Dear Ron, Jon and Jenna,
He saw the train and tried to duck it kicked first the gas and then the bucket … Burma Shave
In circa 1949, we were driving from Medford to Milwaukee; Dad, Mom, Baby Mary and I. Dad had a new dark grey Chevrolet Coupe Deluxe. I sat in the back seat, Mom held Mary on her lap and Dad was driving. Wrapped in wet newspaper next to me lay a large bouquet of colorful zinnias, that Dad had grown in his garden for just this trip. Zinnias were my Grandpa’s favorite flowers and we took some to him whenever we could.
When riding, I always entertained myself by reading road signs. My favorites were the small red ads planted along the side of the road, ending with Burma Shave. These signs are some of the happiest memories from my childhood.
It was an exciting but sad journey, as we were on our way to visit my Mother’s parents, in Milwaukee. Grandma and Grandpa Vasseau were my favorite people on all the earth! We were going to visit you see, because grandpa suffered from ALS (Lou Gehrig Disease) and we knew he didn’t have much longer to live.
Grandpa was a wonderful man, he was also very strict. As a baby, he was left on a doorstep and his adoptive parents were killed in an accident when he was just six years old. At six he was left to care for himself. He would beg and sleep behind kitchen stoves to survive. He was self educated, and used his children’s school books to teach himself geometry and trigonometry. As a result he lived a middle class lifestyle and he last worked for The Milwaukee Road as a conductor. I remember him as being of average height, with white hair, brilliant blue eyes. He always wore a white shirt and tie and had wire rimmed glasses.
Grandma on the other was average height, wonderfully plump and cuddly. She was a very outgoing, cheerful bundle of love. She was very dedicated to Grandpa and took wonderful care of him. She married Grandpa in the mid 1920’s taking his three children Ruth, Frances and Olive out of an orphanage, as his wife had died. My Mother, Elizabeth lived with her grandmother but visited her parents every day. Together, Grandma and Grandpa had three sons, John who recently passed away in Marquette, Michigan. Billy, who was accidently, shot at age 16 by his best friend. Baby Raphael, born with Spina Bifida living only to four months.
Every time we made this journey, Dad would stop at Al Lohmann’s Steak House in Germantown. We would share a huge porterhouse steak. I remember that it was so big it would come to the table with its edges dripping over the large hot iron platter it was served on. In my mind I can still hear the sizzle, smell its wonderful aroma and taste its delicious flavor.
On our last trip to their house Mom, Dad and Mary stayed the weekend and left me with Grandma and Grandpa for the summer. They were managing an apartment building in Shorewood a suburb of Milwaukee. All the tenants were Jewish families and one thing I did with my Grandmother was on Friday Evenings, the Sabbath, Grandma and I would go to all the apartments to light the cook stoves to heat up their dinner. The rest of the time I spent with my Grandpa in the living room. By this time he could no longer speak and eating had become very difficult for him. I would spoon feed him while Grandma would go clean the hallways.
A few months after I went back to Medford, Grandpa passed away. All these years later I still think of him often and miss him.
At that time I thought I was there to help them, but now realize I was left there to give them comfort and joy in their last days together.
I will write again, with stories of my childhood, so you maybe can get a glimpse of the past, as well as my life.
I love you all,