Staying at Grandma’s house was always a treat

By: 

Lorna Marquardt, Leader Columnist

This is the second article in a series I am writing about growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Looking back, I realize many families, like ours, lived quite modestly. We didn’t have a lot of material things. There were no cellphones, computers, video games or movies to rent during the years I grew up. We always found plenty to do.

On Sundays, our family often visited a relative or friend’s house. Most of our relatives lived in Shawano. Sometimes, they came to our house in Marion. Usually there was a card game. Every family had a penny jar. Besides Go Fish and rummy, I learned to play sheepshead, smear and poker. First the adults played, and then they let us kids play a few hands with them, too. Lunch was always served, as were a few bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon or Adler Brau. Us kids had a root beer or cream soda.

Once in a while, our folks would give us 50 cents to attend a Sunday matinee. I remember Hulda Jung’s little popcorn stand located close by. Her popcorn smelled so good, you knew you had to have some!

We celebrated family birthdays together. My Aunt Elaine always made me a cake with a doll standing in the center; the cake surrounding it was frosted and decorated as the dress. The cakes were so beautiful.

I remember one particular time we celebrated Grandma’s birthday. Several of my cousins and I went down into Grandma’s fruit cellar. We discovered a big crock with cheese cloth over it. As curious kids, we had to sample its content. We didn’t know what it was, but it was good. We laughed and got a little silly.

Then we heard someone coming down the steps. In our haste, we dropped the cheese cloth into the crock. Grandpa was a man of few words, and we heard a few that day. We had gotten into his homemade dandelion wine and he was not very happy with us. Neither were our folks!

My favorite thing about summer was staying at Grandma’s house. I remember the polio scare in 1956 when I was 11. Parents were urged to keep children home and away from public places. That meant no Friday nights downtown, no fair and no going down by the hospital to swim.

Reading the Bobbsey Twins books and Nancy Drew helped pass the time that summer. I also spent hours sorting out Grandma’s big button jar. She had some beautiful old buttons, and I would lay them out and make flowers and other designs with them. Sometimes when my cousins came over, we played Button-Button, Whose Got the Button on the stairway steps. Even the younger kids played. I made sure the buttons got back into Grandma’s jar.

Uncle Ray lived with Grandma and Grandpa; he wasn’t married. The only time I would see him was in the morning. He made breakfast; often potatoes fried in lard, eggs from grandpa’s chickens and toast. Uncle Ray worked at the Shawano Evening Leader. He knew I loved to write, and he brought home end rolls of paper I used for writing stories and illustrating them. My drawings left a lot to be desired.

Teachers often commented on report cards about my creativity; sometimes it got me in trouble though. Once, I wrote a limerick about a teacher, and I didn’t see her standing behind my desk reading it. She didn’t find it the least bit humorous.

While staying at Grandma’s, I often went to Aunt Arline and Uncle Gary’s house, which was close by. It was a favorite neighborhood gathering place; Jim Reetz, Barb and Randy Fox, and Peter Radtke are a few I remember. Once or twice a summer, Aunt Arline would pile us kids into her station wagon and take us to the drive-in on dollar night. She would pop a huge bag of popcorn for us. We took a blanket and sometimes we sat on the hood of the car and sometimes on the ground. I remember Pops Riley making his rounds checking to be sure everyone was behaving. The Ma and Pa Kettle movies were my favorite.

Uncle Gary was a war veteran. He was shot in the arm before being captured and becoming a prisoner of war. Fortunately, he spoke German and he begged the doctors not to amputate his arm, which he overheard they were planning to do. They removed the bullet and saved his arm, although it was paralyzed. One year, while I was serving as mayor, Aunt Arline allowed me to take his Purple Heart to the Memorial Day program, where I proudly spoke about his service to our country.

(To be continued)

Answer to last week’s question: The woman’s clothing store was Pries Apparel.

This week’s question: In what year did Hardee’s open in Shawano, and who was the co-owner and manager?

Lorna Marquardt is a former mayor of Shawano.