Months ago when I was rummaging through random boxes, I found a whole bunch of photos taken by my dad, who was always interested in photography and often processed his own film in a little mysteriously lit room in the basement. Among the memorabilia was a yellowed envelope from Chas. Menger, Inc. Florists—my grandparents’ business. Written in faded pencil, in my dad’s hand,
N. 116 St.
Inside were a handful of negatives and the promise of a virtual visit to my childhood home in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, on Milwaukee’s west side. I peered at them many times against the window and tried to make out details. At last I prevailed upon Eric to scan them and turn them into prints for me. Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to December, 1952 …
My dad casts a long shadow in the afternoon sun. Our little rancher, built in 1949, wears a garland of icicles. But that’s not the neighborhood I remember! Most of the neighbors’ houses have not yet been built. An old apple orchard occupies the lot next door. When I zoom in on the photo, even though it’s pixilated, I can make out familiar details: the thermometer mounted on the kitchen’s picture window, the milk box on the back stoop, and a couple of saplings that became our elm and flowering crabapple trees. In a few years, my dad will build a garage where the Chevy is parked, and connect it to the house by a room that will become our new foyer. (Click on any of the old photos to enlarge them.)
Go in the back door and turn right into the kitchen, with its corner sink and the big picture window. Get a load of that trellis wallpaper! Notice the dark color of the ceiling. It’s a fashionable Chinese red. The cabinet frames are white, and the doors natural birch with beautiful grain. The countertop is gray pearlized Formica with aluminum trim. I love the corner sink with its triangular shelf full of plants. (Mom would park my high chair in front of the big window. On milk delivery day, she’d always say, “There’s the milkman!” So, “milkman” was my first word. I’m sure my dad was thrilled.)
Follow me into the living room. There’s Mom, looking fetching in a glittery, striped sweater, posing with Lassie in front of the bricks-and-boards bookcase. (I would continue that tradition in college.) I wish I still had those black panthers … so 50s! And the peacock blue frisee couch (with matching club chair). Dig that wallpaper! Yipes—stripes on one wall, and coordinating 1940s gray and green floral on the accent wall … grounded by a gray carpet with sculpted acanthus leaves. Everything, as always, set off by lots of healthy plants.
Finally, the master bedroom—a bamboo forest retreat! I should have grabbed that beautiful blond wood bedroom set (bed, night stand, chest of drawers, and dresser with huge mirror) instead of letting them sell it 30 years ago … sigh. Oh well … I don’t have room for it, anyway. Look at those nice hardwood floors—no dust bunnies! And the chenille bedspread.
Perhaps this explains my present dining room wallpaper. It’s genetic, I tell you! I love this stuff! Although mine is more William Morris-y than 40s botanical. I feel inspired to buy some vintage wallpaper for our next house … be forewarned, Eric.
On another night, the kitchen looks chaotic. Counters are covered in what appear to be groceries, and Mom and Lassie are busy making something intricate. Maybe they have company. If it’s Christmastime (something tied in ribbon is on the table), Mom is just a little bit pregnant with me. Mom, what the heck are you wearing? That leafy print is edging toward Midcentury Modern, and it certainly fits the décor. By the length of Mom’s hair and the radio on the counter, I know these photos were taken at a different time than the ones above, but if Pop says winter of ’52, he should know. What I don’t know is if some of them are in January or February, or December, nearly a year apart.
Hey, my aunt and uncle and their dog have stopped by for a play date! I wish I knew who the arm and the saddle shoes belong to … my mom and aunt, surely, but I wish I could see their faces. Pop is behind the camera, more interested in photographing the playing pups.
The humans swap seats and the dogs snap to attention to focus on a treat. I assume it’s Mom who is offering it, so maybe the saddles belong to her. Besides, that’s not her arm in the other chair.
Now it’s Christmas, and an eight-foot tree dominates one corner of the living room. That’s a lot of presents for just two people—maybe the whole family is getting together at our place on Christmas Eve (when we traditionally opened presents).
I’m ridiculously sentimental about my Wauwatosa childhood. We moved across the country to Tacoma, Washington, when I was 10, and extended family and “home” seemed to vanish. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to see how many items in these photos I still have. Click on the photo to see some of them.
1. Kitchen table and chairs (in the attic).
2. Channel-back chair (in the attic).
3. Black electric clock.
4. Little treasure chest (for cards, I think).
5. Blue and white vase (hand-painted by my great aunt Amelia).
6. Footstool with needle-point top by my grandmother (my laptop rests on it daily).
7. White china lamp (in the attic).
8. Pictures frames (need to use them!)
9. Mom’s Steiff bear.
I can’t quickly put my hands on a vintage photo of the front of the house, but this is what it looks like today. It’s a sweet little house, and I’m glad to see it’s cared for.
To all my blog friends, may your holidays be merry and bright! Be sure to take some photos that your family can puzzle over 60 years down the road.