Sunday, February 12, 2012

Archive: Vic's Photos, #3

Family portrait at YMCA camp (circa 1949): Steve, Dave, Vic with Vicki, Doris, Peter

Dear George,

This file is the third cumulative archive of “Vic’s Photos” that have previously appeared in this blog’s righthand column. Past archives can be accessed by scrolling down to “Labels” in the righthand column and clicking on Archives. “Vic”, of course, is my dad, V.A.L. Jr., who was an excellent amateur photographer and who documented our family’s world from the late 30’s to the late 50’s and beyond. These photos have been changed every week since July 2009, and, because they don’t get automatically saved, I’ve decided to store the old ones here in groups. My brother Peter restored and shared with our family many of these images from Vic’s original negatives, and his project is the source of most of the photos contained here. The subjects pictured include my parents Doris and Vic; my brothers Steven and Peter, my sister Vicki, and myself; my grandfathers Guy Cramer and V.A.L. Sr.; and various family members and friends who will be identified as they appear. Lots of family memories.




Getting a new bike on one’s birthday was a major highlight of growing up in our family and home town. Here’s my brother Peter, around age 8 or 9, with his exciting new acquisition. Bikes gave us a lot of mobility, signaled becoming a big kid, linked us to packs of friends, and were a major source of enjoyment, pride, and exercise.


I don’t know about kids nowadays, but being lethal gunfighters was paramount in our Menominee childhood in the 1940’s and early 50’s. Here’s my brother Steve decked out in his full cowboy attire and engaged in a dangerous gunfight behind the sofa in the the living room at river house. Despite the hazards, he looks pretty relaxed.

WORLD WAR II VETS (circa 1947)

My dad and many of his friends served with great pride in World War II. Here’s Vic in his Navy uniform, Pat Steffke in his Army uniform, and Mike O’Hara in his Marine uniform. Also my brother Steve and my Boy Scout self. The adults kidded about the merits of the various branches of service, but it was clear that they all respected one another’s sacrifices. World War II shaped our entire generation, including families and kids, and fostered strong idealism about America’s role in rescuing the world from fascism.


All of us took turns working at my grandfather’s drugstores. We spent most of our time at the Marinette drugstore which my dad was given from his dad. We would sweep the floors, shovel the sidewalks, re-stock shelves, help with inventory, ring up sales, and do whatever was needed to make ourselves useful. Occasionally we would also help out at the Menominee store on Electric Square which was owned and managed by my Uncle Kent. This is my sister Vicki at the Menominee store. She looks pretty young to be a clerk – it might be her first day.


This is my mom Doris and my brother Steve at the Chicago Art Institute, probably about 1951. My parents would take us on a vacation trip to Chicago each year, and the Art Institute, along with the Museum of Science and Industry, was a standard stop on our tour. The Art Institute was only of modest interest to the children. They had a gallery of miniature rooms, each the size of a small cardboard box, which held interest, as did the exhibit of knights’ armor. Despite our childhood nonchalance, our family visits instilled a lifelong appreciation of art museums, so it turned out to be a good investment. This photo looks staged to me – I don’t think Steven was nearly as involved as he looks.


This is my mom, Doris, and her best friend, Jean O’Hara. Jean and Mike and their kids, Terry, Michael Dennis, Kevin (Kiera), and Patrick Sean, lived on M-35 on the Green Bay shore, and our families spent a lot of time together at their house or at ours. The O’Hara’s were gracious entertainers, and they and our parents had wonderful times together. We kids, in the meantime, had a lot of fun swimming in Green Bay or in the Menominee River and engaging in mischief.


My grandfather Guy Cramer lived in Omaha and moved to Menominee is his older years. He was an insurance executive and a veteran of the Spanish-American War. In the early 1940’s he built a summer cottage on the river which later was to become our family home. He regularly gave me metal toy soldiers, and I accumulated a grand collection. Guy died when I was 5. I have a positive memory of him as a loving, generous grandpa.


Our family spent a lot of time on the Green Bay shore just north of Menominee at friends’ homes. This is my mom and myself. One day at a young age I decided to walk out as far as I could in the water. I got up to my neck and then panicked, unable to move in any direction. I screamed and cried, and my mother who’d been sitting on the beach with friends ran out and rescued me. It made me appreciate how important it is to have a mom.


My mother enjoyed horseback riding in her youth, and she rode from time to time at a stable located near Highway 577 just outside of Menominee. I won’t swear to it, but my recollection of family stories is that she went out west to recuperate at a dude ranch right after I was born. This infantile trauma might account for why I get nervous about horses.


Many of my dad’s photos picture idyllic relationships of Doris with her children. This beer-drinking depiction of my mom and myself might be more true to life. The photo reflects my father’s sense of humor and probably his experimenting with different social themes and modalities.


By the mid-60’s my dad has stopped doing much photography, but he did take this picture of my Ph.D. graduation from Michigan in 1968 in Ann Arbor. I’d started my first real job two years earlier at the university in Cincinnati, and both Katja and I were relieved and pleased when I finished my traumatic dissertation task. I was so nervous when I walked up on the stage to get my diploma that a worker held me by the shoulders with two hands and pushed me in the correct direction, sort of like herding sheep.


The circus came to Menominee every summer and set up at the Ogden Ave. circus grounds, a block or two west of the Interstate Bridge. Our family would get up at 5 a.m. to go over and watch the tents being erected. Just as in Dumbo, the elephants pulled on the ropes to set up the big tent. When it was all ready, they held a circus parade down Ogden Avenue with elephants, camels, clowns, and beautiful trapeze artists. The entire experience was magical.


My grandfather, Guy Cramer, built a house on the river as a summer cottage in approximately 1941. The grand fireplace was constructed with stones hauled in from nearby fields. Our family moved there shortly after the war, initially with kerosene lamps, drinking water from a pump outside the front of the house, an outhouse next to the garage, and no telephone. Family friend John S. helped us keep a generator in the garage running which produced electricity. When a few more families moved out on the river, we got a party line telephone and felt more like a part of civilization.


Vic and Ruth Mars were close friends of my parents, and we were friends with their kids Mary and Charlie. Each December the Mars invited the children in their social circle to their house on Christmas Eve. As night fell, the children hid behind the chairs and sofas in the living room, and, before you knew it, there was Santa himself, delivering presents under the tree to all assembled. It was amazing to the younger kids and remained exciting for the older, more cynical ones as well.


The Caleys, Florence and Bill, were among my parents’ closest friends, and their kids, Bill Jr., Tom, and Bruce, were among our regular playmates. Florence was a former English teacher and a very kind, sensitive person with a good sense of humor. She served as my informal counselor on a couple of occasions during my rocky teen-age years.


This 1940 family portrait includes (in the front row) my paternal grandmother Olga, my mother Doris, myself, my maternal grandfather Guy, my aunt Martha, and my paternal grandfather, V.A. Sr. In the back row, my uncle Karl, my dad Vic, and my uncle Kent. My grandmother Olga died when I was 3, and I have no memories of her from my childhood. She was very prominent in Republican politics in Wisconsin, serving as the state chairperson of the party. We grew up in a staunchly Republican household, though it didn’t rub off on all the children.


Here’s my first childhood friend Sally F. and I with my mother in about 1940. Menominee winters were cold, and we were bundled up. We lived a block away from the Michigan Tourist Information Lodge, which offered a steep hill for sledding. About two years after this photo was taken, Sally and I began kindergarten at Boswell School, a half mile away from our house, and we children would walk there together every day, even in the bitter weather of January and February.


This is my mom with Katja’s parents, Helen and Buck, at Katja’s and my wedding. When we were married in Yellow Springs in August of 1960, our families drove there from Philadelphia and Menominee respectively. There was some tension because Katja’s folks were not enthusiastic about our marriage, and they expressed their doubts to my parents. Everybody did their best to maintain good behavior, and it all did come off in the end.


This is Steven and myself with our cousin Anita from Sweden. Anita came for a year of study abroad at Marinette High School and lived with my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Martha at Pine Beach. She was several years older than I, and we thought she was very beautiful. Her English was very good, and she was a charming teenage girl. I still remember that it made me nervous to stand so close to her for this picture.

G-mail Comments

-Sue S-P (3-8): Dear David, Vicki steered me to your blog a few years ago and I loved it - then I lost it. I am so glad someone posted a link to it on "You know you're from Menominee when...." I have just looked a lot of the pics you posted. My mind is flying down memory lane so fast that I am dizzy. I have not seen a picture of Jean O'Hara in 50 years. You know the love I have always had for your family. Now I get to peek into the family album. Your letters to George are wonderful. No more to be said. I hope I get to see you this summer at Farm. Vicki swears she will be coming.

Love to you all,


-Phyllis S-S (2-13): I loved seeing these photos - personally, I think the little black (a beanie) you're wearing in the photo with your grandfather Cramer is adorable. Do you still have the soldiers he gave you? pss

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