Interview with Christine Reisch Meyer
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Introduction: Christine Meyer, formerly Christine Reisch, was a daughter of George and Mary Spitley Reisch. Christine’s daughters, Chrysl and Marilyn, were present, as was my mother, Christine Franz White. TW stands for Tony White, son of Christine and Shirley White. Aunt Christine’s memories may not always be accurate, but they are interesting and often informative. The conversation was edited for clarity and ease of reading. Repetitious wording was often eliminated, etc.

 

Christine Reisch Meyer, center, with her daughters, Marilyn on the left, Chrysl on the right.  Photo circa 199x

 

INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINE REISCH MEYER

After Her 100th Birthday

 

TW: Today is December 26, 1987 at Aunt Christine’s House with Mother, Chrysl, and Marilyn present.

AC: I'm a hundred years old.

TW: What happened, did you get a letter from the president?

AC: A thousand things happened, I didn't get a letter, but I got a card. They probably sign them by the million; it wasn't anything special.

TW: Your father, George Reisch wrote down about ten pages about his father. What kind of man was your father? How would you describe him?

AC: Well as a matter of fact he was worth several millions, but he wasn't that kind of man at all. He donated to every church, every civic thing. He and two or three others started the city streetcar.

TW: George wrote about how his father Franz Reisch went all the way back to Germany to get married. But he doesn't say how the marriage was arranged, or whether he knew the woman he married all through his childhood. Did George ever talk about how his father got married?

AC: The thing is that he promised her that he would come back and get her and get married as soon as he could afford it. He didn't want her to go over with him until he knew what his chances were and how he would get along and so forth. And it was, as I remember, maybe ten years before he went back to pick her up. And she waited all that time.

TW: I guess he probably wrote letters.

AC: Yes he had connections. You see there were so many Germans coming over at that time. Now my grandfather didn't come as a lower immigrant. His father gave him what he thought was plenty to get a start in America. He was supposed to go to New York and make his fortune, and he had a certain amount of money which he thought was plenty, but of course it wasn't plenty. So he had met another young man on the boat coming from France to New Orleans and they both decided that they would go on together. They took the boat up the Ohio River as far as the city of Cincinnati.

TW: What were the last names of some of the families that came over from Niederhausen and settled in Springfield besides the Franz family and the Reisch family?

AC: I don't think that there were too many.

Mother: The Lutz’s and Kienzler’s. You know they are mentioned in that book. [Vin Lauters got a book listing birth and death dates of many people in Niederhausen.]

TW: Do you remember any others?

AC: The Rechner’s, but they aren't mentioned in that book. We knew the family from the very beginning, and we still know them and their families that are still in the area.

AC: If I could have known ahead that you were coming I could have gotten the books from the library or maybe one or two that I have. Would that do you any good later on if I wrote that to you?

TW: If you find that out later on I would be interested in that. Let's go on to some of the stories that you have written down here. You wrote something about the roof on the 4th of July.

AC: Yes, of course, it took my grandfather quite awhile to get to the place where he could build the kind of house that he wanted. He had a brickyard of his own and he built the house with those bricks. It was enormous. It had eight bedrooms. It was a great big house.

TW: Was this the house behind the brewery?

AC: Yes, Uncle Frank and my father built both of their houses on this plot of land. We had a yard that was separated by a grove of trees. And those two houses were the only houses on that four square plot. There were ten children in our home, and Uncle Frank had four children, three girls and a boy. Our family had ten, six boys and four girls. All that property was ours and it was just those two houses.

TW: What happened on the roof on the 4th of July?

AC: The roof was on top of the third story and the stairs went all the way up to the roof. We could go all the way up there and it was railed in so we couldn't fall. We would always go up there to watch our fireworks. Uncle Frank's house had the same thing.

One time they had a fire on the top of Uncle Frank's roof on the 4th of July from a skyrocket. We were on the roof when the fire started and the fire engines all had to come out. The fire engines were run by men and horses and the men took buckets of water from the street.

TW: Did they carry it all the way up the stairs inside to the roof?

AC: No they didn't. They had something at Uncle Franks that they could take water from in buckets. But we didn't in our house and for every fire they took water from the hydrant in the street.

TW: They didn't have hoses?

AC: I don't think so. They ran with buckets from the street. Of course that was when the town was much smaller then.

?: I think at one time Grandma Reisch joked it was called Mud City.

TW: And for a while that part of town was called Goosetown, because people brought their geese to feed on the dregs from the brewery.

?: Well that part of town was, the north end.

TW: I'm just collecting stories. You wrote down here pony accidents.

AC: I wouldn't call them accidents 'cause nobody was hurt. We had a team of ponies that we used absolutely day and night and morning and noon and cold.

My older sisters went with my cousin, who lived half a mile away, to the east coast to make a visit of three weeks to some relative in Washington DC. None of them had ever been out of the state or even the city. When they went on the train they couldn't have too much baggage. They had a trunk. I think it was called a dresser trunk where you could hang the clothes. The three of them took as little clothes as they possibly could and put it all in one trunk. When they came back of course we took the pony cart over to the train to bring the trunk home with the clothes. I wasn't one of them who went; the rest of us were home. And on the way back the ponies saw a great big piece of white sheet or something. Anything white, even a white dog, they would run away. So they got absolutely out of control and they hit a cement box on the way home. The pony cart fell over and the trunk came out and all the dirty clothes of three weeks fell out into the street. The ponies of course ran home and left the cart.

Well, in those days it was something different so far as being ashamed of things. And, oh, good night, nothing more horrible could have happened than having all that underwear being exposed to the general public. It was the talk of the town for quite some time.

Another time Walt was riding one of the ponies and he went over the railroad track at Third and Union, and a freight train came tearing down the line blowing the whistle. His pony took a running jump and Walt fell off and fell into the cinders on the side of the track. The doctor took out what he could but he couldn't get all of the cinders out of the wound. All his life he had a tattoo. It wasn't a thing you could notice particularly, but if you knew about it you could see those little cinders. But he wasn't hurt. He was hurt but not fatally.

TW: Well, he lived and it certainly didn't keep his mouth shut or keep him from making jokes.

AC: I'm afraid I'm the same way because I have to get my word in, you know.

There was one other thing that happened with the pony, oh yes, my brother George. In those days all the fellows carried rifles, all of them. My brothers all had rifles. They went out and shot pheasants and small animals and everything around Springfield and we ate them. He was carrying his rifle, and something they had to say when they took their rifle out was, I will not put it on my foot when I walk. That was a rule but I don't know if he got excited when he was coming home and thought he was safe. Anyway he had the rifle on his shoe and it went off and went through his foot. And that wouldn't have been anything if it had gone all the way through his foot. They could have taken him to that small hospital St. Johns and gotten it fixed. But it didn't go all the way through his foot so they couldn't get it out at home. So they had to take him to the hospital in the carriage, which they did. I came home from riding and jumped off of my horse, and as I did the yard man said, oh Christine they just took your brother George to the hospital; he was shot. And of course I practically swooned. I thought, of course, that he was dead. They had just taken him to get the shot out and put something on the wound.

TW: What kind of animals and birds did the boys shoot and bring home to eat?

AC: Oh, pheasants and quail. I did too. By the way I was the only one of the girls, I'm afraid, who did everything the boys did. I was a tomboy, which was a bad name at that time, being a tomboy. But I was a tomboy and I was always playing with the boys, never with the girls.

TW: And you learned to shoot the gun too?

AC: Oh, yes.

TW: Were you a good shot?

AC: Well I shot pretty good, and I could play baseball better than that. That's where I got the broken nose. You know, I was a tomboy. I just did things that they did in the line of skating, breaking through the ice. And we always did something they called some kind of tail, and they always put me at the end of the tail. We skated from out in the country where there was a lot of private land, all the way to the fairgrounds and the river. We called it little spring creek. It ran all through the land the Reisch people owned, and the coal mine we owned was underneath and all that land.

TW: You wrote down here about school and church joys.

AC: Of course we went to St. Peter’s and Paul’s. All of us walked home. We could have taken the carriage. The yard man could have taken us back and forth. But we would miss all of the fun. You see all the kids walked home from school and back. There were very few that owned horses and carriages. So we got into mischief on the way home.

TW: What kind of mischief?

AC: Well there was a shoemaker on the way home where we had all of our shoes patched up. When we went by we managed to take a little stone or something to throw up against his front door. He had a little shop, and of course he got tired of that. So he stood outside someplace where he couldn't be seen and he threw a hammer at us. When we got home we had to tell the folks. They were friends of the shoemaker, naturally, with ten children and feet. So we got into a nice mess there. But all those things were part of school and fun, just real fun. But whenever it was rainy or cool or snowy the yard man would usually come after us. He took us home.

TW: Was St. Peter’s and Paul’s called the German school?

AC: Yes.

TW: Did you take classes in German?

AC: You could if you wanted to. You could take your lessons in German. And I was the only one of us four girls who wanted to, so I took some of my lessons in German, yes. It was wonderful because when I got to high school they had a year of German that you could take. And my family being German, you know, my folks spoke German. So the first thing I had a chance to do when I got to high school was to take a year of German. And I made 100’s almost all the time all through the year and I did the same thing when I took a year of French. And I took four years of Latin, because Latin is so much like German, or rather German is like Latin. All of those things I had perfect records of, and so when I graduated there were two of us, Anna Bear, and we were perfect friends. And she had, for instance, 99 and 3/4 grade for the average year and I had 99 and 2/4 grades. So they didn't know, who should have the highest and who the next highest. It was so close they said you'll have to chose, so we looked at each other and I said you be it. And she said, no, you do. We finally decided that she would take the first grade and I would take the second, because my father being so very rich, they might consider it was sort of put up. So that's the way we graduated from high school. I had second grade and I had no more reason for having that grade than flying, because I had the advantage all the way through with my German.

Up to that time you had to make a second grade of 8th in the public school before you went into public high school. They wouldn't let you go into high school from the Catholic school. You had to take another year at the track school. But professor Collins at that time said that's very unfair, and now I am the head of this (school) and I am going to change that. The Catholic schools no longer have to go through the public school 8th grade again before they get to go to high school. So you see, through all of that, all I had to do was take an exam.

TW: When you were going to St. Peter’s and Paul’s how big were the classes?

AC: I would have to say about 18 or 15. I would say you can't compare it to now. But you can't compare anything with now.

TW: Almost everything is different. Do you remember stories about my grandmother, your sister, Minnie. Her name was originally Balbina Susanna. How did she get the nickname Minnie?

AC: Well, I would say Balbina because Bina is also a nickname of what Saint is that?

Mother: I thought Mina meant mine.

AC: No, I don't think so.

Mother: And that she got the nickname Minnie from that.

TW: Did any of your other brothers and sisters have nicknames?

AC: Tina.

TW: That was yours.

AC: Tina, cause Christine and …

Mother: My mother was always Minnie, even her 1st communion and confirmation things were all in the name of Minnie.

AC: Well, as a matter of fact, Bina was also a nickname because I had a cousin in Lincoln who was Bina Danard, and her name was Balbina.

TW: Do you remember any interesting stories about your brothers and sisters?

AC: Oh, there would have to be thousands of them. We had ponies. We had all the money in the world, you know, for running around, so we did an enormous amount of traveling, all of us. You see the summers here were 103 in the shade a good part the time. And so the first thing we did when summer came was go north.

TW: North to where?

AC: Minnesota and Michigan and all of the northern states. We went to a summer home of some kind on the lakes, some place.

TW: I remember going up there once, what's the name of the city in Michigan?

Mother: Onekama. That I think was later.

AC: That was in her time. They were my age, and they didn't have summer homes for the children then. My parents didn't go up for all summer. But they went up for maybe a month with other people. All the people in and around Springfield who had any money at all had summer homes. So naturally my mother didn't like the idea of going up to someone else's summer home. In fact she couldn't very well go very far because she was always having another child.

My father wanted to take her across to buy malt to Europe every time he went. Every two years he went personally to buy the malt and the hops and the grains for the beer cause they steamed all their own grains here at home. He just ordered them you see. The man that owned them brought them over by boat. There wasn't such a thing as sending them an order. And ordering them was just as much a bother.

We steamed all those down in the cellar and made the beer. And the Reisch beer was made exactly from a recipe that my grandfather brought over with him. And that was all done in large casks underneath the ground. The way he got the recipe for that was he went to college or school. It wasn't a college for higher education. It was an entirely different beer than what was made here, and there weren't as many beers. I want you to stop me every time I get gabby because I could go for years. I was over there for 6 months to learn everything. You know we traveled over in Europe. My father and mother took me and my sister Clara over there for 6 months.

TW: What countries did you go to?

AC: Oh, we went to all of them. We spent about a week in Germany, then a week in France, a week in Czechoslovakia, a week in … I can't remember all of them, there weren't as many of them as there are now. But we went to Italy, to Rome. And in France we went to Paris. Some of the smaller ones we only picked out the bigger cities, but we went all through Germany.

TW: What did you do when you went to the big cities?

AC: We saw everything. All royalty was still on the thrones at that time. We went from the head of the Rhine to the other end. We saw royalty on the Rhine River having tea, and we saw all of their big gardens on the Rhine.

TW: They were all over there then.

AC: It was really wonderful. We went to their shows in their own countries and we saw them there all dressed up for the shows in royal robes, always purple. We took a look-see at all the cities in the same type of coach that they used, except we had a guide. They had footmen and everyone to wait on them all of the time. But we went to the same streets and places that they went to, we went to the same churches that they went to. I don't mean we went inside like they did. We would go right there and see the outside and see how things were done. We had a guide to tell us. I have a picture of London Bridge going up and down, I don't think its London Bridge but one bridge in London that goes up and down.

TW: London Bridge has the old nursery rhyme.

AC: That's it, that's the one. We stood there and watched it going up and down. And when Jim was married not too long ago they went to England and he took a picture of London Bridge going up and down. And will you believe it, there is the exact picture that I took.

TW: Same exact picture, I'd believe it.

AC: Well, way back in 1905 I took 500 pictures over there with my first camera, and all of them were good. But it was just one of those little things that you pull out. I also made a diary.

TW: Have you seen the diary lately?

AC: Well, yes I could, if you would have called me the first day you came. I could have let you have it for a while.

TW: OK

AC: Chrysl, no, not Chrysl, Terry O'Brien. I had her write that all up for me. Do you want me to send you a copy?

TW: Yes, I would be interested.

AC: I wasn't going to have anything in the paper about my birthday, but it got in the paper, and in the church, and one whole grade of children (44 or something like that) all made pictures and wrote letters to me. And all of them came over, they brought every kid in school. They made a big banner.

Chrysl: And each of the kids in the 4th grade sent her a birthday card that they drew themselves.

AC: And all on the express order that I wanted absolutely no visit. They wanted to put it in the paper and have a reception in town. I said good night, anybody can get to be a 100 years old if you live right. I told one girl, well, I didn't smoke and I didn't drink. And I said, oh, you don't have to believe that. It was something really, but I just hate it.

TW: I understand the priest even said a sermon. He said that this was an example of a family that had kept the faith for 100 years.

Chrysl: Well, that she had kept the faith for 100 years.

AC: They [my daughters, Chrysl and Marilyn] will never get to be 100 years, because they smoke and drink.

Marilyn: And who drove us to smoke and drink?

AC: I don't smoke because I married a man who absolutely would not let me smoke.

TW: How did both of your daughters end up smoking if their father didn't allow anybody to smoke?

Marilyn: He said, if I catch you smoking you can move out. Well, he didn't catch us. I never did anything that he approved of.

TW: I understand that your mother sometimes says that your smoking is going to shorten her life.

Marilyn: Yep. At least twice a day we get that.

AC: I don't approve of smoking. I really don't. But I didn't like smoking, so I didn't mind my husband not wanting me to smoke, because I only smoked after the boys came home from World War I and brought smoking home from over there. The girls over there cut their hair short. So, of course, all the girls immediately cut their hair short and smoked because that was what the boys told them the women did over there. But the thing is I had long hair and I had to put it to the side so I didn't sit on it. I was exactly five foot high and I hated it, so I tried to do exactly the same thing and get rid of my hair. But no, he didn't want it. Then my sister-in-law said, you’re having a permanent. She said, you just simply cut your hair and he can't do anything about it after. Well, of course, I had to smoke because if I didn't smoke I was a pill. All the girls smoked and those few girls that didn't smoke were pills. I wasn't going to be anything like that, but I didn't smoke after I was married.

TW: What happened after you got your haircut?

AC: That's another story, and it would take a week if I told the whole thing. We went out on a picnic. We had land way out in the woods. The whole family went out on a Saturday. He couldn't come till after work, so I stayed at home. He came home, and we went out and he didn't really look at my hair. We got out there and the first thing my sister-in-law, that dirty little Indian, said was, how did Bill like your haircut? Well, absolute silence. Everybody got silent, and he came over and picked up his hat. In those days every man wore a hat. And he said, we are going home. And I said, going home? And he said, yes, we're going home. And I said, well, I'm not going home. You can go home. And he said, you are going home, we're going home. Well, I thought to myself, I'm not going to get this whole family all stirred up, so I said OK. Then, when I started to get into my car, my sister-in-law said, you're not going home. Don't you dare go home. But that made things worse. So we went home. And oh, he got mad. It was the only ride in my life I was really scared, because we went home 90 miles an hour. We weren't supposed to go over 35. We went around the square on Sunday on three wheels. Well, we got home down on 6th street, where we were living with my mother at that time. He said get out. He came and opened the door and said, get out. And it was Sunday and I thought he was liable to start a rile right there. So I got out and he opened the door for me to get into the screened in porch. He closed the door, went back to the car, went out, and didn't come home for two days. Of course, he had his own place downtown at his office. I just said, well, that's ok with me. I went up to my mother after the second day and I said, we're having a divorce right away. I said this is not going to be done more than once. Of course, that started another rile. So we didn't have a divorce because I couldn't hurt my parents like that. That was just not too long after World War I and the closing of the brewery. We didn't realize at that time that things were going to be terrible, and that there would be fourteen years of prohibition. We went from a couple millions down to a penny or two. That is not very much fun when you are starting a family. So there I go. I told you to stop me when I get gabby, but those are the things that happen to you. And we got along fine after a while.

TW: Marilyn, what are some of the favorite stories that you hear over and over, that your mother tells?

M: Let’s see, she was telling one the other day about being out in the buggy with four girls, watching the fireworks.

AC: I think I told that one earlier.

M: Going up to the fair in the buggy for the day, taking your lunch and everything, or driving to Lincoln in the buggy.

AC: Yes, we always went when the fireworks were in town or at the parks. We didn't go out to see them. We went up on the roof.

TW: Did you go to a fair with four girls in the buggy?

M: What about when you drove up to Lincoln with the pony cart for holidays?

AC: Oh, yes, we always we went up to visit my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Jen in Lincoln. They lived right smack in town. And yet they had a big barn and horse and buggy. They were the only people that did. They didn't very often drive it, but at least we had a place to put our ponies. We used to go up for a couple of weeks, and then they came down to our place and stayed with us for a couple of weeks. It made a vacation for each family through the summer.

TW: How long did it take you to ride in your pony cart to Lincoln?

AC: Just the day. It took us all day.

TW: Did you take water and food for the horses?

AC: No. We could water them on the way. You know you could get water at any farmhouse or any little pool or anything. We always took our own food with us.

TW: And who all went with you when you went up there?

AC: Oh, just the kids. Nobody had to go with us.

TW: Just the kids, how many of the kids, which ones?

AC: Oh, at least four. It depended on how big they were. Most of us were just skinny. I rode everyday on my horse. I'd go out past the campgrounds to some little town out in that direction for 10 miles, and then turn around and come back by the cemetery.

TW: How old were you when you did that?

AC: We had the ponies all the time when I was alive. The ponies were already there I mean when I was born.

TW: When you were riding the ponies out to the fairgrounds were you in grade school or high school?

AC: I rode out one day when the streetcar was just going by in the summer to see the soldiers. The streetcar ran right past by our driveway on Rutledge to the campground and then it turned around. Well just as I came out the streetcar went by. In the summer the streetcar was open, all the soldiers were there and they had a horn. At that horse got a little bit nervous. I was very unconcerned and turned towards them, cause I was going to go out to one of those little towns out there. Just then one of the horns started with that sort of a jerky sound and the horse started going dunt-ta-dunt-ta-dunt. If you didn't think that that caused a furor, good night. I had to go up another two blocks p with the streetcar and when the streetcar turned, I went straight. That was an adventure, but those were the days when little things were big adventures.

The boys had their horses. The three other girls were older than I was and they wouldn't ride.

TW: Well did they take the buggies and go out?

AC: Clara Bernard would never drive when we went out in the buggies. I had to drive, as they wouldn't drive.

Marilyn: When mom would go and get her drivers license renewed, they asked her how long she had been driving, and she would say, do you count horse and buggy?

AC: I said, what do you mean bicycles, ponies, and horses?

TW: I know some of us remember some of the older generation, Walt and Minnie and some of the others. My dad was always playing tricks on my grandmother, Minnie. At one point, when he would take her on errands around town he started pointing out police cars, saying, there's “the fuzz” over there. At first she didn't pay too much attention. Then, finally, she said, Shirley what are you talking about? And he says, well they call policemen “fuzz” now. And he’d drive by another police car and he would say, grandma there's the fuzz. So, eventually, grandmother would start pointing them out and telling Shirley, oh the fuzz just went down the side road, or we just passed the fuzz. Dad was doing this so that the next time when her son, Henry, was in town and Henry took his mother out around town, all of sudden she says, Henry, the fuzz! And Henry said he almost drove into a telephone pole!

???: I remember when Minnie got in the wrong car when she came out of a shop downtown.

TW: She was downtown shopping one day. Who was taking Minnie downtown?

????: Uncle Carl.

AC: Well, I know that he took her down in his car, and she went into a store. When she came out, she got into a car thinking that it was Carl’s. That's probably the one that I remember.

???: Minnie was sitting in the car in the back seat and a strange man got in, and he started to drive away with “Uncle Carl’s” car. So she started to hit him over the head with her umbrella. She was in the wrong car.

TW: I remember somebody saying that he turned around in surprise and said, lady, lady, this is my car!

AC: I remember the time that I went down with my mother. We were going to get into a parking space, and some man was going to get into that same parking place. But we got in just enough so he couldn't get in past us, and he was getting more and more furious and he said, you get out! I was going to get into that parking place, blah blah blah. My mother was the meekest person on earth but she said, we are going to stay right in this place. It doesn't matter what he's going to do. He can't do anything right up here on 5th street in the square. I couldn't believe my ears! If she hadn't been there I would have gone on. So I stayed. We heard language that we had never heard before. But he couldn't do anything about it. So we stayed and he had to get out. That's the only time I ever got absolutely mad. But he wasn't there first because if he had been there first he would have gotten in first. He couldn't get by us, the meek little things that we were. We were just getting in there and we were almost in and he comes tearing past us. Oh, things like that. In a ten-child family you can imagine what happens.

TW: I remember that dad used to have a farmer that brought in eggs maybe once or twice a week when he had the drugstore, just down from where Minnie lived. He used to get a dozen eggs for grandma. One time he took one of the eggs out of the fresh eggs and he hard-boiled it. Then he put it back in the carton with all the other fresh eggs, thinking that one morning Minnie would go to crack the egg and she just wouldn't understand what was happening. But when she finally figured it out she would come to the store and say, oh you boys played a trick on me! She always got a kick out of it when she had discovered that they played a trick on her.

Marilyn: My favorite story is about the feebly. Do remember that one about Alvina and George?

AC: I could never tell a funny story. Are we supposed to just sit around here telling funny stories?

TW: Yep, that's it.

AC: Cause I think we're pretty gabby. Now this one was about my brother George and his wife. It was a hot summer day. All of us were in the upstairs room reading. All of a sudden she says, George what's a feebly? And he said, what did you say? This went on for about three minutes and she said, I said, in this story of life or some women’s story? What is a feebly? It says here, our young hero had a feebly growing down on his chin. George said, he had a feebly growing down on his chin? Well, my brother George couldn't understand what the dickens a feebly growing down was. It was just a little bit of hair growing down his chin.

AC: One day I met Clara Bernard, my sister, down at this little grocery store. She was very a good friend of the grocery man, who was Italian. I came in to buy something and we were talking. All of a sudden I said, oh shut up, to Clair. And he said, if you please! He was just furious that I said shut up to one of his customers. Of course, he had no idea she was my sister. He gets really mad and he said, you needn't come into the store anymore. And I said, that's my sister. Well, then he did want to kill me.

TW: I remember one time at Christmas we were down the street here, at Walt and Helen’s house. I think it was getting toward nighttime and we had finished eating. Walt and my dad Shirley and Henry were going to play pinochle or maybe some rum. They sat down to a table and just then one of those pull-down window shades let loose and rolled up, waap waap waap waap waap! Uncle Walt turned around and said, I see the shades of night have fallen!

M: Chrissy, when she was three and someone would crack a joke, she would say, shades of Uncle Walter.

??: We always tell mother that when she says something silly like that, that she is related to Walt, we can tell.

TW: Walt worked for dad for a while when he had Medipak over on Ash Street. Dad used to say that Walt would come in every day and say jokes all day.

??: I was trying to remember when Henry and Walt were playing strip ping-pong.

AC: That was at Walt’s house in Nebraska.

??: Henry was losing and Helen started to come downstairs.

AC: Walt loved it. Then Henry said, Aunt Helen, don't come in.

TW: How old were they when they were playing strip ping-pong?

AC: I don't know. Walt never told a really dirty story. But he told a few that came close.

??: He used to always say, how’s your old wagellia?

Mother: We always thought it was something dirty. When we built our house, we bought half of the lot from Joe Franz and the other half from Bill Hall. Elsie Franz had had a row of bushes down the middle and she was explaining them all to me. And she said and this is a wagellia. Well I just about fainted cause for years Walt would say to her, how’s your old wagellia and we thought it was something dirty.

AC: Walt never told a really dirty story when there was a woman around. But he came pretty close. He came home one day, when Bill and I had been married, oh probably ten years, maybe 15. He came in and he said I got a new story for ya. I was standing right here and Bill was there on the couch and Walt comes in and tells the story about the woman, the head of lettuce, and the grocery man. Anyway, you may have heard it.

TW: No, I haven't.

AC: Maybe it’s too tame for you. Anyway he told it to me and, good night, Bill just got so furious with Walt that he said, you don't tell stories like that to anybody! He was furious with my brother Walt for telling me, his sister, a story like that. I couldn't understand it at all. But Bill never told me a story of any kind. He didn't do much talking. But I couldn't understand why he should be so furious with Walt at all, as I didn't mind it. I wouldn't tell it to all of you right here, but I wouldn't mind it being told in my presence.

TW: Bill just wasn't interested in those kinds of stories. Uncle Walt really had a very good sense of humor. He was just always cracking jokes. Do remember any other jokes that Uncle Walt told?

??: Well, he and Chrysl used to send valentines to each other for years and years. They got pretty wild. Well, you tell it Chrysl.

C: My famous one.

??: Your valentine, famous one, yeah.

C: Well, I don't know. It was kind of a secret that Walt and I sent a valentine to each other every year. Supposedly neither one of us knew where these valentines were coming from. But, one year I found a perfect one and it had the prettiest roses all around the outside and a little bluebird flitting on the cover, and stuff like that. Perfectly beautiful, and it said, summer, winter, spring, and fall. And you open it up and there's this little bluebird sitting there just shaking and it said, you leave me cold. The next night or so, Helen and Walt came down to play pinochle with you and dad. Walt comes through the door while I'm in the bathroom getting ready for a date. Thank goodness I locked the door. Anyway Walt comes and he pounds on that door and he says, if I ever get in there I won't leave you cold. This is in front of my father, who never ever allowed anything to be said, one way or the other. And I thought oh, I'm going to have to take my clothes and leave because he won't let me stay here anymore.

Marilyn: My favorite one about Walt was, when I started working at Dirkson’s Furniture Store. I was just a telephone operator; you know a little PBX thing. Walt talked to Ted a couple times a week. But every time he'd call he would say, may I speak to Mr. Dirkson, please. And I'd say, may I tell him who's calling please? Because Ted had liked to know who was calling so he could get himself organized. Every time he would say he was senator so-and-so, or president of this-or that, or head of the Red Cross. So I would go faithfully to Ted and say, Mr. so-and so of the Red Cross is on the phone. So Ted would pick up the phone and he'd laugh. Well, I didn't know what he was laughing about. Nobody ever said anything to me. Then I found out that it was Walt doing this, so the next time when he says, may I speak with Mr. Dirkson, I say, may I tell him who's calling please? The voice says, this is Bishop Griffin. And I say, oh Walt, now cut it out. So I went back to Ted and I said, Walt’s on the phone. Ted picks up the phone and it was the Bishop. In those days you hardly ever spoke to Bishops. After that I was scared to say anything, and I was so mad at myself that I couldn't say anything.

Chrysl: Walt was always pretending he was someone else, you know, this is Fred so- and-so. It would be somebody mother didn't know. So one time when a boy said, this is Fred, and she said, well, all right you sweet stinker, what do you want?

??: Like those little key chain things that he used to have. I think Chrysl’s got one. It said I'm a very important Catholic, in case of accident call the Bishop.

TW: Do you think that sometimes he did these things knowing that it would infuriate your father?

K: No, I don't think so. I think he thought that if daddy didn't know him well enough by this time it was tough.

AC: He used to think of stories that would not be too shocking.

K: But he liked the idea that you thought it was going to be shocking, before he started. Because he could see you getting all uncertain about his joke. And he enjoyed that about as much as anything.

??: If all Walt said was, good morning, you always wondered what was going to come next. And you weren't sure if you should answer him. Because if you said good morning back he could make some kind-of a joke out of it.

AC: Before either Walt and Joe were married they'd come for dinner. And, honestly, you'd laugh yourself until your sides hurt. Then you never could remember what they said. They could bat it back and forth for the whole meal. Walt would say something, and Joe would have a quick witty reply.

??: You know it wasn't that long ago that mother would get up at 7:30 to get ready for a hair appointment at 11:30. She would be ready by 9:30 and she would come into the kitchen and tell Chrysl, I don't have a thing to do until 11:30, except to try and keep Marilyn calm. There are times around here now when she keeps us laughing until tears are coming out of our eyes.

AC: Well, lots of time you make things a little bit worse than they were ever intended to be.

TW: How’s that?

AC: Well, no, I'm not one go start telling stories.

??: One of my favorite of Aunt Christine stories, I'm sure I told you. One of Bill Bernard’s children, I think the youngest, had been married in Kansas and he and Ann had a reception here after the wedding, and we all went. Ann had a great deal of wonderful food and also a wedding cake. By the time we got to the wedding cake I had eaten so much and I couldn't eat mine. So I said to her, I'm going to take mine home and sleep on it. And she said, I'm going to eat mine and sleep on my stomach.

AC: They thought that was funny, I don't know why. Well, I can tell a better one than that, but I think it’s a little bit too suggestive. About the head lettuce, you remember that one?

TW: How does it go?

AC: Well, a woman went to buy lettuce and she looked them all over and over and she said, well I don't think much of them, but I'll take this one, how much is it? He said the price and she said, oh no I don't want it, that's too expensive, and you can just stick it. And he said, oh, no lady, I already have two up there. That's pretty dirty. That was one of Walt’s, you know. He's the most ordinary looking person, and yet he could have you in stitches in no time, for no reason at all.

TW: Yes, I remember that Walt, my dad and Henry used to play pinochle every Christmas, and sometimes Thanksgiving. They just used to really go at it. It sounded like murder and mayhem happening over there. They used to accuse each other of being thieves and cutthroats, dastardly deals, and all sorts of things. Anybody else remember any stories?

K: I can remember we used to take the long way around from school and stop at Grandma's. She'd be sitting there darning or mending, and we'd sit on a little footstool while she'd tell us stories. I remember her telling us stories of her mother coming over from Germany on a sailing ship. In those days they came up the Mississippi to the port of St. Louis. They had to stop outside for 4 days in case they had Diphtheria, or Malaria, not Malaria, whatever they had.

TW: Some sort of disease.

K: Yeah, that people had died of. There were four girls and their mother died on the trip. A couple of brothers had come ahead and were working in St. Louis. They sent for their mother and sisters to come. So the brothers went around and found places for the girls live, and husbands, and things like that so that they wouldn't be on their own.

TW: Who was this?

K: Grandma Reisch's mother. Who would have been Balbina Frank. Grandma's mother’s name was Frank.

K: Her father's name was Spitley.

TW: I remember one of the stories that was handed down to me about Minnie. It was during the depression. She owned some buildings on one of the main streets of a small town. She rented one of the storefronts to a Chinese man for a laundry. He had been in there only a few months. It was early December and the Chinaman rang her front doorbell. When she went to the front door and looked out and saw the Chinaman, the first thing she thought was, there must be some sort of problem. Minnie immediately suspected the worst in almost any situation. She opened the door and he had come to bring a Christmas present to his landlady. This completely threw Minnie off, because she usually tried to get all her Christmas shopping done by summertime, during the sales. She hadn't expected him and come and give her a present at all. And now she was going to have to buy a present for this Chinaman before Christmas. And she had no idea what kind of present would you give a Chinaman. Eventually she got him some type of present. But every year there was this problem of what present to get the Chinaman.

CFW: Every year he appeared about the 1st of December. And we were never ready.

TW: How did she deal with it when she wasn't ready?

CFW: Well, we just thanked him. Then we tried to get some idea of what to give him.

TW: And finally after a number of years, he came and told Grandmother that he was going to move to St. Louis and open a restaurant there. He was very grateful for the opportunity she gave him to get started in this country. Grandmother was very relieved because then she wouldn't have to buy a Christmas present for the Chinaman every year.

Mother: He was difficult to understand. He did improve a little bit, but he was very difficult for us to understand.

TW: Then the next year, there he was, bringing presents to his former landlady!

Mother: We thought when he moved to St. Louis that was the end, but no, every year we still got a Christmas present. One time he came and told mother that he was going back to China to see his mother. He said, oh, she very old. And mother said, how old? He said, oh, she very, very old, 65 year old. Well, mother was 68 and it didn't make her happy to hear that!

The day before he went he goes to see Henry in St. Louis. At that time Henry was in business for himself as an accountant. We had always called him Lee Yong Quong. That's what he called himself. But his name was Wong Shun. Lee Yong Quong was the name of his sponsor. Well, Henry had one heck of a time getting him back into this country. If he had come a few weeks before he had left it would have been no problem. Henry had to hire a customs lawyer.

TW: St. Louis is a port of entry, but apparently Lee Yong Quong had originally come in through San Francisco.

Mother: Lee Yong Quong said that his papers had been lost in the San Francisco earthquake, which caused a great many fires. It took along time to straighten out. Henry sweat blood because he didn't know whether he'd ever get paid or not. This lawyer had not been a personal friend, although they did become friends in the course of this long trial. After the trial this lawyer sent Henry a lot of business. Suddenly Henry had all the Chinese accounting business in St. Louis, all the little laundries and stuff. And this lawyer became a senator from Missouri.

 

Copyright 2008 Tony White