Brief notes on the trip, state by state, with sights, places, and photographs.
Every route takes longer than planned on a road trip, at least in our experience. On our across-Wisconsin day we were a bit behind schedule, but we were trying very hard to get to Milwaukee, WI at a reasonable hour (i.e. daylight, not dusk) on this Sunday afternoon. Always on some form of schedule, we knew that it would be our only chance to visit Milwaukee. So we hopped on the interstate (knowingly violating our rule and found ourselves in Milwaukee in the late evening. Luckily, the day was still golden and sunny.
My grandmother grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and has always spoke of it fondly. I have seen pictures of her house and the views of Lake Michigan. While my grandmother loves being a New Yorker, she holds Milwaukee as one of the best places in the world. I love looking at photographs of her family house, so I thought that finally being in Wisconsin offered a great chance to see the house for myself. I knew the address and how to get there. My plan was to knock on the front door and politely say my grandmother grew up here, would you mind if I took some pictures of the front of the house and looked in the backyard for the view?
The woman who answered the door obliged, but didn’t say much else. I figured that would be the end of it – I’d take a few pictures and leave. As I snapped a few photographs of the front yard, a man walked out from the backyard. We said hello. Charles was very friendly and cordial and asked who my grandmother was. When I told him her maiden name, he said he knew the family! This man, a stranger to me and most of my family, knows some of my grandmother’s family! He invited Vinny and me into the backyard to take some photographs while he went inside to get something. As fate would have it, Charles’ grandfather was the husband of my great-aunt Mary (my grandmother’s sister). Mary died when she was young, so then her widower remarried. Charles is the grandson of Mary’s widower. Charles bought it only a few years ago. Thus, we’re distantly related. But, still related! I’m not sure of the exact chain-of-title for the house, but it was obviously kept in the family.
Aside from this surprise, the box of photographs and scrapbooks astounded me. He had photographs that I have, ones that I’ve seen, many that I haven’t seen. Mary was the scrapbooker in the family and kept everything. When she died, her husband saved it all and passed it along. We looked through the photographs and I identified pictures of my grandmother, my father, my uncle, my great-grandmother. Charles shared stories of my great-aunt that I never knew. It was amazing. Charles didn’t know many people in the photographs, but said that he couldn’t get rid of any of them because someone knows who they are. It is now one of my favorite quotes.
The house looks just as it did in photographs from about 50 years ago. Charles said he had fixed a few things and added a fresh coat of paint, but most of his work went to the beautiful deck and the outdoor living room next to it. Once the room is complete he wants to hang historic pictures of the house and of those who lived there.
I never expected such a meeting at my grandmother’s childhood home. It was surreal to meet a complete stranger who has a distant relation and so many photographs that I have. I’m so glad to have met the person who loves the house like a true family member. It is one of my favorite stories.
My grandmother’s childhood home in Milwaukee, WI.
The modern view of Lake Michigan. The grass covers an underground water storage tank. It used to that Lake Michigan came all the way to the cliff behind her house.