Sunday, November 7, 2010

1st Grade 1933-34

My daddy and grandaddy had a great deal of respect for each other. The relationships together were serene. I mentioned previously that my grandfather was like an entrepreneur today. He owned the entire corner real estate at 12th and Highland Avenue in Milwaukee, WI. The 2-flat at 1213 W. Highland was now where my grandparents lived in the downstairs flat and our William and Cecile Bergin family upstairs. There was another house directly on the corner, and one around the corner on 12th street where Uncle Howard and Aunt Alice Morris lived with their first 2 children, Alice Kay and Mary. To visit the younger Morris' we need only cross through the back yards. My Aunt Florence and Thomas Collins family were living in Oconomowoc, WI

I attended 1st grade at Gesu school. The school almost seemed like a part of the Marquette University campus. Elayne and I would leave our home on Highland Avenue and walk down 12th Street, cross under Wisconsin Avenue, the main street going through downtown.
We would pass through the university walkways. This was wonderful bustling territory with both young Jebbies and college students coming and going as we little tykes walked amongst them. I believe they were mostly males in thirties and forties other than female Nursing School students. The elementary school was right there amongst the colleges on 13th street.

My teacher was Sr. Jean Allen B.V.M. [Blessed Virgin Mary] Billy would be in her classroom for first grade, too. That’s jumping ahead in time. Remember the Cathedral Basic Readers series? Here I began with the primer. I read: Dick See Dick  See Dick run  Jane See Jane See Jane run- each phrase on a separate page.   Sister was seemingly a nice lady, at least I had previously always thought so. I know she was young and very pretty. But-- one day she was weary of talkers and threatened to put a strip of brown packaging tape on the mouth of the first child who talked. I was not a talker, but I did, and true to her word she slapped the sticky tape across my mouth which I had to keep over my lips when school was dismissed and all the way up the sidewalk, in public, from Michigan Avenue to Wisconsin Avenue-- a very traumatic experience. [Did I even think of removing the tape? Must have already known about venial sins and Hell and guilt]] Parochial schools called this discipline. Something changed inside of me from that moment on. A tunnel had been built beneath the busy Wisconsin Avenue for safe pedestrian crossing especially for the children. I don't know if the tunnel is there today or if open. Today we would consider it a danger for children to walk through it all alone. Then it was considered safe.

My sister and I took piano lessons. We would walk from the school to the nearby convent. Once inside it was truly mysterious, so quiet, so clean, spotless, with a glowing wooden floored hallway from which doors to the music rooms opened. I can still hear the piano notes as the little children had their lessons. It sounded like one finger piano. 'Robin in the cherry tree sing a pretty song to me'.

While we lived above the grandparents my mother owned a player piano. When parents played the piano rolls it was fun to watch keys move as if magically on their own and to listen to melodies. Kind of odd, really, for my own mother loved to play the piano. I suppose it could be played either way, huh?

In winter my brother Billy became very ill, pneumonia. There were a scary few days and nights for all as he was carefully nursed through the illness. No penicillin. I recall times here when we were to go somewhere how we kids had to wait and wait and wait until finally parents were ready to go. The lesson I learned from this was to tell my children where we were going shortly before departure. and save them that long, dull, boring wait.

Elayne and my bedroom had a door which opened onto the dining room which opened into the living room. My parents occasionally had company at night after we were sent to bed at 7:30. They had an audience, watching and listening in, giggle, giggle, for we would push our double bed up to this door, slightly opened and look over the top where we could watch the guests in the living room.

We had this set of little books to read with Red Riding Hood, Three Little Pigs, Gingerbread Boy. I had a very special book though not in the set, Raggedy Ann, my favorite. I will refer to this book later on. Uncle Tim’s kids are all aware of the few times I attended novenas in the evening with their father, my Uncle Tim Bergin. I think this was at St. Rose or St. John’s. These were very special evenings for me; like date with Uncle. I recall lying contentedly and sleepily on the oak pew beside him throughout the service. Apparently this was special for him too as he told the story from his memory, too, and repeatedly.

We often gathered together as extended family for a meal seated in the dining room in these red velvet high back chairs around the large dining table. I have this memory of my grandaddy standing at the table's head and speaking loudly with all of us attentive. My hunch is the two grandparents argued often. My mother dreaded the anxiety she would feel when they did. She made her decision not to have these loud discussions in her marriage. I believe she succeeded. The furniture in the living room was dark, also,  Craftsman style, couch,  chairs, etc. She'd be seated in one of the chairs.

Cousin Tom recalls- "I see her always sitting in the same chair on the south side of the living room on Highland—always sitting in state, like Queen Victoria.

My memory of my grandmother is walking with a cane and a limp. She had bright, twinkling eyes and a lovely Irish accent-- lots of ‘tis this and ‘tis that. In those days one with arthritis lived  a more confined existence. I often wondered if she ever attended Mass then. She had other physical problems, too. Adults would leave for Sunday Mass yet I don't remember her  leaving with them. Though physical attendance may have stopped when her son John, her eldest son died and they changed addresses.  There were holy pictures on her walls and she often   had rosary beads in her hands softly praying aloud.

 I was aware of these cotton cloths, about 8" x 12" which were washed clean and hung to dry on the clothesline in the back yard, again and again and again. They weren't dish towels. I thought this mysterious for there never was an explanation for us. When did Kotex enter the markets?
Elayne's special relationship

My granddaddy's had a special relationship with my sister. Yet I have my own special memory of my grandfather Morris showing sympathy for me. If and whenever I went down to Milwaukee City Hall to get my childhood shots I would come home deathly ill, vomiting, fever, etc. This one time I was showing my dread to such an extent that he made a deal with me, his granddaughter, the one who loved to roller-skate. He promised me he would purchase a pair of roller-skates for me if I would go down like a brave girl and get my shot. He delivered his side of the promise. I did get sick.
When the sisters would get together with their mama and papa, eventually they would get around to telling wonderful yarns about the Irish. “Did you hear the story about what  Paddy Donavan did after church this morning? Did you?” No I didn’t.” “Did you?” “Didn’t You?" And they would carry on and on with some yarn to which each could add on their 2 bits, all in Irish brogue. Was such a comical routine. We played lots of PACKED MY TRUNK TO IRELAND  with adults and children gathered together sitting around the room in those Morris chairs.

I made my First Holy Communion this year.
It was probably a distance of 4 or 5 blocks to the church door
Inside the doors I climbed many stairs to the upstairs church
 I felt like a big girl going off to Gesu by myself. I had this lovely, soft green Easter coat which I remember wearing proudly as I skipped  down 12th street by myself and climbed the many stairs into upper Gesu Church. There were classical choirs those days for the High Mass, especially in this University environment. The music was professional and particular. Many lit candles, added to the formality. Sunlight came through beautiful stained glass windows in every direction. One had to step up into a pew upstairs. I'd be surrounded by adults. I loved going there alone.

There was an entire church downstairs, too, and a memorable Pieta statue. When attending Mass downstairs, due to the many, many young Jesuits priests and brothers all about the campus, every 15 minutes or so one of these men would walk up to one of the many side altars with altar boy or boys trailing behind him. He would begin to 'say' his required daily Mass. There would be 3,4,5,Masses being celebrated so one could almost always be 'on time' for one.
Colorful Pieta downstairs where children usually attended

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