Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Peek Into the Past, Pt 2

Howard Funk Tess, about 1925

This is a short excerpt from my grandmother's autobiography. The events described happened in 1925 and 1926 in the village of Troy, Wisconsin. Some of the popular movies from those years included The Gold Rush, Ben Hur, The Freshman, and Son of the Sheik.

"Howard and I were married rather suddenly. He had asked me to marry him many times, but I always put him off... Mother liked Howard, and thought because he was eight years older than I was he would be able to take care of me.... In the end we set February 28, 1925 as a wedding date.

Our wedding was very small, just Howard’s dad and stepmother, and Mother and DuRell (her half brother). We were married at Milwaukee at the home of the Congregational minister, who held services in East Troy. He wasn’t ordained yet, and had another older minister at his side to pronounce us man and wife. Howard loved to tell people we had been married by a school teacher, which Mr. Powell was, while studying for the ministry. We went to Chicago on our honeymoon, where we were invited to stay with Howard’s half-brother, Dave Thompson. Dave was head of WLS radio, and had arranged for us to go to the station and watch a broadcast. It probably would seem laughable now, just a small room with a man talking into a microphone and another man on the sidelines prompting him. Dave also bought tickets for us to see a stage play and a musical. It was our first experience with that sort of entertainment. I loved it; Howard said he preferred a movie.

Back in East Troy we set up housekeeping in a small three room apartment, tacked onto the side of Howard’s parents’ home. It was a good thing it was small because we had very little money to buy furniture and live. It was winter time and Howard wasn’t working, so we only had his small savings to live on. Mother had given us a big old cast iron cooking stove for a wedding gift, and that served not only for cooking but as a heater for all our rooms. We burned coal in it. What furniture we had was bought on time. We didn’t have a bathroom, but then I didn’t have one in Troy either so I didn’t consider that a real hardship. Howard’s folks had a nice new bathroom on the side of their house and we were given the privilege of using it, though we preferred not to...

The spring after were were married, Howard got a mason job, working on the big church at Holy Hill. We moved up there for a summer. We had a nice house, near the church, very secluded in beautiful hilly country. We enjoyed that summer. For the first time we were completely alone. Out little apartment in East Troy was far from private. My step-mother-in-law insisted that we keep the connecting door between our apartment open at all times and was insulted when we closed it. It didn’t make for a relaxed atmosphere. Sadie also enjoyed ill health. She was overjoyed to have a strong young daughter-in-law to help with cleaning, washing, ironing, and often nursing. Howard’s father, Charles Tess, was a semi-invalid, with a bad heart. When he took to his bed, Sadie often followed...

Considering all this, our home that next summer at Holy Hill was a great pleasure... It was wonderful being by ourselves, and I enjoyed cleaning and making the house comfortable, On Sundays we toured the beautiful countryside on our Model T Ford looking for perfect places to unpack our picnic lunches. Saturday nights Howard was apt to invite some of his friends to play cards. Mother and DuRell came out different times... Our house was nestled between the hills and those hill were covered with hickory nut trees. When DuRell came out we would pick bushels of hickory nuts and spread them out to dry on the empty bedroom floor. The next winter we ate hickory nut cake and hickory nut fudge for every occasion.

Another memory I have of that summer was when we went to Hartland one night to see a movie. The manager interrupted the program to tell us that Rudolph Valentino was dead. Everyone in the movie cried out in disbelief and when we left most of the audience was crying loudly, disrupting the picture. He was the biggest movie star of his time."

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