Monday, December 31, 2012

Steve's Last letter

As each year winds down, I  look back over the journal that I have kept to remind myself of the myriad things that have occurred during the year, many of which I’d never expected and  most of which I’ve already begun to forget. One of the most surprising things that turned up in 2012 was a letter written from my brother Steve to Mom in August of 1967, just a few months before his death.  Though we now know what Steve did not about his future – something that imbues the letter with an even richer meaning  – I think it is a really appropriate letter for reflection on a day given to thoughts about renewal and new beginnings.  On a more personal level, I think it gives Steve a chance to let him tell those in our family who never really knew him a little something about himself in his own words.  I wonder how many 19 year-olds today in comparable situations would show the same kind of independence, work ethic and character that this letter hints at.  (I’ve kept all the original spelling.)

                                                                                            August 25, 1967

     Just thought I would write a couple of lines to let you know what I have been doing.  Right now George and I are in San Fransico, it was so hot at the river that we decided to come up here and see what was going on.  Both of use are okay but we have had a little trouble with the car, we think that it has a burnt valve but we are really not sure.  We went to a garage the other day and they said that it would cost between 65.00 and 80.00 dollars to have it fixed.  Neither of use have any money and we are going to work up here until we can get up enough money to get the car fixed and return home.  I got a job yesterday working at a place called World Carpets Inc, but it is only for three days.  George is still looking for a job but hasn’t had much luck.  After this job is finished we are going to go to this place and get a job picking peaches.  We figure we will have enough money to get the car fixed by Thursday or Friday so we will probably be returning home late Friday nite or early Saturday morning.  I am really looking forward to getting home, because it is frezzing up here and we have been sleeping in the car and it’s pretty cramped and I’m starving.  Well at least I think that I have learned one thing out of this trip, and that is that I don’t want to go on being a bum the rest of my life, after seeing all the bums and panhandlers down here it really makes you stop and think. I sure would hate to think of me being like that in 10 years or so.  So I have decided when I get back home I am going to get a job and save money, then go back to school the second semester, because I doubt if I could get in this semester I think it’s too late.  When I get back in school I am really going to try.  This may sound like a lot of hogwash to you, but I really mean it this time.  This place has really made me see how important it is to get an education and make something of yourself.  Well enough that subject for a while.
     Well like I said I will probable be home Friday or Saturday depending on how soon we get the car fixed. How is everything down there OK.  I hope. Well I have to get going now I am at work on my lunch hour and I have to get back.  I just wanted to let you know I am ok.  Say hi to Pat & Mary and everybody down there and I will see you on Saturday (I hope).


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

I Remember...

Christmas is the time of year when we all seem to dig back into memories to recall our traditions and the experiences we shared with our families when we were younger.  This year has added to it the knowledge that it has now been one year since Mom died.  Looking back, I am glad that two Christmases ago we were able to put together a small book of  memories of  the times we had growing up in Mom's house to give her as a Christmas gift. 

My memories of childhood are not always the clearest so a few days ago, I sat sat down and wrote a stream of consciousness, “I Remember” list.  It is a technique that writing teachers have traditionally used to get ideas for writing, but I just used it to try to help bring some of my memories back to consciousness.  There is no particular organization to it. When I was done, I looked at it and thought that perhaps other family members might be interested in seeing it because it might trigger some of their own memories, so I’m posting it and inviting anyone who has things to add to it or post a list of their own. (See below the list for how to.)

I remember the time we were driving our '49 DeSoto to San Diego from Santa Ana and it died, so the whole family had to hitchhike.
I remember Grandpa Wilkins' coin collection.
I remember piling in back of the rambler station wagon and singing at the top of our voices.
I remember trying to deliver newspapers in by bicycle in the hot Santa Ana winds.
I remember seeing a fire from the playground of Willard Jr. High school and running down the street to see it, only to find out it was our house.
I remember Mom clicking her teeth at all of the grandchildren.
I remember Mary answering the door at Grandma’s and calling out, “there’s a woman at the door and she’s really fat!”
I remember how Dad liked mincemeat pie.
I remember how we used to dry our clothes by hanging them out on a clothes line.
I remember that the bulbs we used on the Christmas tree were much bigger than the ones today and that the tinsel was real tinsel, not plastic.
I remember that we had to ask permission to take anything out of the refrigerator.
I remember that peppermint was my favorite flavor of ice cream.
Of course, I remember Mom fastening Ed to the clothes line by his suspenders.
I remember the whole family watching Bonanza, the Ed Sullivan show, Disneyland or Lawrence Welk on Sunday nights.
I remember how we would all kneel down to say the rosary each night during lent.
I remember going to watch Pat’s little league games
I remember the Christmas when Steve and I got our first bikes.
I remember having cow’s tongue for dinner.
I remember when the Mass was still in Latin and we would sing Adeste Fidelis in the original words.
I remember that two years in a row, a box with food for Thanksgiving dinner was dropped off at our house.
I remember that Grandpa Wilkins would ring the necks of the chickens he raised.
I remember family pinochle games at holidays.
I remember ping pong matches on the backyard patio.
I remember walking past a pet store on my first day of kindergarten.
I remember the smell of the campfire at the camp for at risk youth during the summer after eighth grade.
I remember spam and Ovaltine.
I remember Mom making syrup for hotcakes out of mapeline.
I remember lying in bed earlier Christmas morning in the dark unable to get back to sleep.
I remember the first time our family went out to a restaurant together and eating Chinese food.
I remember that mom always called pizza “pizza pie” and pronounced Italian with a long I.
I remember Mom’s stories of getting her tongue frozen stuck on a gate.
I remember climbing the apricot tree at Grandma’s.
I remember how Dad used to give us all haircuts and one time he let Mom try to cut his hair.
I remember planting the redbud tree in our front yard when it had arrived in the mail as a twig.
I remember boils, pinworms and impetigo.
I remember lining up in school to get vaccinations.
I remember grandma’s ringer washer.
I remember fried chicken and mashed potatoes on Sundays – Mom’s was the best.
I remember Mom always wore clip on earrings.
I remember the silk jackets Dad brought Steve and I back from Korea.
I remember that Dave always had the best penmanship in the family.
I remember sitting in front of the television watching the test patterns and waiting for shows to come on for the day.
I remember oyster stew on Fridays
I remember Mom reading our first books to us, “The Little Red Hen” and “Peter Rabbit”.
I remember using hand signals to drive.
I remember taking accordion lessons and wanting to be able to play “Lady of Spain”
I remember on Christmas that we could only open one gift before attending Mass.
I remember the year I learned there was no Santa Claus and had to keep the secret from Steve.
I remember how much I loved Mom’s pineapple-upside down cake.
I remember Dad saying the only two foods he didn’t like were parsnips and tomatoes, and that squirrel tasted greasy.
I remember that we always shared bedrooms. 
I remember Mom always said Dave “was like a long drink of water.”
I remember that when we lived with grandma, on weekends we would put the names of the chores to be done in a jar and each draw out our jobs for the day.
I remember that when we brought report cards home, Mom always looked at the conduct marks and effort first.  She said the most important thing to her were that we were good people.

As for posting to Northen News, Maya made the serendipitous discovery a week or so ago that if you already have an account with Blogger and I have sent you an invitation, Northen News will automatically pop up as one of the blogs that you can add to, so you can write a new one at any time.  If I didn’t send you an invitation, but you want to post on Blogger, let me know and I’ll send you one.  All, I’ll need is your email. Of course, you can always just leave a comment.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

St. Martin's Photo

Melissa was asking whether or not there was a picture of St. Martin's Catholic Church that I mentioned in the previous blog.  The pictures are scarce, but here is one I found on the web.

I'm not sure which part is original but it still looks pretty solid. If anyone finds a better one, please share it.

St. Martin's Church

In Springfield, Wisconsin there is a Catholic church called St. Martin’s that is both a part of our family history and one of those small pieces in the puzzle of American history as well.  Johann Adam Sitzmann, my great-great grandfather, was a stone mason who had recently arrived in the United States from Germany when the building of St. Martin’s began to be built in 1850.  According to local history, it was only in 1841 that the first white settlers had come permanently to this area.  Most of the land still belonged to Native Americans, and that included the land that he thought he had a deed to, as he later found out.   
In history context is everything.  Sitzmann was working on St. Martin’s prior to the Civil War.  It interests me that the church he was helping to build was a Roman Catholic church at a time when there was still a deep prejudice in this country against Catholicism.  No doubt, our tobacco-farming Northen ancestors would have driven them out of town, had they shown up in rural Virginia.  St. Martin’s went on to have a school.  While today we simply assume every child’s right to public education, in the mid-1800’s education was still basically a private affair.  Those parents who had money might send their children, but even then, Catholics were often not allowed, so no doubt St. Martin’s school played an important role in the community.
Because of the dubious claim to his property, Johann Adam Sitzman ended up moving on to western Iowa becoming part of the mass mid-century expansion westward.  St. Martin’s, of course, remained behind.  In one of my imaginary drives across the country to visit all those places that played a part in our family becoming what it is today, Springfield is definitely one of my stops.  It is amazing that today, though expanded and updated, the original church of 160 years ago is still standing.  It was built of stone and meant to last. I’m intrigued with the idea that if somehow Sitzmann left his own fingerprints, his own mark on it.   I doubt many buildings we put up today will be standing 160 years from now, when our descendents look back at us.