Friday, November 9, 2007

November 11, 1918


Howard Funk Tess, about 1913

One of the interesting things for me in rereading my grandmother’s story is being able to research the places she mentions on the internet. I’ve had great fun looking for old photos of places like the Blatz Hotel and Riverside High School (which opened in 1906), though I failed to find a photo of the celebration of the end of the war in downtown Milwaukee. In this part of her story she tells what the end of World War I was like for her. I couldn’t find any pictures of Grandma at this time, but I had one of her future husband, my grandfather, in his World War I uniform. He was an MP in France, though I never heard him say a word about his war experiences, other than the trip over made him very, very seasick.

“My school year was drawing to a close and there were changes ahead for all of us. Mother quit her job at the home for unwed mothers, and now was managing a rooming house on lower Broadway that catered to light housekeeping couples. I helped her at work and I baby-sat for Durell. Her was eighteen months and into everything. It was wonderful to be together again, but our style of living hit an all-time low. The old brick building was one in a block of row houses, with only a brick wall separating them. There were no windows except in the front and back walls. It was so dark that the rooms and halls had to be lit with gas lights, even on the brightest days. The place was furnished with an assortment of old and broken down pieces from a secondhand store. Our rooms were in back on the alley, a small kitchen and even smaller living room and a bedroom. I slept on the couch; Mother and Durell had the bedroom. There was only one bathroom in the whole house; six families shared it. . .

We saw more of father. He came for dinner every other Sunday. We ate in our kitchen that smelled of gas, even the food tasted of gas.

In the fall I entered Riverside High School (later called East Division High School), a long streetcar ride from our downtown Milwaukee address. I don’t know why they decided to send me there. As far as I was concerned, one school was just like another. . .

World War I had been going on through all our upheavals, but as I look back it had surprising little effect on our lives. Father went for a short time to a training camp at Great Lakes, but received a deferral and was back in school. We had no one close to us in the service, so we were wrapped up in our struggle to survive. Although the war seemed far away, it was a happy day on November 18, (1918) when we learned that the war was over. School let out at noon, and most of us headed for downtown Milwaukee, where everyone seemed to have gone crazy. Complete strangers were hugging and kissing. Sirens were shrilling and cars honking, a noisy tribute to victory. The air was full of confetti and balloons. Grand Avenue, now Wisconsin Avenue, was a seething shouting mass of humanity. No traffic could penetrate the river of bodies that stretched for blocks. All the stores were closed and most windows boarded up to prevent breakage or looting. My fun ended suddenly when someone threw a tin of talcum powder at me. Most of it went into my eyes. I was temporarily blinded and the pain was terrific. I was taken home where I lay for two days with compresses on my eyes. The swelling finally went down and I could see. That is my most vivid memory of the triumphant end of World War I.”