When we were newly married we went to church with a grand old chap named John T. Read. I had known him pretty much all my life but by the time we married and got settled in a church in Chicago John was in excess of 100 years old (by one or two). He lived at quite some distance from the church — in the home he’d had for about 80 years in a neighborhood that had become over the years entirely Black. Some time before we arrived he’d sold the home to a wonderful Black family with the provision that he could continue occupying 2 rooms there as long as he lived. He was probably the only white guy in the neighborhood.
Peg & I were the only members of the congregation that lived anywhere near his home so we often volunteered to drive him home Sundays after church. We had church services on the near North Side of Chicago — not far from the old Rush Street bar neighborhood as a locator — and the drive home was always fascinating.
You see, John had moved to Chicago from Philly in his early 20’s. He was a trained and aspiring operatic singer at the time, even at age 100+ he still had amazing basso intonation. And…. get this… he moved his furniture in a buckboard! When he arrived in Chicago it was before “The Loop” ever came into existence. He regaled us with stories about how, when he came to town, all these areas that are now concrete, steel and glass were swampland, and how there was a huge willow tree here and a wonderful oak tree there. He told us about the streets, and the political scandals, and … well, we learned a lot about Chicago during our hour long weekly tutorials. This is a guy that lived through the transition from horsepower to men on the moon. I can’t imagine any other generation seeing as much change as he did — but I could be wrong.
I wonder how many RV’ers are like me. You work hard all your life. You have a decent life, with a nice family, reasonable but not ostentatious lifestyle, and health good enough to do most of the things you want to do. And sometime after you get to retire you realize that you’re tired; not physically; not bone-weary tired; rather, it’s a malaise that comes when you listen to the news and all you hear is noise and clamor; all I want to do lately is turn off all the noise: the shouting for equality, and the screaming for more money, the insults and insinuations thrown (seemingly) by everyone at everyone else.
I used to care a lot more about social issues than I do now. I’m glad that there are generations behind me to carry on those battles. I’m glad to see kids and grandkids active and caring; but I’ve got to say that considering the state the world was in when I was young I find it humorous, laughable almost, at the things people find to complain about. We aren’t a perfect country. Whatever made people think it was or would be a perfect country is beyond me. People are flawed and groups of people are flawed and I don’t think we’ll ever rid the world of hatred and bigotry. And if you don’t love the
I’m sure at some point in time, every older person ever to live starts to feel like a curmudgeon at least part of the time. Or maybe not. But I think in this last year I have.
My parents built the house that I spent the first couple years living in. It was an Ok house — better than Ok by 1950’s standards but by today’s standards I think a lot of people would think it was a dump. I remember very little of it because in the early 50’s we moved from Milwaukee to Algoma WI where my dad had bought a hardware store. Big Mistake. The town as heavily Danish and a couple of Poles owning the hardware store just didn’t fit their idea of what the residents thought life in Algoma was supposed to be like. They struggled to make a go of it. The hardware store didn’t do well; so someone (my dad) got the smart idea to move all the stock from Algoma back to Milwaukee where mom’s family lived. That didn’t last long either. We lived above the hardware store in a shotgun two story; I remember being told years later that there were times there was no food left in the house but I never felt our poverty, no matter what I had three squares a day and that was all I ever knew about.
I remember more of our time in Milwaukee. After my parents auctioned off the hardware store (those were the days when ACE and TRUE VALUE were replacing mom & pop hardwares and life got hard for the little guy) we moved to Wauwatosa where in addition to his 40 hours for Wisconsin Electric he superintended the 18 family apartment that my uncle owned. Then we bought an 8 family apartment from my uncle and moved there, and finally we sold that and bought a 12 family apartment on the S. side of Milwaukee where my parents lived for about 40 years and Peg and I ultimately joined them for about 30 years in a difference unit. Before doing that Peg and I lived in Chicago for 2 years while I did my stint as a Conscientious Objector, then to Toledo/Swanton Ohio for a couple years, then back to Geneva Illinois for 2 years before ending up in Milwaukee again.
When young we lived most of my life in Milwaukee. In the years between 10 and 13 I would take the Milwaukee Road RR from Milwaukee to downtown Chicago where, alone, I would walk from the train stop to State & Lake and then take three interconnecting bus lines to my grand parent. No one thought that a pre-teen traveling along on an interstate train was all that unusual and no one ever said so much as “boo” to me while I was traveling. In my early teens (Boy Scout years) my parents would take me out to Mauthe Lake State Park and leave me there — after a word with Wally the regular ranger at that park at the time. I’d stay there 10 days from Friday till the following Sunday with a bicycle (to pedal into the nearest town — and explore), a tent, and all the usual camping supplies; but no cell phone, no radio, just me and the woods and neighboring campers — not very many during the week. No one ever said a word about parental abuse — I was on an adventure and having a ball. Not quite Huck Finn perhaps, but having a blast, respectfully, and enjoying the great out of doors.
I went to Washington High School — home of the Purgolders. But I don’t remember much about high school. For one thing I decided at the end of 11th grade that I had enough credits to graduate a year early — so I did. For another thing I worked a part time job all the way through H.S. for the Boy Scouts (at their headquarters building) all the way through H.S. Before I could drive I assembled training supplies for a year. After I got my license I became their mail clerk — taking an old Chevy Suburban out around town every evening just before 5:00 looking for two men on the local board of directors who had the power to sign checks. (That job would have been a lot easier with cell phones! — I spent a lot of time driving to see men who weren’t in their office that day). After H.S. I went to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and after that I took about a year to do volunteer work. I ran a printing press and binding machinery for a church group. After I heard from the Draft Board about my Alternative Service we got married.
When I look back at what I now think of as run-down places we sometimes lived in — and then listen to TV programs where people are looking for new houses — or remodeling old ones — I sometimes scratch my head over how different the world has become.
Our first apartment was tiny. Our friends called it our closet. The so-called “bedroom” was physically smaller than a standard double bed. We put our bed in the “living room” and I put a desk in the “bedroom.” We had NO counters, a space heater with manual controls and no closets except one free standing 20” x 36” x 76” cabinet. There were 3 outlets in the entire apartment and no A/C. At the time we were so poor we would go to the mall for an hour or two during the hottest parts of the summer just to cool off after taking the non-a/c Chicago transit system home in the mid 60’s.
We’ve done better than that since. Life is good, but I still consider granite counters to be a luxury — I still remember linoleum counters — in fact when we sold my FIL’s house in 2008 he still HAD linoleum countertops that he installed in about 1950 — and they looked brand new. Sure, we went from 6500 sq ft in the school we owned to 230 sq ft and that was a bit of a shock. But I don’t miss most of that space and now that we have traded our 230 sq ft for 300 sq ft we feel like we are luxuriating and have space to spare. It’s a strange world.
Of course we didn’t grow up with lots of things. And for a good part of our married life we scrimped and cut corners. But the idea that a young couple needs all the things they grew up with and that their parents worked their entire life to acquire seems so out of proportion to reality. I must just be getting old.
I wonder about expectations. When I was young I could not imagine the luxury I enjoy now. I certainly didn’t expect to have all that my parents had, when I took my first apartment. I’m sure many of my contemporaries would consider that there is nothing luxurious about our lifestyle at all.
I wonder about what my grand-kid expects from life. When I look around she seems to be starting off with a sound footing and reasonable expectations and she’s willing to work hard for what she gets. Just as have been her parents.
And I wonder where do all these discontented and angry people come from? They seem to be everywhere — especially in the media.
I don’t know. I’m tired of all this nonsense. Most of us, in this nation, possess more than rulers of nations enjoyed. I’ve been through European Castles dating back to 1000 a.d.; I’ve been in homes occupied by lords in England; and while they may have been LARGE and massive (out of stone) their level of comfort and hygiene was so far below what all but the poorest in our society enjoy that I remain astonished at how ungrateful people seem to be.
Maybe that’s why I’m tired. It seems that no matter how much some people get they are never satisfied. Maybe I’m just tired of greed.
Thanks for stopping by and I’ll talk with you tomorrow.
P.S.: After I finished writing this, and a day or two had gone bye I came upon this video about Three Generations Answer the Same Question: “When you were a kid, what did you do for fun”. The answers are stunning — and not in a good way.