Category Archives: Sheboygan

About and from Sheboygan, Wis.

A Thanksgiving Serving of Stories

Along with the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy this Thanksgiving, we’ll have a generous serving of family stories. Many of those stories revolve around food, just as the old kitchen table (not a TV tray) was the hub for family roundups and daily debriefings.

My Dad, Mike, (he married my mother, a widow, when I was 19) grew up in a big family of 12 children raised by immigrant parents, including a strong-willed, persevering Croatian woman everyone knew and loved as “Grandma Ogee.”

In one of the charming family books prepared for reunions and remembrance, Mike remembered some of the “loaves and fishes” miracles a18e87749a0db9e048328226bdc9e1f3 mother had a way of creating for her struggling family.

“I remember when Ma would send the children to the meat market to ask for some bones for the dog (which we didn’t have). Invariably the butcher would put in some nice ‘bones’ with an ample amount of meat on them. From these she made delicious soup.”

He recalled that she always blessed the bread when she put it into the wood stove on large wooden paddle. And blessed it again when she cut the large, round delicious loaves into pieces for her family. She also had an “uncanny” way of making a whole pot of egg drop soup with only one egg, my Dad remembered.

So thankful was my Dad and all of his family for growing up in a home, not with a lot of meat, nor with a lot of eggs, but with so much love. These are the riches we pray for this Thanksgiving.

What family stories will you tell? Which ones will you make?

Sounds of the city pounding in my brain

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East Chicago Avenue at Michigan Avenue

Chicago, with 2.7 million people, pulses with activity every minute of the day. It breathes noise in and out — car and truck engines, horns, whistles, sirens, the mass undercurrent of outdoor cafe conversations, street corner musicians and herds of shoppers. Somewhere in the chaos, controlled by a grid of stops and starts, there’s a rhythm to the motion of people, autos and bikes you can’t quite identify.

Sitting in my car, at the light on Chicago Avenue crossing Michigan Avenue south of the Water Tower, men and women, mostly younger, a few with children in strollers, clutch their knapsacks and colorful shopping bags chatting non-stop as they flow across the intersection. Neiman-Marcus, Pottery Barn, Ralph Lauren, American Girl, the names stream by. My impatient vehicle partners rumble in their lanes, waiting for the light to change. At the curb, a man steadies the reins of his horse while riders wait for a ride in a red carriage.

With my radio on, I notice that all that is going on around me really does have a cadence, a tempo that makes sense. And it changes with a touch. Click. Sirius Pops. Verdi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons wraps a calm and beauty over the crowds. The cars are calmly waiting their assigned movement, and the crowds are cohesive, deliberate and moving toward a goal. I feel at peace. Click. Beach Boys. “I Get Around” reminds me this is summer and it’s a young world where cars are king and meant to go fast on city streets. The people are moving eagerly now, with a shove in their steps. Even the horse is skittish. I want to get going. Click to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” There’s a pounding going on, on the pavement, in the air, in shouted voices, and on my steering wheel. What a wild and crazy town. The sounds of the city pounding in my brain.

Jeff says there’s a vibe in the city he can feel. He’s right. It can be loud, rough and raw. Or soulful and human. Gentle. Majestic. Personal. Like music. And it’s coming from your radio, or your iPod.

Word of Caution: Very tired with a long drive ahead of you? STOP. Turn off the Spa station and go to Hair Nation for a safer, more invigorating ride. 

 

 

The Beatles. They held our hands and won our hearts.

Beatles records

Beatles records

I remember quite clearly, on a particular day in December 1963, hearing the muffled, unmistakable giggling coming from behind the postulants’ closed door. Something was going on, something new and exciting, perhaps forbidden, definitely appealing to these old girls who at 18 or 19 had already dedicated their lives to Christ.

But this day, the Beatles had won their hearts.

Behind that door, seemingly in secret, the postulants were listening to the Beatles’ new sensation, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” just as giddy and excited as millions of other girls across the nation. But this was Caroline Academy, and thoughts of boys and holding hands were off limits in lyrics as well as in daily life. Here, exposure to the latest contemporary music consisted of instrumentals like “Baby Elephant Walk” played while we roller-skated in the gym.

Closed doors couldn’t contain the new sound. The Beatles burst into our lives that day and their songs marked our journey for decades to come.

When I left the convent school to attend North High in Sheboygan, I used “Nowhere Man” as the hook for an editorial I wrote on school spirit. (Yes, I was a believer. Go Raiders!) I imagined myself a “Paperback Writer” in 1966. In 1968, Marquette University wasn’t immune to anti-war and open housing protests. Anthems like “Revolution” and 1969’s “Give Peace of Chance” had meaning. I remember walking down Wisconsin Avenue on Dec.1, 1969, hearing a recording of “You Say It’s Your Birthday” blaring from a window in McCormick Hall, mocking the first draft lottery held that day to determine which fellow students would be going off to fight in Vietnam.

The next year, when I was working in Indiana and my boyfriend John was in Milwaukee, “The Long and Winding Road” would be part of the soundtrack of our long-distance dating. “Instant Karma” was going to get us.

“I knew something had changed when I first heard the Beatles,” John says. On Sept, 4, 1964, he paid a reasonable $4.75 to hear them at the Milwaukee Arena. A year later, on Aug. 21, he saw them again at Comisky Park in Chicago. He bought a sleek Stratocaster® guitar, his hair grew past the required collar-length code of his high school, and he started a band whose members sang with British accents. He’s still writing and playing songs in that distinctive style.

Whether or not we knew something had changed when the Beatles came on the scene, our lives were changing in the ‘60s and ‘70s and we couldn’t “Help” it. You could hear the lyrics of their songs, you could immerse yourself in the beat, the fresh melody and harmony, and anticipate the bridge. The songs were new, some would become classic. And some would hold our hands and our hearts through our lives. I think you’ll understand.

More on this topic: Will we still need them in 2064?

Steel tableau tells a winter tale

These steely connected characters stand sentinel at the entrance to West Bend’s Regner Park. The life-size silhouettes were based on real local folks from all walks of life and flame cut from two-inch plate steel by the artist, the late David Genzler. This “Tableau in Steel” was the first in a collection of civic sculptures and was erected in 1992.
Changing seasons, shade and sunlight give the rust-color still life dimension and movement. When you walk around it, the people flatten and meld into each other, then, as you move, light suddenly pours through the spaces and the people seem to separate, the dog pulling away from its master, the farmer striding out to his field, the man with a briefcase breaking out of form.
Even the winter snow can’t freeze this metal band of citizens. At their feet, shadowy gray ribbons stream out across the snow, rushing to Main Street to tell everyone, “Here we are!”

Where Were You When JFK Was Shot?

If you are a Baby Boomer, someone born between 1946 and 1964, you were probably asked sometime in the past week, “Where were you when JFK was shot?” The answers spill out from the depositories of childhood memories, high school and college days we knew then. Then the flash back to that day, that November 22, 1963, after which our young lives would never be the same. Media journalists did their best to pin down the meaning of that still unfathomable day. America was never as innocent after that day, never as hopeful or naive, it’s true. We didn’t know it so well then, but we know now how our lives were forever marked by the tragic loss of our youthful and intelligent President Kennedy. 

I was sitting in a classroom in my all-girls high school. I was a sophomore and had just turned 16. Sometime around noon, the black-habited sister who was principal of the school burst open the door and quickly shouted, “President Kennedy and Governor Connally have been shot!” Then she was gone.

We must have gasped and been in a daze, wondering what had happened. Perhaps there was a following report over the room’s intercom, but I’m not sure. Then, about an hour later, the principal again flung open the door and cried, “He’s dead!” 

And that was how this classroom full of young and innocent Catholic girls, dressed in identical white blouses and blue vests, first heard the news and felt the impact. And then they cried and didn’t stop for three days, and the sisters who were our teachers were crying too and asking why, how could this have happened in this great land of ours.

I don’t remember crying because more than anything I was worried about what this horrible act would mean for our country, whose history and presidents I loved so much. Another assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln, had been my hero since I was in fourth grade and I remembered being driven round and round the great monument to that fallen President in Washington, DC, a little girl waving good by to a towering marble figure. Now I wondered whether “this nation” in 1963 would survive too, would have a government that would continue to be —or at least strive to be — of the people, and not perish from the earth. 

Then the human drama swept over us that weekend, murder on live TV as Oswald was shot in broad daylight, the wife alone in the rotunda of the Capitol, the little girl touching the casket, the little boy saluting his father as the casket rolled by in procession, drums tapping out a somber, mournful beat. We were riveted. At my school, we were allowed the rare privilege of TV at all hours to watch the history unfold. We sat in silence before a small set in the second-floor study hall and could hardly talk. 

Then, life went on as it had to. We were deep into the 1960s, and I had left the convent school and entered public high school in my small home town of Sheboygan. I went  to college and the world was changing faster and faster. Young people changing their minds changed their attire to beads and bellbottoms. I was drawn to civil rights protests, the politics of the Vietnam War, women’s rights as they were becoming known and my own personal journey in journalism and life.

There was optimism, there was hope and there was a future, of course, we believed. But there would always be that stain of November 22, 1963, when the JFK was shot and something else died, too. Still, remembering his words, we had to go on. We were young, after all. In 1969, Kennedy’s promise of sending a man to the moon was realized and it was a wonderful sign that, though he was gone, his vision and dreams could still be ours. 

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Our Little House

The house you grew up in is like a first love. You never forget it, and it always seems bigger and more exciting than it really was. But we loved our little house. It was where I waited in my grandmother’s arms, there in that center door, as my father brought my baby sister home in 1947. It was the first time my mother had seen the new house.Image 1

The upstairs window on the left? We had a playroom there with waxed linoleum floors we’d skate over and cubbyholes with sliding doors that became our play houses and stuffed animal lairs. We each had a child’s roll-top desk. I would play office and post my writings on the wall with thumb tacks.

On the right, in the picture, the driveway had a strip of grass down the middle. It still does. It was quite irritating to cut.

Eternal Reminders

The Slovenian words above the little chapel at Greendale Cemetery in Sheboygan are an annual topic for generations who gather there for Memorial Day mass. “Do you know what those words mean?” an elder will ask, pointing at the stone letters and repeating them in the dialect of his childhood. My dad Mike Ognacevic was one who asked and, after a pause, proudly translated: “What you are, we were. What we are, you shall be.” It seemed like the inhabitants were speaking gently to us from the grave.