Sunday, February 13, 2011

Family Anecdotes Chicago Years '36-'41

My Auntie Maime

I add this picture of our Auntie Maime Morris, my grandfather's sister. Here she is in her prime. She had been a life long teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools. Her hair was red, though not bright red, like Auntie Gladys Morris Dobeus. 

This comment below is from my all grown up little brother, Jim Bergin. It concerns her death as remembered by a 4 year old or 5  1/2 by my calculations.

Quite a "Looker" eh?
I can only remember being at her apartment (I guess it was) with the Collins
(from Chgo - the Morris cousins already resided in Milwaukee, so their
parents were able to come and go without their children)
cousins in the summer of 1940 I'm thinking, as my mother, her sisters 
brothers gathered to say their last good-byes while Auntie Maimie lay dying
of cancer I believe.  I had no idea she was so beautiful.  I was but 4+
years then and would have gone up to Milwaukee with my siblings from the
summer at the Hebron farm.
I was about to get this on its way, when it occurred to me that this was my
1st exposure to the concept of death.  We cousins were at times rather
crowded into the apt. confines while our parents were mourning and
comforting their very ill Aunt.  It was here as I recall that I learned such
sagacious verbalizations as "Want to fight??" Response: "Go join the Army!"
or, "Our Father who art in jail eating peanuts by the bale, Along came the
Holy Ghost, to see who in the Heck could eat the most!"  So there now, some
insight for you as to how one grows into such wise, loving, compassionate,
citizens of our world.  All of course quite innocent I should think for
confused, bored kids passing the time under such unusual circumstances.  By
way of disclaimer, I cite the above as the best of my recollections -
perhaps it's all in my dreams.
Our '36 Dodge no whitewalls, color grey

My own memory is of Elayne and I sitting out front of our Great Auntie’s  21st Street home in our car as she lay dying. Mother and Aunties were at her side. Mother came to the car and shared with us she was in excruciating pain. Was marijuana used or morphine or what else might have been administered to help her cope with pain? I do not recall that we were ever invited inside. Perhaps we chose this option. I believe I would need outside encouragement to be present at her deathbed.

Only one radio per household, of course

There were times our Uncle Michael [Mike] would ride the streetcar to visit us. His sister, our Great Auntie Maime now being deceased. She had been his caretaker for many years. He had suffered as a young man from polio. Now, in the 40’s Uncle Mike was living with the Collin's family, Chicago. He wasn't too welcome as far as we were concerned for he always hogged the radio to listen to Cubs and Socks games which times would eventually conflict with our kids show, Little Orphan Annie, Don Winslow. Tom Mix, Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy and Wheaties the Breakfast of Chanpions. Click here for a sample:

There were times our Uncle Michael [Mike] would ride the streetcar to visit us. His sister, our Great Auntie Maime now being deceased. She had been his caretaker for many years. He had suffered as a young man from polio. Now, in the 40’s Uncle Mike was living with the Collin's family, Chicago. He wasn't too welcome as far as we were concerned for he always hogged the radio to listen to Cubs and Socks games which times would eventually conflict with our kids show, Little Orphan Annie, Don Winslow. Tom Mix, Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy and Wheaties the Breakfast of Chanpions. Click here for a sample:

A favorite of mine was The Singing Lady

Irene Wicker, better known to her radio listening audiences of the 1930s and '40s as The Singing Lady, hosted a long-running kids show on network radio. Though not much is documented about her pioneering success, here a few lesser known tidbits about her and the show we'd thought you'd like to know:

1. The Kellogg Company sponsored "The Singing Lady," beginning in 1931. The show was billed as the nation's first radio network program for children.

2. In 1932, Kellogg hosted a promotion where listeners could send in cereal box tops for copies of The Singing Lady's Songbook. The contest was a runaway hit.

3. At the 1934 Chicago World's Fair, when famed crooner Mel Torme was about ten years old, he won the children's section of a singing contest which was judged by "The Singing Lady." Today, she is still credited with Torme's early success. When she began a new radio soap opera called "Song of the City," she remembered Torme and cast him in a singing and acting role, thus catapulting him to child stardom.

4. The show itself was always hosted by Wicker, who was known for her melodic and soothing voice. And while the show's title would lead the average listener to believe that songs were the program's predominant draw, Wicker actually devoted a large amount of airtime to storytelling.

5. Wicker adapted many classic and popular tales for her child audience--including the works of Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, as well as myths and mysteries.

6. In 1935, Kellogg published When the Great Were Small, an educational book intended to inspire children to the pursue the greatness of the artists and musicians who were their predecessors....

7. For her devoted work in children's media, Irene Wicker was awarded a Peabody Award, a distinction for outstanding achievement in radio and television. in 1960.

Easy Spin Washer

With his new employment Daddy was providing nice things for mother.  So nice to have a few modern conveniences to assist women with housework. We bought an Easy Spin Washer. [In 1951 I had my own Easy, a first purchase after Bruce and I married.]
A Modern Mangle

We bought an electric Mangle for ironing our clothing and mother became quite proficient in its use even ironing dad's dress shirts. Along came Permanent Press and nylon and dacron cotton, fibers which wouldn't require ironing making it gradually almost obsolete.

Another convenience we bought was a Kenmore Cabinet Electric sewing machine.
Change in its use came about with imported clothing that was inexpensive, stylish, so that no longer was sewing one's own a big advantage over store purchases, unless one had designer talent. Now used mainly for mending and crafts such as quilting, etc.

There were times we visited old friends, the Blaineys in Glen Ellyn. The parents were friends from University years. We were longtime friends with their children. See this early snapshot. 
RuthMarie and  Lois Blaney
Friendships with classmates, and others were maintained. My parents would occasionally go out for the night or take a weekend for a Marquette Homecoming. One of these weekends when a few of us were dawdling about or playing in the backyard a guy from school hung a 1/3 full white paint pail on a branch of a deciduous bush growing beside the neighbors garage. Somehow the branch was twitched and the paint splat out on my head all over my hair. Our caregiver had some explaining to do.

I usually was involved in the preparations for the evening out for mother would need a new dress. I ‘d be there to help her make her decision. The Morris/Kirbys and especially grandmother was a shopper and a dresser. This wiped off on my mother. And my Aunt Florence, too, had a flare for clothes. Even when the family had little of this world’s goods Auntie Florence would sew so the girls could wear nice, stylish clothes. I enjoyed shopping with mother. She often bought her clothes at some small dress shop. She loved pretty hats. A number of times she would have a matching dress and hat made up special for her. Recall grandmother Morris, Kathryn Kirby Morris, had worked in millenary after arriving in Minnesota from her home in Bruff, Ireland. Or mother would have something old of her own remade so to be stylish. She did this with her black Persian Lamb fur. One time she had an overcoat of my dad’s remade as a winter coat for my sister. She even did this with our monks cloth drapery. 

Sears Catalog was frequently in use. Our parents would choose clothing items, order by phone and have them delivered. Christmas was quite different now. One year mother ordered many pieces of clothing from Penney’s, had them delivered and wrapped without our being aware. And then there was a time she was able to land a sales job at Marshall Field’s for the Christmas season. She used her earnings to restock our linen closet, sheets, towels, washcloths, tablecloths, the whole nine yards. These purchases would last us a long, long time thereafter. 
Grandmother and Granddad Morris Visit in Chicago

Our Grandparents visited us a few times. Grandad would just take off and drive down from Milwaukee.  The woman , rear, could be Auntie Maime. I remember the Aunties chiding him for driving. Was this a concern for his heart? They didn’t want any accident. Then he died of a heart attack September  30, 1938., less than 2 years after we left Milwaukee.  
We continued to visit Grandmother occasionally in her home on Highland, Milwaukee and other family members, too.  She often said after Granddad died that she would have conversations with her John in their bedroom. Which to me meant he would appear, though dead.

Map of Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Downtown Milwaukee
Downtown Neighborhood showing all the familiar streets where grew to 8 years and visited often

This map available for your use

  I don’t know what year it was when the adjacent 12th and Highland corner  home was torn down and leased out to a filling station. And today won't do you any good at all to drive over to 12th and Highland. The corner no longer exists. It has been absorbed into an interstate Highway 43. One can follow where the old neighborhood was by locating Marquette, U. Wisconsin Avenue, 12th street, Highland, Juneau all in a mesh of freeways. It is a downtown neighborhood. Lake Michigan is on the right. 
Mary, Douglas, Baby Karen, Alice, and Barbara Morris
     My Morris cousins  lived  in the flat above Grandmother. Same home I lived in when I was in 1st Grade. They are all here now and a sweet childhood portrait. Mary, on left my favorite. Don't think she knew.
12 years old and my Surprise Birthday Party- October 1939
Shirley was growing up along with me
Mother and Elayne planned to have a special birthday party for me. They made artsy favors, planned a nice menu and invited my classmates from Our Lady of Lourdes, plus special neighbors. All this was done without my having one iota of awareness. Seems impossible their project could have been so well hidden. Wouldn’t a party be something very special for an 11 year old turning 12? 
To distract me I was told that mother and I would have a very special date when I returned from school in the afternoon on October 2nd. Plan was she and I would attend a Shirley Temple movie. They got that right. Shirley was growing up along with me. There was possibly nothing in this whole wide world I would have wanted on my birthday more than this.  

When I walked through the front door in excited anticipation I was greeted with a chorus of voices singing out “Happy Birthday” from the living room filled with friends. I was surprised all right and at the same time I was disappointed. Now this would require a true escape to Raggedy Ann and the smile stitched on her face. I needed to hide my feelings pronto. Did I? There would be no Shirley Temple film though it’s possible we saw it later that month. We set about enjoying the party, the food, the games, the decor. Then that time arrived to open birthday presents. The interesting comment I have about the gift openings is that at least every other package opened was a pair of nylons. Nylons had taken the country by storm. I could cast off the rayon stockings. I was becoming a woman. I share this piece of research I found: "Nylons," as they were soon called, eventually replaced silk stockings [rayon for girls my age or worse cotton]. Neither resembled the "panty hose" many women wear today. Covering only about two-thirds of a woman’s leg, from the feet to mid-thigh, stockings were fastened with garters and a belt. They were knitted on highly complex machines. Women could buy them in either "full-fashioned" form with seams at the back or "seamless." 
I was soon to discover those seams were just about impossible for a 12 year old to keep straight, especially one who skips and runs and dances everywhere she goes. Good thing we always changed into our play clothes after school. 

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