watching traffic. We ran errands for our mom just doors away – to Cody’s meat market, Klein’s bakery and the corner grocery store. In her beauty shop Ethel turned my pigtails into a duck tail. And I walked to Rode’s Drug Store on the corner where Fred hired me when I turned 14, and left to begin my freshman year at Madison. From my front porch I watched Mr. Kinne make out in his car with Irene who managed the Custard Cup he owned across the alley. Peter Larson kissed me for the first time in Silurian Park, and I remember the coat I was wearing. My Latin teacher, Grace Fardy, lived across the street with her sister and parents, and next to them our friends, Emmy and Martin Frings, who were proud Polish immigrants. She was a beautiful seamstress, and he was a barber just steps away from their apartment. Our next door neighbors, the Sheild’s, were like extended family. Lefty was a cop, and Mary was the epitome of a loving Catholic mother. Good people who raised good kids, and who I’m certain, kept a few of our misdeeds to themselves.

My sisters, Jud and Duff and I, were fortunate to live in a time and a place where ‘most everyone knew our name’ – and where it was safe enough to walk a few blocks to Jimmy’s Grotto on Main Street at midnight to get an Italian Sausage that simmered in their big Nesco.

Just Wishing…

I wish I could hear him call me Sorrel. I wish I could feel his big arm around me. I wish he could have grown old loving his grandkids, and I wish his grandkids could have loved him…img_0936
This morning, Monday September 19th, I made coffee in this small kitchen just as I have for 34 years, but I’ve missed my Bill for 18 of them. It’s his birthday today, and he would be 82. As I filled the coffee pot, I was thinking he would approve of my faucet fix.img_1399
Remembering that he temporarily used a huge vise grip to stop a leak, I attached two small ones that have worked just fine for a very long time. That, and the addition of a bunkhouse are the only changes we’ve made to our 1940’s cabin. When we were looking for a place up here, my only stipulation was – no knotty pine. I’ve lived with nothing but knotty pine everywhere and loved it. The other constant has been one, two or three Labradors. Having lost my old Josie at 16, Betsy and Hud have loaned me Francy, one of her last litter, to keep me company for the summer. She’s a very sweet girly dog!img_0933
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This morning Bill might have walked down these steps to the lake with his fishing pole, and when I look down there from my bedroom window, in my mind, I can still see him. img_1133

Just wishing I could have wished him Happy Birthday today.

The Essence of Emily

It’s the middle of May, and soon homework at the kitchen counter will be a thing of the past. The last prom, looming finals and finally – GRADUATION!  Growing Up Emily has been everything, you name it, but never a dull moment:

dead on with a bow and arrow; beautiful in a prom dress

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working at it ’til she got it right:

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that began and ended with fine results:

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A fierce competitor on the volleyball court:IMG_0646.JPG

a terrific bunch of best friends:IMG_0152

and a special more than good buddy:IMG_0007.JPG

always ready for fun and a dare:IMG_1365

 

I watched her as a toddler determined to lug this huge rock a long distance to the cabin.        Little wonder that being Emily’s grama has simply been amazing:IMG_0321.JPG

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ROCK ON, MY DEAR – can’t wait for what’s next!

 

The Story of Two Coats

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This single photo of the three of us on our way to the Milwaukee Sports Show has made my mind spin. Taken by a street photographer on a blustery early Spring day, my first thought was, “Oh, I made that camel corduroy coat for Billie.” My second was, “And that’s the mink coat Bill made for me!” So long ago…

Bill was the third generation to join Kroseberg Furs, once located in the LaSalle Hotel, near Marquette on 11th Street. He spent his early years living with his family in the hotel, where his Aunt Betty had her flower shop across the lobby from the fur store. He told me of his school days at nearby Jesu, where he learned that rulers hurt and to genuflect.

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The photo, left to right: Aunt Betty, Bill’s Dad, William Sr. and Mom, sister Janet, Grandfather Herman, and Bill. Years passed. Herman’s afternoon card games at the brewery ended with his death, the business relocated to Jefferson Street across from the Pfister Hotel, and Bill’s family moved to a farm in the country, which Brookfield was at the time. After we married in 1960, Bill learned all he could in other jobs – construction, car dealerships and the fertilizer business – before deciding to join his parents in the fur business. His Dad, also Bill, was the consumate furrier, having trained in fine salons in New York before returning to the business in Milwaukee. His son, my Bill, preferred the nuts and bolts of the business, installing temperature controlled storage and learning all he could from the craftspeople who actually worked with the furs – the cutting and piecing of pelts, the differences in quality of genders and types of fur .

This bit of history brings me back to The Coat in the street photograph… An old customer, Ruby Winzenreid, brought her mink coat in to be stored for the summer and ended up trading it in for a new one. Still in fine condition, Bill took it apart, resized it, pieced it, sewed it, restyled it, made a leather belt for it – and surprised me with a beautiful mink coat that his daughter, Betsy, still wears on cold winter days.

There’s a remarkable thing about this – he’s the same man who by himself replaced the springs in his dump truck after Kroseberg Furs, then located in Em Grove, was sold.

Waukesha All Hail To Thee…

I had always wanted to go, but the thought of singing my old high school fight song at 8:29 on Friday mornings kept me under the covers. Yet at dawn last Friday, I drove the familiar route from my home in Oconomowoc – past the Payne and Dolan quarry, Fracaro’s Bowling Alley, Frame Park, White Rock School and crossed the Soo Line tracks – to arrive at The Spot On Broadway. The restaurant sits at the apex of Waukesha’s ‘other Five Points’ where Broadway, Lincoln and Hartwell Avenues converge on the east side of town. (As opposed to downtown’s Five Points – the fact is, getting anyplace is a mental exercise for anyone trying to navigate the maze of Waukesha.)

I was finally motivated to go by The Blackshirt Breakfast Group’s decision to move from the Sunset Family Restaurant to gather at The Spot for the first time. Located in my old neighborhood, as a kid I climbed the steps of Muehl Brother’s grocery store before it became Dutchland Dairy and long before it became The Spot.

Perhaps I should have known it would be a bittersweet morning. The BBG breakfast draws a diverse group of old high school alums – a long table of 30 or so men talking sports, past and present, and a table or two of women and couples. I was welcomed by three wives of former coaches – and quickly found a common bond as the daughter of a coach’s wife. My mother was a savvy spectator who supported my Dad’s Carroll College teams with pregame food (and coaching) from her seat in the bleachers. I’m glad I went, but I’m not sure I’ll return, because…

…as I drove out of the parking lot I found myself face to face across the street from the house I grew up in and loved – at 77, still able to hear the sounds of its doors opening and closing behind me. In my mind, it will always remain a microcosm of my life in the 50’s with a Mom, A Dad and sisters. The Place I grew up in.IMG_1327

The family that bought the house in the 70’s maintained it for years just as it was when our parents left it, but now it appears sad and neglected. They must have moved some years ago – the white fence, the hollyhocks, Dad’s rose garden and big fireplace have given way to rubble and weeds. The picture window that looked out on the street is covered by a loose bright blue sheet of something. The small garage still stands with a late model Cadillac parked in front of the door. The house that Lefty Shields and his happy family lived in is now an empty lot. Lefty was a good cop, and with less than 8ft between our houses, we always felt protected.

So – last week Nostalgia got a big jolt of Reality. But I can still sing my Blackshirt Fight Song, and tell some great stories about my old neighborhood. I’m going to do that.