Monthly Archives: April 2014

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. 


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”. 


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.