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.

For the Love of Labradors

IMG_0488I married Bill Kroseberg on June 10th, 1960. On that day, I also married Cricket, a beautiful black Lab whose AKC papers proved she was sired by King Buck, the only dog that’s ever appeared on a federal duck stamp. She was the first Lab to steal my heart. We lived on the farm early in our marriage, and every summer when Bill left for reserve duty at Camp McCoy, Cricket went slumming. While I couldn’t wait to jump on Bill when he came home, Cricket hung out in the fields awhile, waiting for the right time to sneak back, occasionally with a litter on the way. She adjusted to our move to an apartment in town, and after finding a worthy suitor, her gift to us was a magnificent male black Lab we named Nokes, as in nox, Latin for night being black…he was the gentle but diligent watchdog for our kids, fierce protector of the 2 door Ford with the seats that tilted forward (with car seat and child attached). Occasionally, he was dropped off at our door by a kind officer as a passenger in the back seat of a squad car after a swim in Hornburg’s pool across town. Cancer has ended the lives of several since Nokes, including two great yellows, but though years have passed, he’s one that’s never left me.

For the past 26 years, I’ve been blessed with two beautiful ladies. The first, Jesse, rode home with us in the palms of my hands from Sturgeon Bay. Sadly,1998 was a devastating year for my family with the loss of our invincible Bill to cancer at 63. Months later we lost Jesse to that same awful thing. Just as I thought I would never wish to have another dog to IMG_0440mourn, I received a note from my dear friend, Nan Brewer:

She had quickly jotted a sketch of Jessie with wings leaping from the end of our pier, with a note inside that was a harbinger of the next Lab that would bless our family:

                       JOSIE

                  1999 – 2015

(Mom to Gunnar’s Bam and Betsy’s Francy, who are now 10 years old)

IMG_0474My son,Gunnar, and I brought Josie home from the kitchen of her breeder, Grace Cooper, in Madison. She was the last of the litter – the one that she planned to keep herself to train and show, but found herself without the time to do it. She was a look alike clone of Jesse in every possible way a dog could be – in fact, it was almost uncanny that she would have the identical disposition, discipline and devotion.

This past January Josie turned 16, and not able to walk without pain, Gunnar and I made our second trip to our vet, Troy Seamandel, who cared for our dogs – and, I do mean cared. In our arms, she sighed one big last breath and left us.

So here I am in the same place – missing her waiting for the last bite, asking to go out, then coming in to sleep at my feet until it’s time to crawl under my bed. Oh, for the love of one last Lab like her…IMG_0808

Vintage or Just Plain Old?

Vintage, as I once knew it, most often related to fine wine. Now, the very word Vintage conjures up all kinds of things for me, most of which I love and long for: Vintage clothing (my daughter’s favorite), Vintage jewelry, Vintage linens – Vintage, you name it, including wine, of course. Love and live for that, too.

Things are no longer just old or outdated – granted, the more valuable can be classified as ‘genuine antique’, but old is now Vintage. And that’s exactly what I am now as 77 is the next magic number. Actually, I prefer it to Senior Citizen and all the other elderly euphemisms used to categorize us. I am, I think, a Vintage Woman with faculties that are old, yet still intact.

I’ve always searched for old stuff. Flea markets, yard/garage sales, thrift shops and antique stores. Once admired, used and discarded things become a part of me and my surroundings; and each holds a memory of finding them.IMG_0382

In the cabin are two of them – the circus tent mallet from my first favorite up north shop, The Vagabond Lover – and the heavy tree stump that I had to have. As Bill carried it in for me, he muttered about the chickens who had lost their heads on it, and how could I have actually paid MONEY for it. You see, it’s not only the object of my affection, but the memories attached to it that matter.IMG_1140

There’s really not another thing I need; I should be ‘downsizing’as the word of the day seems to be – but, if I’m lucky, I’ll come across something small that strikes a chord. I hope my kids especially will love most of my treasures, and pass them on. They will then be truly Vintage!

OUR ANNUAL ‘FOURTH ON THE FARM’ PARTY

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This all started with a garden that grew out of a high school friendship – happily, they both flourished. As newlyweds, Bill and I lived in an apartment on the farm that his parents owned, and a few years after we moved to nearby Oconomowoc, we planted a garden there with our old friends, Jim and Mary Lou Newgard. While weeding one day, the four of us decided it would be fun to share our bumper crop on the 4th of July with ALL of our good friends – and thus began a tradition that grew way beyond the garden…

Thereafter, each year on the 4th we had 50+ parents and kids spread out on the big sloping lawn under the oak tree – kids atop the the pony in  the corral, riding Betsy’s Misty in the fields, competing in gunny sack races, distance seed spitting and other challenging activities organized by our pied piper, Nan Brewer. Late afternoon, the best food from every family was on the hay wagon – until dusk when Bill hooked up the tractor to roam the farm. There were just two anxious times I’ll never forget.  One, when Dolly, the irascible pony, knocked young Cam Brewer off her back causing a severe elbow fracture. (He is now a fine Dr. himself, with, I trust, a strong arm.) The other happened when our youngest son, Gunnar, was nowhere to be found until someone spied him sitting on the highest peak of the big barn.

Years of 4ths have passed since the picture was taken. Five of us became widows, including my dear sister Judy whose husband Pat, sat next to Bill. The boy standing at the back of the wagon is our oldest son, Bill, who spent many hours on that same wagon baling hay with his Dad. He and his wife, Sheila now have Molly, Emily and a young son, Brian – born on the 4th of July!

I still pass the farm often. It is now a lovely subdivision; the restored homestead stands at the entrance and the big oak tree still shades the rolling lawn. Our friends are now proud grandparents and the children on the wagon are raising their own. I cherish the memories of each and every one of them – especially on the Fourth of July.

Me and My Mom

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In one way or another, my mother has been with me every day of my 76 years, yet she never gave me the chance to say goodbye. On a beautiful Spring Monday in April, much like today, she mowed the yard, took a shower, fixed dinner, and while she washed the dishes and Dad dried, she just fell to the floor and died. Just like that.

I had seen her Sunday in the parking lot of the Presbyterian church when she and Dad met us to drop off the kids – they often wanted to have them  for the weekend, and that made all of us happy. I never dreamed it would be the last time I would see her smile or her beautiful face or kiss her goodbye. Or thank her for being the most incredible Mother. I’ve often thought of the shock and pain we all felt at the time, but now that I’m beyond her 72 years, I’m grateful that she never suffered; just simply left us as she would have wished. There’s always been some comfort in that.

Yet as Mother’s Day approaches – I still miss her.

Bill’s Boots

passingwindagain

I have referred previously to Bill’s boots. Susie was my seventh grade English teacher and Homeroom czarina.  I admit, I was probably an acquired taste for her husband Bill, but over the years, Bill became as much a mentor and friend to me as his dear wife.  As we progressed in life, the relationship changed and grew, the difference in our ages became less important.  The low point was probably a day in about 1963 or 1964 when he got really angry with me for throwing snowballs at him while he was standing on a ladder changing light bulbs on the used car lot.  There are a lot of good memories, but the one that, while ironic, will always remain with me, was the day that I walked into Susie’s kitchen for my occasional Saturday morning cup of coffee.  Bill poked me in the gut and said, “Johnny, you need…

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I am a simple man . . .

I consider this essay a tribute to my husband, Bill – written by an old friend he valued and admired.

passingwindagain

redwingboots

I am a simple man.  I probably owe an apology to both Graham Nash and Ricky Van Shelton, who recorded different songs under this title. Van Shelton’s lyrics probably have more immediate parallels in my life, but the Graham Nash song from the Songs for Beginners album (Crosby Stills & Nash) reaches out and speaks occasionally as well.  I don’t spend alot of time on me.  My haircut is pretty much the same as when Leo the barber cut my hair for 50 cents and a 25 cent tip in the 50’s.  It was on East Wisconsin Avenue, on the north side, so it was on the far reaches of my range. (park your bike in the alley, not on the sidewalk) I took a sabbatical from haircuts in the late 60’s and early 70’s, but that was political.   It was my sister’s bike.  It was the reason I…

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Closed for the Summer

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Just before Labor Day, I took my Boston sister, Anne, to my favorite place to while away some time in the Northwoods. In fact, Chucky Lou’s Last Dance is the inspiration for the title of my blog. It may be the last big tourist weekend of the summer, but unlike the malls and city shops, the proprietors in our out of the way places operate on their own time. Though disappointed to find the Closed for the Season sign, I like the fact that there is an independent spirit about the shop as well as unexpected treasures within.

It was a beautiful drive, a perfect setting to take a picture we’ll remember – and always, the anticipation of being together and returning next summer…

Ladies Keep Their Legs Together

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…or so I was admonished by my maternal grandmother, Edith. My grandfather, Charles, was a Presbyterian minister, which probably prompted her reaction to my backyard pose at 12 or so. Some time after that, my mother invited me to sit on the porch with her, and I anticipated the topic she wished to address. SEX. I remember the motion of the glider, the smell of its plastic cover and the hum of the streetcar as it passed our house. But I also remember trying to be serious because I already knew more than what she thought I should know about SEX. And that brings me to today – about 63 years, a few boy friends – all followed by one great marriage.

Last night I watched the Emmy Awards, and after it was over I watched The Normal Heart on HBO, a well documented movie about AIDS. The night before I caught up on two episodes of Ray Donovan, and they had some explicit scenes. I also like Sons of Anarchy that has some but less of it. Next Valentine’s Day, Fifty Shades of Grey will probably gross millions, and even some of the historical novels I’ve read this summer contain shades as dark as those. Even my 97 year old Aunt Mary liked a little ‘romance’ as she viewed it, in her reading. Cleavage and the most minimal bikinis are all over the place, and schools have to define in detail what’s acceptable attire.

So, flashback to my high school days when TV was hardly allowed to expose a thing, in pool class boys swam nude (true fact in Waukesha, Wisconsin), reading Lolita was deemed scandalous and the closest I got to porn was a flasher trying to entertain me in his window as I walked past. It seems we’ve come full circle, and so many things are tolerated that never were – but after all these years, what do I honestly say to my granddaughters in this climate about having sex?

Its wonderful beyond words. BUT, know when it’s right and when it’s not; try to be sure it’s love not lust and be safe always.

#15/100: Saddle Up

Red's Wrap

Some people who were walking on the trail stopped to watch us slowly ride by, my daughter, granddaughter and me, on our rented horses following Amanda, our guide. They waved at us and told us to have a good time but gave the appearance of finding three women and a 10-year old girl on horses on a horse trail in a part of San Diego County layered with riding stables as something unusual and worth watching.

And immediately, it flashed in my mind that I should somehow tell my granddaughter that this is what makes life the richest – being watched rather than being the watcher. Being on the horse instead of hanging back and thinking that riding a horse is something that only other people do. And maybe I didn’t even have to tell her this. She’d gotten on her horse with no fuss even though she was scared…

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