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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: June 3, 2020

Grandpa's House

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

Peshtigo is a place of memories for me, and when headed through I sometimes detour slightly out of my way to drive down Noquebay Avenue, past the little house that once belonged to my paternal grandparents.

Grandpa lived there alone after grandma passed on, and so I think of it as Grandpa's house.

It's a different color now, and the windows have been replaced, but it doesn't seem to have been structurally altered. Two little bedrooms, a tiny kitchen with a pantry that was covered with a hanging curtain, a bathroom, a small living room and a dining room. The front porch had no railings " something you never see now, because safety is more of a priority. Since there was no railing, my siblings and I delighted in jumping off the porch repeatedly. (Why? Because we were kids, and because we could!)

In the basement, besides a workbench and a wringer wash machine was a toilet, out in the open. I know of some other old houses that have a "necessary" in the basement. I was fascinated by the lack of privacy.

The garage is 50 yards or so behind the house, and the garage door opens onto the alley. This is also something you never see anymore, there are no alleys in subdivisions. Back then, all trash pickup occurred back there, not in front of houses.

Flooring was "linoleum" with flowery patterns, with a heavily-sculpted carpet in the living room. In the dining room was a unique piece of furniture - a chair with an attached small table and shelf on the left side alongside the chair " designed specifically for talking on the big black rotary telephone that sat on the table. Imagine the charm of having a specific place to sit when you conversed. Now we talk on the phone wherever we happen to be. My sister and I thought this phone "desk" was the height of sophistication and elegance, and loved sitting there "pretending" to talk on the phone.

In the living room, the green nylon couch had one deeply saggy cushion where Grandpa always sat. I never once saw him sit on any of the other upholstered furniture in the room. Within easy reach was his ashtray, a gold-finished metal stand with a much-larger-than necessary flat surface on top inset with a glass dish for the ashtray. This floor-stand style ashtray was a standard household item then. It would seem overkill for the purpose, but maybe it was a style statement. It's another thing you never see anymore.

When Grandma was alive we were sometimes invited over for her trademark dish "chop suey." It featured canned vegetables, including lots of bean sprouts; small pieces of veal and beef; bead molasses and immense quantities of black and shimmering soy sauce on white rice. (Extra soy sauce was offered at the table; believe me, it was not needed.) My siblings and I considered this "oriental food" to be exotic and absolutely loved the over-the-top salty taste. My mother gave me this recipe and I need to make it sometime but I'll immediately halve the amount of soy sauce called for. On some occasions dessert was fruit pie, and we loved to tease Grandpa as he ladled brown gravy over his piece. That was his French Canadian ancestry coming out, and "poutine," brown gravy over french fries, is still common in Canada.

I consider myself fortunate to be able to drive by Grandpa's house, and I also cruise by my maternal grandparent's even tinier house in the small town of Monroe when I am there. I am of the last Thibodeau generation who will remember the little Peshtigo dwelling as "grandpa's house," since my own children have no memories of either of these places. It is, therefore, now on my list of things to do to take pictures of these homes, noting the addresses, for my children. Someday they might want to drive by, too.

And I wonder what my granddaughter will remember about her "Wisco" grandparent's house someday. I know now that when my son in Oklahoma mentions her grandparents in Wisconsin, she says "My "Wisco" grandma and grandpa have snow that is hard to walk in." A charming memory from my favorite toddler.

I am sure all of you are as horrified as I am about the death of a man in police custody in Minneapolis. It's a sad story, but unfortunately, much like school shootings, it just keeps happening over and over again. By chance, I was reading a relevant non-fiction book when this event occurred " and I'd highly recommend it for some insight. It's called "So you want to talk about race" and it is a New York Times bestseller. It will give you new perspective and insight, and is also likely to make you darn uncomfortable, as it did me.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.


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