Christmas 1956

Everyday until Christmas, I am going to try to post a picture from a past family Christmas. 

This was our Christmas in 1956.  Picture on left is my brother, Ronnie, with Santa.  He is about a year and half old.  I love his face, he looks so happy seeing Santa.  Some kids at that age are afraid of  him.  You can see some of his toys.  This is one of the first pictures I have of Christmas in our first house.  We moved there in 1953, yet I could find no photos of Christmas 1953, 54, or 55.  The tree is behind my brother, and I can see cards taped up around the door.  On the right is me playing the accordion for Santa.  I was nine years old at that time.  The accordion was my Christmas present the year before.  I took lessons for three years and gave it up when my teacher kept me on a song that I hated until I played it perfectly.  I seemed to be stuck there and bulked at taking anymore lessons.  My father was upset with me.  No one ever suggested changing teachers.  I remember the accordion cost $500 at that time, and it must have been a lot of money for my parents.  That’s is probably why my father was upset with me.  I quit lessons and  he sold the accordion.  I didn’t want him to sell it because I would have played for my own enjoyment, or maybe a few years later I would be ready to try again with another teacher.   A few years later my father bought an organ, and I was able to transfer my knowledge of music and the accordion over to the organ.  I  never took lessons on the organ but can play it because of those accordion lessons.  Behind me is a built in shadow box .  My mother used that spray snow and stencils all over the house, and it looks like she put some on the mirror of the shadow box.  

Copyright © 2019 Gail Grunst

Colorful Brother Harry

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Harry and his mother Alice

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Week 30: Colorful
“It seems that in every family tree, there’s at least one person who is a bit larger than life, someone who bold and different… “colorful.” Colorful could also be taken to describe someone artistic. How about an ancestor with a colorful name?”

The most colorful character in our family is not an ancestor; it is my husband’s brother Harry.  The first time I met Harry was at a family dinner at my future mother-in-law’s house. Harry sat across the table from me and was feeling no pain.  He winked at me all through dinner.  After dinner my future husband said to me, “Well, now you have met Brother Harry!”  Harry was 19 years older than my husband.  He never married, lived at home with his mother, and he never learned to drive a car.  We never learned the reason he did not drive.  One time his mother offered to buy him a car if he would learn to drive.  Her motive was so that he could drive her to the grocery store and other places, but he still refused.  He got around by walking places, public transportation, family, and friends.  He worked for Valspar Paint Company.  When Harry was off work, he would sit around in his PJ’s all day.  I think back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s it was more of odd thing to do than today.  Today I see people wearing their PJ bottoms to the grocery store.  My husband tells a story of bringing a friend home and there was Harry sitting on the sofa in his pajama’s watching Pinky Lee.  If you’re too young to remember Pinky Lee click the link to see Pinky Lee.  He painted the house, cut the lawn, and did other things around the house.  Harry liked to have a good time, and he would imbibe from time to time.  He played basketball, bowled, and roller skated quite well. When Harry turned 50 he decided that he had enough of working and quit.  He never did get another job.  It was around this time that he started going to little league games.  He bought a kids plastic batting helmet and would wear it to the little league games.  We would all laugh at the thought of him sitting there at the little league games wearing a kids plastic batting helmet. 

When our son was six months old we took a trip to Northern Wisconsin with Harry and his mother to visit my mother-in-law’s brother and his family, and to attend a 25th wedding anniversary party.  On the way there, we stopped at a gas station and Harry bought an orange soda.  After he drank it down, he went to the restroom.  When he came out of the restroom he yelled across the parking lot, “Hey Mom that orange soda really made me have to pee.”  My mother-in-law was sitting in the car and saying, “Oh Harry stop! Harry just stop it!”  After the 25th wedding anniversary party, we got back to the motel late and somehow Harry and his mother got locked out of their room.  They had to wake up the motel owner to let them in.  We agreed to meet outside at 9AM the next morning to leave for home.  At 7:30AM there was a knock on our door.  When we answered it, there was Harry and his mother with their suitcases ready to leave.  They couldn’t go back to their room because they left the key in the room and were locked out again.  We had to let them in and wait in our motel room as we got ready.  My mother-in-law said to Harry, “I told you it was too early.” Nothing like having your mother-in-law and brother-in-law in a small motel room as you are trying to get dressed.  On the way home, I asked my husband to find some place to stop and eat.  I needed to feed the baby, and I was also hungry.  Harry did not want to stop and said, “I don’t think he needs to eat. I heard a dog can go all day without eating.”  I replied, “He is a baby, not a dog.”  Of course we did stop despite Harry’s objection. 

Whatever Harry bought or had it was the best.  If he bought a shirt, he would say, “Look at this shirt, isn’t this the best shirt you ever saw. Guess how much I paid for it?”

One time he tarred the foundation on their house.  Not sure why he did this, but he did.  And as if that was not bad enough, he had some tar left over and without asking permission tarred the neighbor’s house while she was out.  Then he could not understand why she was mad at him.

When we were first married we lived in an apartment for a year and then moved to a house.  After six years in that house we moved to another house.  Harry saw some friends of ours and told them that we were gypsies because we were always moving.  They got a big laugh out of it, and after that we were known as the gypsies. 

He was always moving his money around to different banks to get free gifts.  At one bank it said the gift was in lieu of interest for six months.  When Harry didn’t get interest on his savings account he went back to the bank and asked why.  They showed him where it said, “in lieu of”.  He showed us the disclaimer and said, “I didn’t know what that Hawaiian word meant.” 

You may think by this description that Harry was kind of lazy or dumb but that really was not the case.  Harry served in WWII decoding the enemy’s radio transmissions.  Harry could be as sharp as Harry wanted to be.  Sometimes I think he lacked common sense. 

My mother-in-law fell and broke her hip while Harry was out.  She had surgery to repair the hip and about a week after the surgery she had a stroke.  She remained in a nursing home for the next three years, and Harry remained in the house.  She died in February 1981 and left the house to Harry in her will.  Six months later in August 1981 Harry died while cutting the grass. 

We were amazed at all the people that came to Harry’s funeral.  He was well liked and had hundreds of friends.  Even his mailman came to wake.  Everyone spoke of Harry with love and laughter.  Harry would have liked his funeral.  I picture him there talking, laughing, eating, and having a good time. 

I hope no one takes this story as poking fun at Harry.  That is not my intention.  Harry was colorful, eccentric, had a big heart and we loved him dearly.

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

Honoring Ancestor’s who died too young: Hugo Kaiser

Hugo (year unknown)

A few weeks ago I wrote about Genevieve Bowers who died at age 20 of appendicitis.  A lot of people seemed to relate to this story.  This got me to thinking about other ancestors who died at a young age.  Of course they are not direct line ancestors as most of these people died before they had a chance to marry and have children.

Today I decided to write about my grandfather’s brother.

Hugo Emil Kaiser was born on January 26, 1899 in Chicago, Illinois to Wilhelmina Springer and Rudolf Kaiser.   Hugo died on April 11, 1919 of Influenza during the third wave of the Influenza epidemic.  His secondary condition causing death was Bronchial Pneumonia.  More people died during this epidemic which started in 1918 than died in World War I.  Hugo was working in a cigar factory at the time he contacted the Influenza.  Once again a young person struck down by an illness before he had a chance to live his life.  One wonders what his life might have been like or how his life would have influenced other lives had he lived.  I knew my Grandmother’s brother and sister.  What would it have been like to know my grandfather’s only brother?  Would he have married and had children and what would they be like?  Maybe he would have stayed single and been a bachelor uncle.  Who knows what he might have done.  What was his personality like?  Was he like my Grandfather?  My Grandfather never talked about him.  All I ever knew was that Grandpa had a brother who died when he was young.  That was where the story started and ended.  No information was given about Hugo.  Maybe it was too painful for Grandpa to talk about.  I can only imagine how his parents grieved at the loss of a son so young.  They probably thought about what might have been.  How very very sad for them and Grandpa too.  Hugo is buried in Eden Cemetery in Schiller Park, Illinois alongside his mother, father, and brother.

Grandpa and Hugo around 1918

If you would like to learn more about the Influenza epidemic of 1918/1919 go to: