Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wausau, WI - Middle School in the Midwest

727 McIndoe Street: Dinon's Wausau home
(Present day: Google Maps Street View)
(click here to read previous story:

It was the Spring of 1942 when the Boyer family moved 1,200 miles from Nahant, MA to Wausau, WI.  My grandfather, Dinon, was 10 years old at the time, and lived with his family in a huge white house on McIndoe Street.  He shared a bedroom with his 5-year-old brother, Daryll, and was down the hall from his parents and baby sister, Glenda; and up on the third floor was his bread-baking and arthritic Grandma Henness.

My grandfather lived in Wausau until 1946, and in those Wausau years he started Boy Scouts, got Scarlet Fever, attended middle school, and worked his first job.

The Wausau Junior Hi building was in the heart of the city and Dinon had to walk from his outlying house to the school, and it was on the way that he met his first job. 

"This widow lady, her husband had collected stamps, and sometimes she would give me some from his collection," Dinon said.  "But normally, for instance, in the winter, I would shovel her sidewalk, and then on the way home I’d shovel her drive if it needed it ... I only remember just having the one place to do it.  This woman was about half-way to school, and so I’d get up early enough to shovel it if needed."

And once he got to school, Dinon, fresh from Massachusetts, became a kind of celebrity to his classmates.

"At that time, the kids wanted me to talk, about anything, because I had a Boston accent and they’d never heard that," Dinon said.  "You stop and think of that time, and there wasn't a lot of movement of people, so accents were very very real and very interesting to people.  So, my classmates would engage me in conversation as much as possible just to hear the accent."

My grandfather never ran short of conversation partners, especially when this interest was combined with his deaf classmates.

"They would want to practice speaking or reading lips," Dinon said.  "Some of them had lost their hearing after they had learned to talk, and so, therefore, they could read lips or would speak, because they were learning to how to read lips and use sign language. I never did learn how to do it, myself."

Young studious Dinon
He did have classes between conversations - classes that no present-day middle school student will take.

“The Junior Hi had, really, a very good Industrial Arts department," he said.  "For instance, they had one session where we took tin cans and learned to solder and cut it.  So, we made a cookie cutter and a scoop, and my mother had them for years."

Depending on the semester, my grandfather - between the ages of 10 and 15! - learned the basics of electricity, woodworking, reading blueprints, and welding.  WELDING.

"I remember I was able to get the hang of the oxyacetelyn welding," he said, "but I had an awful time with arc welding, because you had this stick and I would start using it and it would get stuck, so ... I really had a tough time with arc welding, but I had a really good bead on oxyacetelyn welding, because I could really control that, and I enjoyed that."

There are still items in our family from his Industrial Arts education, including a magazine rack that was given to my father, Todd, and the beloved family Chinese Checkers board that I grew up playing on (and losing miserably to my grandfather).

However, one of the bummers of his Wausau days was getting Scarlet Fever, not once, but twice.

“You’re only supposed to get it once and then be immune, but I had it in the 7th grade and the 9th grade," he said.  "The first time, the quarantine ran so that I didn't have to go back to school.  The second time, there were two weeks of school left, and I had to make up all the work I missed."

The quarantine, especially in a house with two other young children, was no small thing.  For six weeks he was confined to his bedroom and only his mother came in and out.

"Mother had a metal pan about ten inches in diameter, and it had a disinfectant in it, and every time she left the room she had to get down there and wash her hands in it," he said.  "And she was the only one allowed in the room, so if I saw anybody it was out through the window.  So, it was a very boring time."

Young Dinon posing with his favorite toys
It didn't help that he couldn't even have the comfort of his favorite toys, for fear of contagion.

"You had to burn everything that you might've used: if you were reading, the books had to be destroyed.  I made some model airplanes at that time, and they all had to be destroyed," Dinon said.  "I think those were probably the only two things I had, the books to read and making model airplanes, and it just had to go, that’s all there is to it.  I mean, that was pretty disappointing, to say the least, but I had a lot of time – what else was I gonna do?  I didn't want anything to do with my stamp collection, because I knew it’d have to be destroyed."

It was even harder when he got it in the 9th grade (his last year in Junior Hi, according to Dinon), since he knew exactly what he was in for.

"I don’t know how I got it a second time, but I did," he said.  "When the doc said I had it the second time, well, I knew I was going to have to burn everything.  Very disappointing."

As he  scrambled to make up his school work, he looked forward to high school.

"We only lived a block-and-a-half away from the Senior Hi building ... and then we moved.  Ha – I remember that so well," my grandfather chuckled, staring at the living room wallpaper and through the years.

It was 1946.  My grandfather was 15 years old, and his family was moving one last time, this time an hour's drive south to Wisconsin Rapids.

(Next story: Wisconsin Rapids)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Wausau, WI - The McIndoe House

(click here to read previous story: From Nahant to Wausau)

In the Spring of 1942, just a few short months after Pearl Harbor, my 10-year-old grandfather and his family moved 1,200 miles from Nahant, MA to Wausau, WI.

His parents, my great-grandparents Ralph and Babe, had taken on a lot more responsibility in the 12 years since their 1930 marriage.  Not only did they now have three young children, they had also recently taken in Babe's elderly widowed mother.

“My grandfather [Earl] fell from the corn crib and broke several ribs (I can’t remember if anything else was broken), and he lingered for quite a while and then finally died," said my grandfather Dinon.  "I was probably seven or eight years old when he died ... And after  that we had the funeral, and they had an auction and they sold everything in the farm [in Illinois] and the farm itself ... Then Grandma Henness came to live with us after that."

In her old age, Grandma Henness had developed rheumatoid arthritis and the knuckles of her hands were swollen and painful.  But she did what she could to help out around the house, especially in the kitchen.

“She was the one who would bake the bread, almost every day.  And I took it on myself to get her to forget to take the bread out of the oven because I liked the crust nice and dark brown (and she liked it light brown)," Dinon said, chuckling.  "So I would try and do everything I could to get her attention away from the bread for a while so that it would get darker.  I don’t think we ever burned it, but sometimes I’d get my way and it would be cooked a little longer.  I enjoyed that, let me tell you."

727 McIndoe Street, Wausau, WI
(Present day: Google Maps Street View)
Initially, the Boyer family rented a home in Wausau, just east of the Wisconsin River and near the train station.  Shortly after their arrival, Ralph purchased a house for the family just a block-and-a-half away.

"Now that was some house in Wausau," my grandfather said.

The house, 727 McIndoe (MACK-in-doe), was a big white house three stories tall.  Its face was ornamented by two big bushes and four huge pillars, and it came with a four-car garage.  It even had a back stairway and a perfect patch of dirt for my grandfather to play war games with his toy planes and a few firecrackers.

Babe and Ralph (and infant Glenda) stayed in the second-story bedroom at the front of the house, which included a small balcony over the porch; Dinon and his brother Darryl shared a second-story room at the east corner of the back of the house; and Grandma Henness had the third floor (minus the storage space) all to herself, including a bathroom.

“She liked being up on the third floor," Dinon said.  “I can’t remember when Grandma died, but she lived with us for a long long time.”

The house was so big that it even had a room just for the kids and their toys.

"I remember there was one room designated as the playroom, and I had a Lionel train set that I played with," Dinon said.  "It had a big loop, two switches, and a smaller loop inside.  And I would play with the blocks, and make tunnels and different things."

A photo of my young grandfather and his toys,
including the blocks his Grandpa Henness made
The blocks he played with had been handmade years ago by his Grandpa Earl Henness for Babe (Dinon's mother), the only child in her family.  Earl also made a large toy box for Babe, and both the box and the blocks were passed down to her firstborn, my grandfather.  Today, that box is sitting against the wall of his family room, and inside are the same wooden blocks from this photo.  Though still sturdy, they are chipped, dented and stained by four generations of children's play.

Since there was a playroom for the boys, Dinon and Darryl's bedroom was small and practical.

"We had a bed on each wall and an aisle in between," Dinon said.  "We did have a bureau, which we had to share, so each of us had a small drawer at the top on each side, and one big drawer, so we didn't have a lot of clothes.  In the summertime, that wasn't so bad.”

And the boys were responsible for keeping their room tidy.

“When I was a kid, I always made my bed before I went down for breakfast, it was just part of the routine.  And you didn't waste any time, particularly in the winter, getting dressed," said Dinon.  "My parents believed that you needed fresh air when you slept, therefore the storm window was always raised four to six inches.  And if it snowed, you might have a little skiff of snow right on the window ledge.  So, I’ll tell ya, when you got up in the morning, you wasted no time, you got dressed and got your bed made and got of your room and into something warm.”

The Boyer family lived in the McIndoe house until 1946, and my grandfather's middle school years played out in Wausau, including his first job, deaf classmates, and two rounds of scarlet fever.


Wednesday, May 01, 2013

From Nahant to Wausau

(click here to read previous story: Nahant, MA - Wartime)

On the first day of 1942, my great-grandfather, Ralph Boyer, was living in Nahant, MA with his two young sons and pregnant wife, Babe.  Three weeks before, Pearl Harbor had been bombed and the United States had declared war.  By the spring of 1942, Ralph had accepted a new job at a paper mill in Wausau, Wisconsin, and the Boyer family prepared to move again.  In comparison, Ralph and Babe's previous 100-mile move from western to eastern Massachusetts was small change: from Massachusetts to Wisconsin, the Boyer family had a 1,200 mile move to make, this time with two kids (maybe three, depending on baby Glenda's birthday) under the age of eleven.

A map of the Boyer family's 1,200 mile move
To make matters worse, their ten-year-old son, my grandfather Dinon, came down with the mumps just before the big move.  The timing was terrible: Ralph was soon due at his new job, their Nahant home was probably already leased or sold, and Dinon had a painful sickness that required him to be quarantined for several days.

“As a result, my mother had to find a neighbor to take this sick little kid – because I was really sick – and nurse me and be quarantined," my grandfather said.  "Now, at that time, quarantine was a very big thing.  You had this great big sign that was stapled to your front door to warn people that you were quarantined in there for something … it might've been mumps, it might've been measles, or scarlet fever, y’know, there were a number of different things you had to be quarantined for."

My grandfather posing with his toys.  He was
careful to never play with his favorites when
sick because then, to protect against contag-
ion, they would have to be burned.
I'm not sure who, but my great-grandparents found a generous soul to care for Dinon, and they made the move to Wisconsin, leaving their sick son 1,200 miles back in Massachusetts.  The next problem, after he got well, was how to get an unchaperoned ten-year-old boy from Nahant to Wausau.

"My parents are in Wisconsin and I’m in Massachusetts!  No airplanes!  So, what they did, they put me on the sleeper train in Boston.  I had a numbered berth, and I thought it was great,"  Dinon said.  "All this time riding the train, I thought it was great, I mean, here I am, a ten-year-old and no supervision and I could (theoretically) do what I want to do.  Ha, there wasn't much to do except watch the scenery or talk to some of the passengers.  And I remember just before I got sick in Nahant, my mother, who is a Super Cook, she burned a banana pie, and so I talked about the burnt banana pie to some of the people I met on the train, that was the big thing.  But I enjoyed the trip, I really did."

"I had supper in the dining car with some celebrity, and I don’t remember who it was now, but he was well-known at the time and I knew who he was. He was traveling by train, which was the way to go, he didn't have a car.  So we had supper together and enjoyed each other’s company."

Cute kid, isn't he?  In this photo, his appearance
favors my father and my younger brother
Poor Babe - that celebrity probably heard all about that one banana pie she burned.

After dinner with the celebrity and a night in the sleeper car, the train arrived in Chicago in the morning.  And, in the process of switching trains, my young grandfather got impatient.

"I had this big heavy overcoat on and my suitcase, I mean, I was loaded down.  And the conductor is checking everybody’s ticket, and I thought that was dumb, why’s he checking?  So I slipped by him, I didn't have him check my ticket ... well, that was a bad decision," Dinon said.  "I met the traveler’s aide man at the station right there at the train, and then we went into the station, and then he looked at my tickets, and he said, ‘Well, where’s your pass to the next train station?’ because I didn't get my pass at the train station in Chicago, so of course I didn't have one!  So he had to make all kinds of telephone calls to get it ok'ed to let me transfer from one train station to the other.  And then he arranged it, and they put me on the 'Hiawatha', which was, at that time was a part of a number of trains that were named.   If you were going to San Francisco, why, there’s ‘The City of San Francisco’, but the 'Hiawatha' went from Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul and went through Wausau."

In the end, he made it to Wausau on the 'Hiawatha' train, and the little Boyer family was whole again, beginning a new chapter of their lives in the American Midwest.

Nahant, MA