Wooden Shoe Rd. – Part One: The Early Years With My Good Friends The Erdmann’s

erdmann farm Erdmanns dawn and jim

 

Growing up we lived on Wooden Shoe Rd.  Twice.  The next few blogs will be written in parts because there is just too much to write about.   Back then living out in the country as a kid you really had to have an imagination.  Most of my time was spent over at my best friend Kenny Erdmann’s house.  The Erdmann’s had a small hobby farm and there was always something going on over there.  Mrs. Erdmann was a stay at home mom and a hobby farmer’s wife at the same time.  Because Mr. Erdmann worked full time as an electrician for American Can she had to do many of the daily farm chores.   She had a pretty loyal “egg customer” base and if she wasn’t out in the barn or doing housework, she was at the kitchen counter cleaning and packaging eggs.   As I look back, I realize how strong of a woman she actually had to be.  With half the neighborhood kids over at the house, she also had to keep an eye on us making sure we weren’t getting into trouble.   “KENNY!  You kids get out of that barn!”  She must have hollered  those words from the kitchen window 20 times a day.  “Get out of the barn?”……..  I would say to Kenny.  But that was where all the fun was!  Up in the hayloft or in the chicken coop harassing the chickens,  trying not to get chased by “Rooty the Rooster” who was as tall as we were and scared us to death.   I was an instigator and could often convince everyone to pretty much do anything.  A lot of which got us into trouble.   It was easy to get bored, so the imagination was always running wild.  I was that kid who was always saying,” ask your mom if we can…….”.   I think I ate supper and slept over at that house more times than my own.  And it was only because, I would say, “Kenny, ask your mom if I can eat over”.  It wasn’t because they were having anything special or anything that I loved to eat.  It was because it was FUN to eat supper over there and to watch how it all “went down”.  Undoubtedly, at some point Mr. Erdmann would have enough of all the horsing around at the table and would “whisper yell”………. “somebody get me that stick”!  And there was….. “a stick” and somebody (usually Mrs. Erdmann) would get up from the table to go get it.  Then, there it would sit, leaning up against the table, while nobody said a word (and I would be trying not to laugh).  This was a farm family and “the rod” DID NOT, get spared…….. something missing in today’s world.  You have heard the term speak softly and carry a big stick?  That was Mr. Erdmann.  He was a quiet man and “whisper yelled”.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  The more mad he got, the louder he “whisper yelled”.    He was yelling, but it came out kind of like a whisper.

Most often during the day,  the disciplining came under the hand of Mrs. Erdmann.   I remember one particular day when it was raining outside and so we were all in the house.  Kenny did something, I don’t remember what it was, but all of a sudden here comes Mrs. Erdmann running towards him (he was gonna “get it” and he knew it) and out the door they both went.  It was pouring rain outside and there was Kenny in his stocking feet being chased down Wooden Shoe Rd. by his mom.  I don’t remember which one of them gave up the chase.  One way or the other, I’m sure Kenny lost.

When I would say, “Kenny, ask your mom if I can sleep over”, it was usually a Friday night because that meant “The Dukes of Hazzard” along with all of us sitting two feet from the t.v. making a mess of the bowl of popcorn (with a pound of butter on it). Back then, there was one t.v. and three channels……. besides the “dumb channel 38”.  Mr. and Mrs. Erdmann were gracious enough to let us have the t.v for “The Dukes”.  Probably because it kept us quiet.  Most of the time they would be sitting right there watching with us.  After “The Dukes” it was “Dallas” and that was when we usually went upstairs, or back outside if it was summer.

Without fail, whenever fall comes around I think of the times we spent riding in the corn picking wagon.  There were quite a few acres of field corn that had to be picked and I remember we couldn’t wait for Mr. Erdmann to get home from work and fire up the Farmall tractor and the corn picker.  He would try to be quiet and sneaky about it, but we always heard the tractor start and would come running.  He would always let us ride in the wagon.  It was just good old fashioned……fun.  I’m pretty sure at one point or another, every kid in the neighborhood rode in that wagon.

This particular blog was a really small “snapshot” of these early years spent with my friends The Erdmann’s on Wooden Shoe Rd.  There is so much more to share and remember.  When I look back, it was such a short but special time of my life, spent with some very special people.  Life has taken us in different directions, as it often does.  But, I can honestly say that there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think about that period of my life and the time spent with the Erdmann family.  They are the type of friends that after not talking for years can pick up like it was yesterday.  I often drive down Wooden Shoe Rd. and reminisce about those days.  Sometimes I find a place to park and just walk down the road.  I did that just yesterday, as I was putting this story together.  The pictures posted here are of the Erdmann home as it sits today.  The house has had some updates, but the barn and the front yard pretty much look the same.   The other picture is of Jim and Dawn Erdmann that I copied from a facebook post a few years ago.   They looked great, and it just…. made me happy.     

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The Bus Driver

school bus

The other day I saw one of the kids that used to be on my route when I was a bus driver.  Yup, I was a school bus driver.  I didn’t recognize him, but he said “Hey, you used to be my bus driver!”  I was glad he recognized me, since I look nothing like I did back in those days. 

I may have mentioned this before in random facebook posts, but when I was a kid, I was intrigued with school busses and wanted to drive one.  In fact, I was quite convinced by the age of 9 or 10 that I could.  So, when I graduated from high school, I went out to the bus garage and told them I wanted to be a bus driver.  They knew me since I was in kindergarten and so, no questions asked they sent me home with some videos, told me to watch them and then come back and I could start my training.  I was so excited, I’m pretty sure I went home, watched them all and came back the very next day.  Back in “those days”, you didn’t need a CDL, just a school bus license and it was relatively easy to get.  One of the mechanics took me out for my first training session.  I even got to pick the bus that I wanted to drive!  I knew the fleet well and there were a few that I liked, but I picked #206.  I had ridden on that bus many times throughout my school days and had watched every move the bus driver made.  I knew it was fast and it sounded cool.  The busses back in those days were gas, not diesel and they were standard 4 speeds (with an additional low gear for climbing hills)……..and they sounded cool……. like a truck with a glass pack exhaust system.  So, after the “pre-check” inspection, on the road we went.  We went around the big country block, stopping at the railroad crossings, making “mock” pick-ups with the lights flashing, etc.  After one trip around the block, the mechanic looked at me and laughed, saying, “you know what you’re doing, I got work to do, you’re on your own.  “Come out anytime and practice.”  I was in heaven.  I really was.  I came out EVERY day and practiced, driving wherever I wanted and for as long as I wanted.  When I was ready I went to the DMV and took my written and road test.  When I pulled out of the DMV parking lot for my road test with the bus, I swung too wide and almost ran into one of the islands.  I had to back up and do it over.  The instructor told me to settle down and try again.  I was EXCITED!!…… like a kid who forgot to take his “meds”.  But, I did finally settle down and passed with flying colors.

When school started I was ready to go.  I would drive my route in the morning, then go to work at the funeral home until noon or so and then drive my route in the afternoon.  You know the scene in the beginning of the movie “Sixteen Candles”?  The one where the kids are on the school bus?  If you don’t…..YouTube it.  That was pretty much my bus.  I wasn’t the nerdy bus driver, but the kids in that scene were pretty much how the kids on my bus acted.  I was safe….but easy.  Hell, I was 18!  Some of the kids that rode on my bus were my friends!  *Disclaimer:  At no time was anybody in danger (there, got that covered).  Anybody, who rode my bus, knows what I mean.  I was the bus driver everybody wanted.  If you went to Shattuck Jr. High School and rode the bus, you remember how it went.  You got on the bus at Shattuck and then went across town to Neenah High School and you either transferred to another bus or stayed on the same one.  Well, it got to the point where my bus got overloaded at Shattuck because some of the kids were jumping on my bus instead of their own, knowing they could catch their transfer bus at the high school.  So, I literally had to start checking names as the kids got on. 

There were quite a few veteran bus drivers that I worked with and while I usually don’t like to mention names, I have to mention Lorna DeBroux.  Lorna knew me since I started riding the bus as a little kid.  She was the driver on my fateful first day of kindergarten, where I screamed, cried and kicked my mom because I didn’t want to get on the bus.  I remember Lorna looking in the rear view bus mirror, with her bee hive hairdo and her 1960’s “cat glasses” telling my mom, “Just put him in the seat and walk off, I’ll shut the door and there won’t be anything he can do about it”!  Okay, back to my story……Well, every once in a while Lorna’s bus would get behind my bus and she would see kids horsing around, standing up, whatever.  She would get on the two way radio and say, “206 YOU MAKE THOSE KIDS SET DOWN! (set, not sit).  Lorna had “poetic justice” on the radio, meaning she could pretty much say what she wanted to whomever she wanted if she caught you doing something wrong……..and you had better listen. 

I was a good driver,  I just didn’t have much discipline when it came to the kids, since I was still a kid myself.  There was only one time that I had an accident.  There were no kids on the bus.  I had actually given out a “ticket” (a disciplinary notice) to a kid and I was in a hurry because I had to bring it back to Shattuck and give it to the principal.  I cut a corner too close jumping the curb and scraped the side of the bus on a telephone pole.  Oh, and I think I broke a window or two.  My punishment was that I got “my” bus taken away from me and had to drive the “junker” #197.  This was no punishment at all!  I loved #197! (but of course I didn’t tell them that). This was the oldest bus on the fleet. It was an old 1960’s International.   It was rough driving and looking and the kids didn’t like it because it smelled, but what bus didn’t?  I had to drive it for a couple of weeks before I got my bus back.   While my bus was being fixed, I bought a new radio for it with a cassette player and asked if it could be put in.  There were a few busses that had cassette player radios (otherwise it was a.m. only) and as long as the driver bought it, they would put it in. Back then it was Metallica all the way for me.  The little kids thought the music was weird, but the high school kids loved it. 

Well, needless to say, bus driving today is a lot different and a lot more strict.  This is a good thing.  I gave up my bus driving career to pursue funeral directing, but I always said, one day I will be back in the bus driving seat.  That time may not be too far off.  I wonder if I can get #206 back?   

bus jacket - back bus jacket - front

The Linden Tree

If you have never smelled the fragrance of a Linden tree, then I encourage you to stop out at W5123 Natures Way Dr. in Sherwood (Forrest Run Pet Cemetery) sometime within the next couple of weeks. You will find five of them in full bloom.  I usually take some time on a hot summer day to lay on my back underneath one of them and listen to the humming of the pollinating  bees inside them.  The flowers in the Linden trees that the bees are pollinating have one of the most intoxicating, pleasant and peaceful fragrances you will ever experience.  I promise.  Of course I might be a little biased.

Fragrances have a way of bringing back memories.  Hopefully, most of them pleasant, like Grandma’s kitchen or Grandpa’s garage. The fragrance of the Linden tree while in full bloom, will always bring me back to July 1, 2005.  That was the day I bought my house in Sherwood, right next to the Pet Cemetery where all the Linden trees were in full bloom.  It was a time of mixed emotions for me.  I had just left my very secure job at Laemmrich Funeral Home in Menasha the day before,  on June 30th.  I had spent 11 years of my life there, the last 8 as the General Manager.  Anybody that knows me, knows that this is considered a long time!  The new company that bought the funeral home told me I had to sell Forrest Run because it was a conflict of interest.   I told them to go fly a kite and out the door I went….. to “fly my own kite”.

July 1, 2005 was a Friday, so needless to say, it was the 4th of July all weekend.  I remember sitting in my new house that night watching some dumb movie, listening to the fireworks booming, and……… smelling the fragrance of the Linden trees.  The smell brought me a sense of comfort and security at the beginning of a new stage of life for me.  Here I was in this little community called Sherwood that I really knew nothing about except that it had High Cliff State Park and the Pet Cemetery I had bought.  I now lived on “the other side of the lake”.  The side of the lake that I used to look at when I was a kid, fishing with my brother by the Lighthouse at Riverside Park in Neenah, wondering what and where those “Mountains” were.  I felt like I was on the other side of the world rather than just the lake.  Away from everything that had become familiar for me.   Fear? Check.  Excitement?  Check.  A little loneliness?  Check. Vodka? Check. Dog? Check.  I had just quit my job and bought my first house!   Who does that?  Most people GET a job and buy a house!  I did have a part time job secured at Wichmann Funeral Home, but I was taking the summer to do some things at Forrest Run and not starting at the funeral home until fall.   I figured the money I made there working part time would pay my mortgage and I would figure out where the rest of the money would come from.  Talk about a leap of faith for someone who doesn’t have much of it!

As I look back now, I realize that it might have been just……. a little crazy?  But with a little luck and hard, but enjoyable work, it all worked out. Sherwood is a great community, and a great place to call home.  My kite is still flying high since July 1, 2005.  Right in between the Linden trees.

The Hairpiece

 

First of all, it’s called a “Hair System” and those that know me well (and some that don’t know me that well) know that I had one for quite a few years.  I started thinning on top when I got into my late twenties and it really bothered me.  When I was a kid I had a really full, thick head of hair. But I had a nervous habit of twisting it into knots and then pulling it out. I would later find out that this is called trichotillomania. Although back in the seventies, it was called, “PAT, DAMMIT, QUIT TWISTING YOUR HAIR!”.  I didn’t always pull it out, sometimes I left the knots in. Then  Mom or dad or Grandpa Fahrenkrug would take me in to see Nick the Barber to which he would always say in his Greek accent, “Whadya got gum in your hair?” Needless to say, I think this is why my hair starting thinning.   So, I think I was about 27 or 28 when I  went and got a hair loss consultation and a couple of weeks later, I had a FULL head of hair again! 

Having a full head of hair made me feel really good.  I always said it is no different than getting cosmetic surgery, but this was easy and there was no pain or botox involved.   All those infomercials about hair replacement systems??  They are absolutely true.  You CAN go swimming, drive in the convertible with the top down, wash your hair every day, etc.  There are A LOT of people running around with these “systems” and you would never know it.  Of course I…….. could spot one a mile away.  It should not be a surprise to anyone that I was EXTREMELY self conscious about my hair system and how it looked.  My stylists who all became great friends, knew how fussy I was and they also knew that there was probably an 85% chance that I was going to be coming back the morning after I got a new “fitting” because I couldn’t style it like they did.  I often joked about hiring them to come to my house every morning to do my hair.

Even though I liked my hair system, there were a couple of things that didn’t always go well.   For those that don’t know (which is probably most) what happens is you go in about every two weeks to get your system revitalized which is why you always have two.  When you go in they take the soon to be revitalized one off and put the newly revitalized one on.  The top of your head is shaved completely bald, but the hair on the back and sides of your head stays and just gets trimmed up, like a regular haircut.  The goal is to have your real hair blend in with the hair system on top. It actually works really well as long as you can get the color to match. The system is glued to your scalp with a type of cosmetic adhesive.  In my case, I also needed some tape because the glue didn’t always stick around the edges.   As I got closer to my two week appointment, sometimes the edges would start to lift up.  Now……. not an issue, as long as I didn’t go for that convertible ride without a hat on.  I will never forget one of the days before I was due for my appointment.  It was an extremely windy day….I mean, brutally windy……. and I was at a cemetery for a burial.  I was seriously concerned that the “flaps” (edges) were going to be lifting and of course I couldn’t wear a hat.  I was the funeral director.  Besides it was about 95 degrees.  Well, everything worked out fine and my hair didn’t fly away with the wind.  But, on the way to the car after the burial was over, the Priest said to me, “Boy it sure was windy, I wonder what somebody with a hairpiece would have done…….. it probably would have flown away”.  Then he looked at me and kind of smiled………I couldn’t believe it!  He knew!  All I could do was laugh and say, “Yeah, that might have been kind of funny”.

There was also another day I will never forget, and the reason I had the idea for this blog:

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was out Sturgeon spearing with my friend. This was back when you could sit all morning, from sun up till sun down.   They were always long days, but we had a lot of fun.  We probably missed a lot of Sturgeon swimming through because of all the goofing around we did.   Well, it was getting close to the end of the day and I was getting bored.   My friend was standing up and I was sitting on a chair and so just for the hell of it, I wound up and pretended like I was going to give him a huge Charlie Horse.  A “two for flinchin” kind of thing.  Now, might I mention…….. the next day I had an appointment at the hair system place.  My hair system was loose.  Very loose.  In fact, I was debating whether or not I could even go in to the funeral home in the morning without a hat on.  If we had anything going on,  I was kind of screwed.  So, needless to say, sitting in the Sturgeon shack, I had a baseball cap on.    Well, as soon as my friend realized he was going to get a Charlie Horse from me, he grabbed my hat and pulled it off my head making like he was going to throw it into the Sturgeon hole.  It took him (and me) about a half of a second to realize that more than my hat came off my head.  There I sat, looking like a clown (cause of the two puffs of hair on each side of my head) with no hat and no hair!  If I would have had a camera to take a picture of the look on my friend’s face…….I think I might have had to frame it.  Although it is etched in my memory forever. He did know I had a hair system and knew how it worked, so that was good, otherwise I don’t know what would have happened  All he could do was say, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, and I was laughing so hard I almost died.  I said, “Give it back to me so I can put it back on!”  So he handed it over, kind of treating it like it was a dead animal.  I put it back on the best I knew how and said, “How does this look”?  All he could do was shake his head.  So, I re-positioned it.  “How about this”?  Still shaking his head.  “Nope”, he said.  I said, “Hmmm.  Well, okay”.  So, I threw it in my backpack and put my hat back on.  We finished out the day with no fish, but a great story.  A story that I have told a few times to select people.  I’m not sure if my friend ever shared it or not, but my guess is that he probably did.  How could you not?  It is a classic.  Oh and by the way, I still have my Hair System somewhere I think.  Image

Easter, Eggs, and Cool Whip Containers

Easter was a lot like Christmas in our family.  Not in the way of presents, but in the way of church and the family get togethers.  I forget the “cutoff” age in which we were no longer “forced” to go to church for the Saturday Night Vigil, but it was probably right after confirmation.  If I was a parent, I would have gladly let my kids stay home from the three hour ordeal.   “How much longer”?…….”shhhhh”………  “when can we go home”……..”quiet now”, and watch what you are doing with that candle!”  Actually, the lighting of the candles that we all got to hold, was my favorite part.  It was something different, and the church was dark.  “The Mass is now ended go in peace”…..I remember how I would amplify, “THANKS BE TO GOD”……and pretty much run out of church.  

Grandma Fahrenkrug liked to go to church on Easter morning, so I do remember a few times going then.  I remember one year when Grandpa Fahrenkrug went too…..which was a rarity.  He was kind of like Archie Bunker when it came to church.  He would say, “they always say the same thing over and over”.  Well, the year I remember him going, we went to St. Gabe’s.  We took their car, a 1974 Buick LeSabre which was in mint condition (dad drove).  Grandpa left after communion because he needed a cigarette (and most likely had gas).  When church was over, we came walking out and there was grandpa sitting in the passenger seat of the car with the door open, smoking his cigarette.  Normal enough, except for the fact that he was sitting in the wrong car.  Of course my brother Pete and I were the ones that caught it right away and ran over laughing our asses off…..”Grandpa, you’re sitting in the wrong car”!  “Huh…….well……..what the hell”, he said.   We still laugh at that story.  Then there was the year we had reservations to go to The Valley Inn for brunch.  We picked grandpa up after church, but when we got to the Valley Inn, grandpa realized he forgot his teeth.  Even though the house was only a few blocks away, we didn’t go back and get them.  By that time in his life grandpa was moving pretty slow, so it would have cut into the eating time.  The only thing he could eat was eggs.  Going to the Valley Inn was a special occasion and the food was really good, so he was pretty upset that he could only eat eggs.  Grandma would always make sure and bring that story up every year at Easter.  It is another classic.    

Grandpa and Grandma Van’s was pretty much the same on Easter Sunday as it was on Christmas Eve. The Little Red House on Green Bay Rd was packed so full, the walls of the house would move in and out like it was breathing.   It was always the same tradition.  We would get there and goof around for a while, then all of a sudden grandpa would look out the window and say…..”Whup, here he comes, all you kids better get in the back room now, the Easter Bunny is here”.  Grandma and all the other adults….. “C’mon now hurry up or he won’t leave nuthin”!  There were so many of us and the house so small, they daren’t hide the baskets ahead of time because they would all be found.  We all got to grandma and grandpa’s at different times (church ya know), so we always had to wait until everyone was there.  It was organized chaos at its best.   To the back room we went…..and waited……..what seemed like forever.    When we finally got the go ahead, the organized chaos became unorganized and it was everyone for themselves.  Then there were the hints…….”There aren’t any in the basement!”  (the basement usually had a few inches of water in it in the spring).  “There aren’t any outside either”!  (it was usually raining from what I can remember).   I often wonder what the kids today would say if their Easter Basket was a cool whip container with a colored pipe cleaner for a handle.  They were homemade, just the way we loved them and just the way grandpa and grandma made most things for us.  Those cool whip bowl Easter Baskets are now treasured memories.   While there are many more Easter classics to tell, you’ll have to wait until next year to hear some more.  Can’t spoil it by telling them all in one setting.   Happy Easter.  Have fun making memories!

   

 

Coffee Time U.S.A.

April 11 is an anniversary of sorts for me.  The year was 1997 and it was the day I began my tenure as a funeral home manager.  It was also the day that the oldest family owned funeral home in the Fox Valley, established in 1852, was no longer family owned.  There is quite the story of how this all came to be, but I am not going to go into those details today.  Suffice it to say, it was a day of mixed emotions for everyone.  For me, it was mostly excitement, but not without some sadness.  I remember walking with Dick Laemmrich to his car.  He was spent. Tired.  Before he got in, he said to me with tears in his eyes, “Pat, take care of my people”.  It was a moment I will never forget. 

I had worked with Dick a little over two years and had been there long enough to know how special the place and the community of Menasha was.  I was lucky enough to be born into a family with a pretty recognizable name in the Fox Valley and Dick liked that.  That is part of the reason he hired me.  The day I showed up for my interview, Dick wasn’t there.  Something came up at the last minute.  “Tell that Fahrenkrug kid he’s hired”!, he said as he ran out the door.  I can’t tell you how many times people would ask me if I was related to Franklin Fahrenkrug who was a police officer in Menasha back in the mid 1900’s. “He gave me my driving test” they would say.  ” All I had to do was drive around the block!”  Multiple people gave me the same story.  I would also get asked if I was related to the ones that owned the bait and tackle shop down on the end of First St. “Yup”, I would always say. “All of the Fahrenkrug’s are related” (because we are). I never offered up that even though we were related, I was actually born and raised in Neenah.  I think that might have been a deal breaker.  Image

    

Without fail 10:00 a.m. was coffee break time.  “Coffee Time USA”.  If we had a funeral, it was usually down in the cafeteria at St. Mary’s school where Margaret Wolf would always be in the kitchen smoking a cigarette.  For me, it was history lesson time.  You never knew what stories were going to come up, nor who was going to be stopping by.  One person who was a fixture at coffee time was Joe Magalski “Maggie”.  Joe was a retired fireman, who was born and raised in Menasha.  He was also our hearse driver.  Joe had a great sense of humor and was the epitome of a true, blue, Polish guy.  One day the phone rang, while we were having coffee and Joe wasn’t there.  The phone sat way over in the corner so you always had to get up to answer it.   Mary Ellen our secretary (who always sat about six inches off the chair) jumped up and ran over to get it.  On the other end was a man:  “My 350 pound brother in law just died and he’s on the third floor of our house”.  Mary Ellen: “Just a minute, let me get a pencil”.  Man (actually Joe) on the phone:  “Pencil?, what the hell ya gonna do with a pencil, he weighs 350 pounds!” Mary Ellen:  “Oh Joe”!….followed by a room full of laughter. Every funeral home needs a Joe Magalski. 

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I laugh at Mary Ellen sitting six inches off the chair, but that is truly how she was. A hard working lady who was raised on a farm, she always had a lot of energy and was always busy doing something.  If she was too far away from the phone when it rang, she literally would run like Edith Bunker running through the house, making sure to get it by the end of the second ring.  Dick Laemmrich would get mad if the phone rang more than twice.  Quite often I would come in and Mary Ellen would be walking laps around the inside of the funeral home to get exercise.  Either that, or to get rid of some nervous energy.  Mary Ellen held that place together in more ways than one. There was no joking about that.  Every funeral home needs a Mary Ellen. 

The other part of the gang was “Nubs”.  He coined the term, “Coffee Time USA”.  If you were from Menasha, chances are pretty good that you knew Nubs.  If you didn’t know him, you knew someone in his family.  He had 12 brothers and sisters, all born and raised in Menasha. They were the classic Menasha family.  Polish, Catholic, Kindhearted, Hardworking and Devoted. Nubs wasn’t a licensed funeral director, but he might as well have been. In fact, a lot of the funeral directors previous to me would get angry because Nubs got to work most of the funerals while they had to stay back and cut the lawn.  They couldn’t understand why.  I figured it out right away.  Nubs was Menasha.  Nubs was “Laemmrichs”. In 1998 I got invited to go to a ranch in Montana and I asked Nubs to go with me.  The ranch was owned by Jerry Brown who owned the Wilbert Vault Company franchise. The first full day we were there we went horseback riding.  Nubs at 64 years old had never been on a horse before. While he was sitting on his horse waiting for the rest of us to get saddled up, the horse took off at a full run.  Nubs hung on for dear life, all the time yelling, “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa”.  He ended up falling off and breaking his clavicle.  So, off to the hospital in Billings we went (about an hour drive). Before we knew what was going on with him, I was extremely worried and felt very guilty.  Even though a broken clavicle is not fun, I was relieved that it wasn’t something life threatening.  Falling off a horse at 64 years old is very serious. It was hard to enjoy the rest of the trip after I went back to the ranch. Nubs stayed in the hospital and after he was stable enough, he was flown home.  I just wanted to get home and make sure he was alright. But Nubs was tough.  He is still going strong at 80 years old.  Even though he wasn’t licensed, he taught me a lot about funeral service.  Every funeral home needs a “Nubs”. 

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I drive through Menasha often. In fact, I get bored with the same route so I will take detours.  I will drive by a house and remember being there after a death.  Maybe I have been there two or three times for the same family.  All different kinds of situations.  Expected and long awaited deaths, unexpected ones.  All kinds.  Some are emblazoned in my memory forever.  My route often takes me by what used to be Linsdau Florist.  Linsdau Florist was a Menasha icon, just like the funeral home.  The owners were the three Linsdau sisters, Corrine, “Gerty” and Helen. Corrine and Gerty never married and lived in the old family homestead across the street from the flower shop.  Helen married and lived right next door.  Whenever you called the shop you would hear them fighting or hollering at each other in the background.  Same thing if you walked in the door, except you had the pleasure of seeing it, instead of hearing it.  It was comical.  It was “normal”.  I remember going over to Gerty and Corrine’s house one day for something and there they both sat in the living room, each of them watching their own t.v.  One t.v. was louder than the next.  I enjoyed talking to them whenever I had the opportunity.  It was cheap entertainment.  All three of them are dead now.  But they left their impression as the memory of them lives on.   

I have managed to maintain a lot of the connections that I made in my years at Laemmrich’s. Dick Laemmrich and Joe Magalski died quite a few years ago, but Mary Ellen, Nubs, myself and other friends from those days still get together for breakfast and talk about the old times.   I also sing in the St. Mary’s/St. Johns choir, not because I am religious, but because of the friendships and the memories that I have there.  90% of the funerals we had were at St. Mary’s or St. John’s.

The funeral home is still there. But there is now another name that overshadows the five generations before it. I once made funeral arrangements at Laemmrich’s with a gentleman who claimed to be clairvoyant.  He told me there was a lot of energy in the building and that he “saw” quite a few people. I’m not one to believe in that kind of thing, but he told me some things that made me believe him.  I would like to have him walk through the building with me today.  I’m sure the energy is still there and he would “see” many people. This time, I’m sure I would know many of them.     

 

Five Minutes With Troup

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(This is not a photo of Troup

Yesterday, I stopped for a “sales call” at a veterinary clinic that I don’t exclusively service.  I wanted to drop off some of our new brochures and talk with the Dr.’s if possible.  I pulled into the parking lot at the same time as another vehicle.  I could see he had a dog in the car, so I waited for just a minute because I didn’t want to barge in ahead of this person.  He’s the client, not me.  Back in “The Old Days” I would have probably been in a hurry and ran in ahead.  But…..I have time now.  I watched as the man opened up the back hatch of his car and helped his dog out.  A beautifully colored Rottweiler.  I could see the dog was struggling.  He was weak in the back legs and muscle atrophy had taken most of his back end.  I immediately jumped out in case the man needed a hand.  I followed him in without saying a word, but was there if he needed.   As they were heading in he said, “Cmon Troup, hurry up before you run out of gas”.  It was then that I knew.  This was their last trip together.    I stepped ahead and opened the door for them.   When we got inside the receptionist greeted them warmly and said it would be just a minute.  I stayed back, not wanting to get in the way.  Nor did I want to talk to the receptionist about pet cremation services, or even say who I was.  I just told her, “I’ll wait”.   Wanting to give them their space, I stayed a comfortable distance away from the man and “Troup”.  But, all of a sudden Troup turned around, looked at me and with all the strength he could muster, walked over.  His tail was wagging and his tongue hanging out as he panted away.  He leaned up against me as I pet him and scratched him between his ears.   Then the man said softly, “Yup, this is our last trip to the vet……… but we’re okay with it, we know it’s time.”  I told him that I was sorry to hear that and that he is a beautiful dog.  Then they were called in.  I gave “Troup” one last pet and look in the eye, and watched them walk away.   This all happened within the course of about 5 minutes.  But it still has a lasting impression on me as I write about it this morning.  I suspect it will have an impression on me for a long time.  In fact, I will probably always remember it.  There was something about those five minutes with “Troup”.  I wasn’t there as the person who you come to after your pet has died.  I was just there.  I don’t even know if I was there for anyone other than “Troup”.  Or maybe in a strange way, he was there for me.  Silently teaching me one of life’s lessons.  Either way, I’m glad I was there.