Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day Mullings

Dear George,
Katja’s pregnancy came as a surprise because she forgot to mention she was discontinuing her birth control pills.  However, it was a welcome surprise, and soon we were attending the natural childbirth classes at Christ Hospital.  Both of us realized there was zero chance that Katja would actually opt for natural childbirth, but we didn’t think the classes would do any harm.  When the big day arrived and we were brought to the birthing room, I followed my training and rhythmically repeated, "breathe...breathe...breathe..."  Katja screamed, "I am breathing, godammit!"  The nurse thought it would be helpful if I were to wait in the waiting room.  It seemed like a good idea.    

Back in those days mothers and newborns stayed in the hospital for five or six days.  When Katja and J finally came home to our apartment complex, we were on pins and needles.  J was so quiet when we put him to bed for the night that we'd sneak into his bedroom every hour just to listen to him breathe.  

Katja returned to work after six months, and J joined Mrs. Tucker's entourage of one and two year olds over in Fairview.  Having brought up gaggles of little children for sixty years, Mrs. Tucker had the wisdom of an earth mother and deserves much of the credit for J's early development and harmonious character.  She definitely made our being parents a more relaxed task.  

For myself, I envisioned the role of father as one of a playmate and buddy.  Lots of games and toys and fun.  Katja was in charge of serious matters like health and illness, diet, bedtime hours, consumer purchases, doctor visits, school choices, vacations, etc.  I was more of an activities director. 

We enjoyed all the holidays, but Halloween was the best.  We’d carve a pumpkin and go trick or treating on Bishop Street with Susan G. and her daughter Jessica.  

Katja, J, and I did lots of things together as a family, and we were more like a threesome than two parents plus a child.  There are undoubtedly pros and cons about being a solo child, but one advantage is that you are surrounded by more mature adults nearly all the time.  Plied with all that adult verbiage and reasoning, J was always rather grown up and sensible for his age. 

Parenting is not always smooth, and I have to remind myself that there were times that we would all go insane and could hardly stand it any more.  J didn't cry that often, but he was an ear-shattering crier when he needed to be. 

One of our regular family outings was to go to Mt. Airy Forest on the weekend and hike to the end of the trail where J played in a creek bed and admired the horses in the pasture.  

In the bigger scheme of things, we’d drive East to Philadelphia each summer and then spend a week at my in-laws’ summer cottage  at Beach Haven on the Jersey shore.  Coming from landlocked Cincinnati, the swimming and body surfing in the Atlantic Ocean was paradise, and the boardwalks at Wildwood and Atlantic city offered many attractions and delights. 

Back in those innocent days it was perfectly acceptable for fathers to puff on a cigarette while holding their kid.  However, it doesn't look like J enjoyed the secondhand smoke that much.

Each year J and I made a snow rabbit in our side yard as soon as we got our first big snowfall of the year.  We’d sprinkle more water on it when the temperature fell below freezing, insuring that the rabbit would remain intact until the spring thaw. 

My favorite parental activity was going camping as a family.  Here we are inside our white Eddie Bauer tent.  J liked that tent so much that we set it up in his bedroom at home, and he slept in it every night.  

Being a dad transforms one's entire network of family members and friends.  Here's a family reunion photo at Farm with various fathers and fathers-to-be, taken by Katja in August, 1972.  Back row: myself (with a cigarette), Steve holding Jennifer, Margie, George, Faith, Doris (with a cigarette), Peter.  Seated in the front row: Vicki holding J (and a cigarette), Vic holding Greg.  Becoming parents was the best decision Katja and I ever made, and I think that holds for the other dads in our family too.  Happy Father’s Day to all!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Vic's Photos: Archive #13

Our Family (1953)

Dear George,
My dad, Vic L., took lots of photos of our family, friends, and home town in the 1940’s, 1950’s and beyond.  My brother Peter resurrected many of these from Vic’s negatives, and he mailed postcard versions to family members for several years in the early 2000’s.  I’ve been posting archived batches of these images every few months.  Earlier postings can be retrieved by searching “archive” in the box to the upper left.  I wish I had been as conscientious as my dad was in recording family history.  It keeps our early lives fresh and accessible.

VA Sr.’s and Olga’s family

This is a family portrait taken about 1939 of my paternal grandparents (V.A. Sr. and Olga), Vic, my mom, and Vic’s siblings.  Standing in the back row from the left are my mother Doris, my dad Vic, and my Aunt Martha.  Seated from the left are my Uncle Kent, my grandfather V.A. Sr. holding me on his lap, my grandmother Olga, and my Uncle Karl (Kent’s twin brother).  V.A. opened drugstores in Menominee and Marinette in the early 1900’s, and my uncle Kent and my aunt Martha’s husband Ralph Buscher operated the respective pharmacies when V.A. retired in the late 1940’s. 

The Tourist Information Lodge

This is a winter scene of the Michigan state tourist information lodge on Ogden Ave. at the foot of the interstate bridge in Menominee.  We lived a half block away in my preschool and kindergarten years.  The best sledding hill in Menominee was right behind the tourist lodge, and our moms would take Sally F.  and me there on winter outings.  The tourist lodge burned down sometime in the 1960’s and was replaced by a brand new log building. 

Apple Blossoms

This is my mom and myself somewhere in Menominee County in the springtime, about 1940.  A very idyllic scene, though I’ve lost all those memories.    

A Young Cowboy

Here is something else that I don’t remember – my fleeting childhood horseback career.  My mother enjoyed horseback riding from her youth in Omaha, and she would ride now and then at the stable located near the intersection of Riverside Boulevard and Highway 577 at Menominee’s city limits.   In this photo I’m wearing a full outfit of cowboy boots, hat, and chaps, so maybe I had more horse experience than I now remember. 

Boswell School

This is Boswell school in Menominee’s west end, my first grade school.  I went to Boswell for kindergarten, walking four or five blocks each morning with my five-year-old friend and downstairs neighbor Sally F.  I can't remember anything that happened in kindergarten, though our walks to school were more memorable.

The First Day of School

Here are my mother and I at my first day at kindergarten at Boswell.  My mother, at the center of the picture, is talking to one of the teachers, while my slouchy, head-down posture suggests I was on the verge of emotional collapse.  That’s probably accurate.  I had an anxious time entering new, unfamiliar situations as a child, and I didn’t do much better thereafter.  

Skipper Burke

This is my close childhood friend, Skipper Burke, probably about age 5 or 6.  Skipper and I were in the same grade in school, though he was always taller and more worldly was than I was.  We both lived in the State Street neighborhood in the early World War II years and were regular playmates at his house or ours.  In some ways Skipper was my first mentor in life, particularly in terms of instructing me about girls.  His family owned a summer cottage at Pine Beach on Marinette’s outskirts, and our parents would socialize there while we kids swam at the beach and the pier.  Skipper moved with his parents to Minneapolis-St. Paul when we were in the fifth grade, a sad loss for me. 

Father and son in the river

My dad and I are in the water at my grandfather’s cottage along the Menominee River shore.  In those early days my dad spent more time in the river he did later on.  I think it's because the water for river house came from a pump near the driveway, making use of the bathtub prohibitive, and so we used the river for bathing.  I doubt if the water was that hygienic, but it was our best available option.  When we eventually got indoor plumbing, it was only we children spent time in the river.

A Menominee River stump

I’m sitting on a big stump in the Menominee River.  The river, of course, was a major thoroughfare for the logging industry until the early 1900’s, and, even when we lived there in the 1940s and 50s, there were many submerged stumps and deadheads that were remnants of days gone by.  One of our occasional pastimes was to row across the river to the channel and bring back a large stump to dry out on the riverbank.  

Snow at Caley's

This is a winter picture (circa 1946 or 1947) of myself, our childhood friend Tom Caley, and my brother Steve.   I think the photo was taken in the Caley's yard at Northwood Cove on the Green Bay shore, just north of the city limits on M-35. 

Tenth birthday

This was taken on my tenth birthday in 1947 at the outdoor fireplace on our front lawn.  I was entering the fifth grade at Washington School that autumn. The main thing I remember about fifth grade is that the wicked children teased the teacher unmercifully and made her cry almost every day.  She resigned in the middle of the year, and then the substitute teacher became the new victim.  

Frank St. Peter

Frank St. Peter was one of my close friends in childhood and adolescence.  We played softball and cowboys and Indians in our State St. neighborhood, rode our bikes, swam at Hinker’s coal dock in Green Bay, had snowball fights with older kids from down the block, and went off to YMCA and Boy Scout camps together, including Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.  

At my age twelve birthday party

These are my three siblings, myself, and my friend Frank on our front lawn, next to the Menominee River.  It was taken at my twelfth birthday party on July 21, 1949. From the left: my brother Steve (age 8), my brother Peter (age 4), my sister Vicki (age 2), and (in the background) Frank St. Peter (age 12).

Green Bay Sunset

This is a handsome black and white photo of a Green Bay sunset and sailboat from the Menominee shore.  Color photography in the 1940’s was not yet in vogue, and, even though  Menominee sunsets deserved color, black and white captured their elegance too.  

Arts and crafts

We did lots of arts and crafts projects at Washington Grade School, and my parents always encouraged us to continue those activities at home.  This is a symphony orchestra that I made out of miscellaneous materials.  Probably because of parental praise, I carried over those crafts activities into adulthood, though I haven’t done much A&C for quite a while.

Another birthday group

This is another of my birthday parties at our house on the river, probably my eleventh.  From the left: unknown kid, myself, Frank St. Peter, Tom Caley, Bill Caley, Jim Jorgenson, unknown kid in front of him, Skipper Burke, my brother Steven in front of him.  Birthday parties were exciting because of getting a bunch of gifts.  However, they were also anxiety-provoking because the birthday boy got paddled due to others’ jealousy from his getting all the presents.

Cartoon collection

Here I am, about age ten, with some of the comic book-inspired  drawings that I'd done with colored crayons.  This was taken in Steve’s and my bunk bedroom at river house. 

Dave and Steve

Steve and I are looking over a cartoon. I read the latest comic books every week at my Uncle Kent's Rexall drugstore on Electric Square, and my goal for adulthood was to become a professional cartoonist.  I wish I had my comic book collection now.  It would be worth a fortune.  


Here is my younger brother Peter at age two or three.  Peter always had a sweet disposition, as well as a good sense of humor and a tendency to occasional impishness.


This is my sister Vicki at age two.  It's a great photo, and she looks very sweet.  I was the first child in the family and Vicki was the fourth, with a ten-year time span between us.  That’s a big age difference for little kids.  Among her three brothers, Vicki was closest in childhood to Peter who was just two years older than her. 

Birthday No. 12

This is another picture of my twelfth birthday party in the dining room at our house on the river.  Standing from left:  Tom Caley, Bill Caley, Skipper Burke, Frank St. Peter, Jim Jorgenson, Darl Schmidt.  Seated: Peter L., David L., Steven L.  These were important figures in my early life.  I think this was the final birthday party that I had as a kid.  


This is my brother Steve and myself on a camping trip.  This was probably taken at Mason Park a mile up Riverside Boulevard from our house.  I’d say that Steve is 8, and I’m 12.  One of the virtues of living in the county is there were several good camping places available within a short distance.  I’d hitch a red wagon behind my bike to transport our gear, and we’d pedal our way to our campsite.  I still enjoy camping, in part because it takes me back to bygone days.  

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

River Tales

Our house on the river (1941)

Dear George,
The Menominee River holds a revered place in the history of the region.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Menominee tribe had its village on the banks of the river at the current site of Riverside Cemetery.  Stanislaus Chappee, the area’s first European settler, built his trading post on the Menominee in 1796, just north of the current Hattie Street Bridge, and William Farnsworth and Charles Brush constructed the first sawmill there in 1831.  By the late 1800's Menominee and its twin city of Marinette had become the world's largest timber port, and the Menominee River was the passageway for up to 4 million feet of white pine logs a year.
My maternal grandfather, Guy Cramer, a widower, moved to Menominee from Omaha in the late 1930’s to join my parents there.  He had been an insurance executive in Omaha, and he lived down the street from us on Ogden Avenue.  In 1941 Guy built a summer home along the Menominee River, about a mile west of the city limits.  It was the first house along that stretch of the river, and it had commanding views toward Riverside Cemetery to the east and toward the forested islands to the west.  The largest island was directly across from Guy's house.  My parents named it Pig Island because you could occasionally see a farmer's pigs grazing on the island's banks. 

My grandfather's house was built of Norway pine.  It had a large living room with a high arched ceiling and a great stone fireplace.  My father, grandfather, and others lugged the stones for the fireplace from fields in the area.  The house was set back about 20 yards from the river, and it had a big front lawn which we had to cut with a push mower.  My grandfather died in 1942, and my father departed for the Navy a year or two later.  When he returned in 1946, our family moved from our apartment in town to the house on the river.  I was 9, my brother Steve was 5, my brother Peter was 1, and my sister Vicki was yet to be born.  The house was not entirely habitable when we moved.  There was no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no telephone, and few amenities.  We had an outhouse by the garage and got our drinking water from a pump near the driveway.  We took our baths in the river and lit the house at night with kerosene lanterns.  After a while my dad obtained a gasoline-powered engine that furnished electricity to the house.  It broke down nearly every week, and John Sargent, a family friend, would make the trip of several miles from his home at Northwood Cove to get it started up again.  A year or two later, when we got a couple of neighbors, a phone line was put in along our road, and we shared a party line with two or three other households.  As kids, we liked to secretly listen to other people's conversations until they yelled at us to get off the line.

Moving to the country was a difficult transition.  In town we'd lived on Sheridan Road with lots of other kids nearby, and I spent most of my leisure time playing outdoors with neighborhood friends.  There wasn't a single child within a mile of our river house, and my younger brother Steven was my sole playmate on a day-to-day basis.  At the same time, our locale offered elements of paradise for children.  We soon became very adept at swimming, and we spent hours in the water every day throughout the summer.  When we got a little older, Steve and I would take the family rowboat across the river to Pig Island, collect a half dozen dried out logs, tow them back home, and tie them together to make a raft.  My mother, Doris, would never allow us to go swimming unless she were sitting on the river's bank, watching us with an eagle eye.  When I was 12 or 13, my dad would row across the river in our rowboat, and Steve and I would swim behind the boat, trying each time to break our speed record.  When we got older we swam all the way down the river to the lumberjacks’ island near the cemetery.  

Compared to Green Bay, the river water was warm and comfortable.  It was also the home to various creatures, large and small, and we entertained the constant fear that we might lose a toe to a snapping turtle.  Though that was fantasy, the river bottom was home to hungry bloodsuckers, and we would always find one or two attached to our feet when we got out of the water. 

Steve and I made regular boating expeditions to Pig Island to hike in the forest and search for deer antlers, snakeskins, turtle shells, and other wonders.  There was a channel between Pig Island and its neighboring island to the west that was a mysterious place.  It was filled with waterlilies, dragonflies, and waterlogged stumps.  Usually when we went to the channel we’d see two old men fishing from their rowboat in a cove -- they must have spent every day there.  We'd also see a Great Blue Heron flying from one side of the channel to the other. 

Every summer my dad would put our 1.5 horsepower motor on the rowboat, and the whole family would travel a half-mile up the river to Indian Island for a picnic.  There wasn’t enough room in the boat for our Irish Setter, Mike, and he would swim behind us for the full half-mile.  Indian Island was only thirty yards in diameter.  Locals put their ice fishing shanties on the island for storage in the summer.  Steve and I would pretend we were pirates looking for buried treasure on the island's sandy banks.

We were surrounded by nature at our house.  My mother had a bird feeding station outside the dining room window which attracted chickadees and nuthatches.  We'd also see cardinals, blue jays, robins, red-winged blackbirds, woodpeckers, starlings, Baltimore orioles, and dozens of other species in our front and back yards.  Chipmunks and red and gray squirrels frequented the front lawn, gathering up acorns and seeds; frogs, toads, and dragonflies occupied the river bank.  Pine snakes, which grew up to six feet long, lived under the house, and we'd capture garter snakes in the stone wall bordering the field next door.  Every so often Mike would corner a porcupine in the rear of the house, and he'd wind up with a nose full of quills which would require a trip to Dr. Seidl’s office.

The river froze over every December.  We'd take an axe  out on the ice and chop a hole to determine its thickness.  Once the ice was six inches thick, we were allowed to cross the river to Pig Island.  One spring when the ice began to melt our family dog Mike fell through into the freezing water about ten yards from shore.  My mother was home alone with the kids at the time.  She put on her coat, forbade us from leaving the house, crawled out on the ice to the hole, and pulled our freezing, water-logged, seventy-pound dog out of the water and to safety.  We children watched from the living room window, terrorized.   

The ice would go out on the river every year on a single day in late March.  It was an endless flow of ice chunks and fragments headed eastward toward the river's mouth, and it made a tinkling sound that led my parents to name it "Chinese Bells Day."  Each year we carved the date of Chinese Bells Day on the door frame between our living room and dining room.  The rapidly flowing, powerful river would snatch up items along the shoreline, and we'd sometimes see a canoe or a portion of a dock, as well as miscellaneous smaller items, e.g., a bucket or a rubber boot.  We'd put on my grandfather’s hip-high waders and stand in the freezing water near the river's edge with bamboo fishing poles, trying the corral the valuable objects  which were floating by.
Our road was called Riverside Boulevard, though that was a misnomer.  It wasn't anything close to a boulevard, but rather a two-lane gravel/dirt road with a ditch full of weeds on each side.  Winter storms would sometimes make the road impassable.  Because we were initially the only family who lived on Riverside Boulevard, it was low priority for county plowing, and we could count on a vacation from school whenever we got a good snowstorm.  In the spring all the snow melted, and the road turned to mud.  Cars dug deep ruts, and the road was impassable for days at a time.  When I was about 14, the county black-topped Riverside Boulevard.  We were thrilled because it was a great boon for bike-riding, our primary mode of transportation.  However, it also meant the end of our snow and mud vacation days from school.

Once I reached high school I rode my bike to and from school each day, as well as making excursions into town in the evening to get a soft serve cone on Ogden Avenue.  It was three miles from our house to Electric Square, and I’d do that in about twenty minutes.  The city dump was up the road from our house on Riverside Boulevard, and sometimes I’d stop by and look around for things that people had discarded in their trash.  There was lots of valuable stuff there.  Riding home after dark was frightening because I had to travel mere feet away from the gravestones in Riverside Cemetery.  Even though I knew it wasn’t true, I always was on edge about seeing a ghost or a ghoul, and I pedaled like a Tour de France racer.

One of the benefits of living in the country is that we had lots of opportunity to go camping.  When I was eleven, my dad was a boy scout leader, and I and my peers learned the rudiments of camping in outings to Jean Worth’s hunting camp at Cedar River.  Mason Park was a mile and a half west of our house on Little River, a tributary of the Menominee, and Steve and I and other friends, sometimes Frankie St. Peter or Sammy Wells, would go on overnight outings there.  I would hook up a red wagon to the back of my bike, load it with my grandfather’s 1930’s canvas tent, my cook kit, food and water, and other gear, and set out up the road.  Mason Park had about half a dozen campsites, but we never saw any other campers there.  Someone had hung an automobile tire on a rope from a tree branch extending over Little River, and we’d swing out and belly flop into the water.  At night we’d sit around the camp fire, sing songs (e.g., “She’ll be coming round the mountain” or “99 bottles of beer on the wall”), and tell ghost stories that we had learned at YMCA camp.  It was exhilarating to be free of parental surveillance and in charge of our own lives and world.  

Once my friends and I turned 16 and had access to family cars, our “gang” started visiting our house for swimming parties on sunny afternoons.  My friend Bob A. brought over four empty oil drums, and we built a sturdy raft with a canvas cover that was a dramatic improvement over the log rafts that we’d assembled in childhood.  Sometimes we’d cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows at the outdoor fireplace.  My parents were welcoming hosts, and our house became a popular gathering place for each of my sibling’s friendship  groups in turn.  

I left for college at age 18, and, though I came home regularly during vacations, that ended my year-round life on the river.  About twelve years later my parents renovated a nineteenth-century log cabin farmhouse at Birch Creek north of Menominee, and they decided to sell our family home on Riverside Boulevard.  They offered it to each of their young adult children first, but we were scattered across the country, and no one was a taker.  Frankly, the loss of our home on the river was crushing.  It was such a fantastic location and held so many memories.  Years later someone cut the house in two and transported it to the Green Bay shore.  My siblings and I visited it there about fifteen years ago.  We were sad that our house had moved from the river but also happy that it was living on in its new location.