Interview by Robert C. Daniels
DiAnna (Reif) Mueller was interviewed at the Union-Congregational Church in Waupun on 14 March 2006 starting at 10:45 A.M. The interview lasted 59.11 minutes. At the time DiAnna was sixty-three years old and told of her time as a young child during the war. DiAnna was also very helpful in getting the initial word out to the local populace about these pending interviews, greatly contributing to the number of people who eventually agreed to be interviewed. For this the author is most very grateful. Mr. Jim Laird, of the Waupun Historical Societry, also attended and assisted with DiAnna’s interview.
What is your full name? Dianna Kay Mueller. It’s spelled D I capital A N N A K A Y M U E L L E R. My maiden name is Reif, R E I F.
R E I …? R E I F.
I know a lot of people born in the early twentieth century were not born in a hospital, but in a home. Where were you born and when? Home. 505 Maxon Street.
(Jim Laird): The house is still there? Yes, the house is still there. It used to be a duplex. It’s now remodeled into a one family.
That is in Waupun? Yes.
What was the date and year? September 22nd, 1943.
Who were your parents? Charles—we used to call him Chuck—and LaRone, which was L A capital R O N E; the reason for my spelling (DiAnna laughs).
What was her maiden name? Wachholz, W A C H H O L Z. Both were originally from Oshkosh.
W A C… H H O L Z, correct.
Okay. And they were both from Oshkosh? Yes.
Do you have any brothers or sisters? Yup. I have an older brother, Roger, and the younger brother, Peter.
Were they born in a home or were they born in a hospital? My eldest brother was actually born at home in Oshkosh, and my younger brother was born at the Beaver Dam Community Hospital.
And where did you go to school? I started out at South Ward, and when South Ward closed I went on to Lincoln School. No, I take that back. I went to Lincoln first and then I went to South Ward. I started out…, yeah, I started out in Lincoln School, then I went to South Ward. And then South Ward closed and, of course, I went to Washington then.
And where was South Ward located, the school? Oh, on Brown Street. It was on the north side of the prison.
About where the library is right now? Yeah, hmm hmm. Exactly.
What was it like for you growing up? It was probably typical of anyone. I mean, good family memories. Always doing things with family, even though our extended family did not live in Waupun, they lived in Oshkosh. But around here, you know, we had so many friends of my folks’ with young children, you know. Always good memories. I don’t know…, how detail do you want to get (she laughs)?
Going back to the World War II bit, I mean, like I said, I was born in ‘43, but I can so vividly remember the black-outs and how my parents, you know, would switch off all the lights. And they would usually take us kids to the basement. So, you know, that’s a very vivid memory for me, I mean….
Yeah, because you would only have been two years old! Yeah, it was, you know, scary, so.
But I still do remember the day the war ended, when the church bells rang, the whistles blew, and all of that. I can still hear that. I mean, it was scary to me, too, I guess. I know I couldn’t figure it out. And I remember mom and dad telling us, “Well, the war is over, the war is over.” And people went out on the streets and actually, you know, celebrated in the streets. I can remember we walked to the downtown area.
What did your father do for a living? My father worked at the prison. He began at the prison in 1938 as a guard. And he later went on to run the cannery and become head chef at the prison. But prior to that he was unable to serve in the service. His father died of tuberculosis, and apparently at some point in time he contracted tuberculosis, which was undetected. But his lungs were scarred, so in lieu of serving in the service he served in [a] CC (Civilian Conservation Corps) Camp. But um…, oh, I can’t remember how many years he was in there. That was prior to mom and dad getting married.
Do you know what camp he served in? He actually served up in Michigan.
Michigan? Hmm, hmm. Nadeau. Some place close to Nadeau, Michigan.
Did your mother work? No. No, my mother never worked. She was always a homemaker.
Some of these questions don’t pertain, like what were you doing in the 1939, 1941 timeframe? Now, I can remember the rationing, you know, with the gasoline and the sugar and that kind of stuff. I remember that because it was always a big topic of conversation when, you know, we were getting ready to go to Oshkosh or getting ready to leave. But because grandpa didn’t have a tractor, you know, he still got the rationing stamps. But in case, you know, we didn’t have enough gas stamps to be able to make it to Oshkosh, he used to send us gas stamps. And likewise with sugar.
I can remember mom and grandma, you know, coordinating their sugar ration stamps to make sure there was always enough. But, of course, I can remember that going on in the neighborhood as well. You know, neighbors just…, if somebody was short of sugar, flower, whatever, you know, they just shared. I can remember that quite well.
And, of course, stockings was another big thing. I can remember my mother and aunts, you know, boy, if they could get those silk stockings they were just in seventh heaven. And if something happened to ‘em they would sit for a long time and carefully mend those stockings. And then, of course, those were the days when, you know, you needed ‘em and you didn’t have ‘em (she laughs), so then they used to use like mascara or eye brow pencil to draw lines on the back of their legs.
You are the second to tell us that. Oh, yeah (DiAnna laughs)? Oh, I can remember that. They used to go out, you know, on Saturday nights. I can remember that (she continues to laugh).
(Jim Laird): In addition to that, they actually…, I remember a bottle of liquid that they’d shake it up, and it was dye, it was leg make-up. Oh, really?
(Jim Laird): And all the leg make-up did was reproduce silk stockings. Well, okay. And that’s coming back now, so we’re going full circle (she laughs).
So you graduated from high school? Yup, I graduated from high school in Waupun.
What high school was that? Waupun High School? Yeah, the old high school.
Okay, so that would be…?
(Jim Laird): The one on Fond du Lac street.
Yeah, the junior high school I went to, the middle school? Yeah.
And then you went to college? Nope. Nope. I took come classes for college credits, but I never went to college.
When did you graduate from high school, what year? 1961.
Who was your principal in high school? Do you remember? Erwin Pfefferkorn.
Now going back when you were talking about my childhood; well, I can remember, you know, talking about the Daniels, my parents talking about them. But they were good friends like with the Schleis, Bill and Jane Schlei. With the Bablers, Janette and Ed, you know. And, oh, let’s see who else. Petersons and…, oh, I am trying to think. But, Redmans…, he died in a motor accident. I’m suffering from Alzheimer (she jokes), Hazel and…, do you remember them?
No. Well, and there was also Ed and Ruth…. I should have taken my smart pills this morning (she laughs). Well, at any rate, the Redmans.
My dad…, my dad used to work two jobs. He used to work at the prison and then he used to help Roy Brooks in [the] shoe shop. He did that for years and years and years. He and Roy, they were very, very close. So, of course, they were fun for the family too.
But when these guys were gone off to war I can remember my dad, you know, a lot of times he’d go and he’d help the wives, you know, they’d need something done at their home or something. And I can remember very vividly Bill Schlei had contracted Malaria, and so he was hospitalized for a long, long period of time. But Jane had gotten a call, and it was during the middle of the night, and she called my folks to tell them that Bill was going to be getting into Milwaukee by train. And so we kids were roused and we went over—they lived on Bly Street—and we went to stay with her children while my dad drove Jane down to Milwaukee to meet the train that Bill came in on, so. And, of course, there was a lot of celebrating, you know, when he came home. But he lived with the effects of malaria all of his life, you know. He never really got over everything.
But, you know, it was always simple things that we did as family. They used to show movies out at the County Park in the old pavilion. I don’t know if you can remember that, standing out there? Yeah, Saturday nights there was always movies out there. And it was always picnic time, you know, cool aid, popcorn, maybe sandwiches, that sort of thing.
And I guess the other thing I remember, you know, the thing they always talked about after the stock market crash, “A chicken in every pot,” you know. And Sunday dinner for us, if we were home, was usually chicken. I remember that.
And I also remember my dad…. We lived over on Maxon Street, and the train tracks ran just to the west of the houses there in between Central State and the homes, and there used to be a lot of bums ride the train. And if the bums were on the train and if they came to the door, my mother always had strict orders to feed them, because my dad used to say, you know, “There but for the grace of God go I,” you know. Because he…, he always felt bad because he couldn’t serve in the Army. He put in his time in CC camp, but, you know, he wanted to do everything and anything he could to help the people. And after the war there were a lot of men came back and they were rather lost, you know, and they took to riding the rails. They had a hard time adjusting to civilian life. And I can remember…, my mom could never let them in the house, but we used to have a big front porch with steps and a rail around, and she used to make them a meal and take it out and give it to them on the front porch. And if dad was home…, I can remember dad always sitting out there and talking with them, and that kind of thing.
But did you have quite a few that came by? Yeah, because, I guess, as they used to say, it kind of got around.
I was always told…, I was born and raised in Sparta about a block from the train tracks, and we would have ‘em come by too. My father and mother always said—you could never find it—but “There’s a mark out there some place.” That they put some type of a mark someplace on the house or the yard so that other ones know that people are friendly and feed you. Yeah, I am sure, because, you know, there were always, you know, fellas that would stop. And I don’t remember them going into anybody else’s houses, really.
If I remember, they were not bad people, they were not like someone you were afraid of, and you didn’t feel like you needed to be afraid of them. Yeah. No, they weren’t scary to us. I mean, they weren’t scary in comparison to the inmates, you know. We were always given warning about the inmates, you know. “Don’t talk to the inmates,” you know, that kind of thing.
But, no, the bums we were never really scared of. But my dad didn’t want them in the house. He always made sure that, you know, mom fed ‘em outside. And I can remember, I mean, it was all types of weather. I can remember beautiful summer days when the bums would stop, and then there would be cold, cold winter days, you know. Mom would always warm up soup or something like that and take out to them and feed them. It was hard for us kids to understand why they couldn’t come into house in the winter time because it was so cold, you know.
Yeah, it was definitely different back then in those days. I mean, we had the radio, you know, but even the radio you only played it at certain times, you know. You didn’t have a radio like people do now. But on Sunday nights, Fibber Magee and Molly. I can remember sitting around the radio and listening to Fibber Magee and…, everything falling out of his closet, all that kind of stuff (she laughs).
Yeah, we were talking earlier about telephones, too. Yeah, and when we lived over on Maxon Street Cronigers lived across the street from us, and they were the first ones to have a phone in the neighborhood. And boy, that was really cool, you know, that they had a phone. We didn’t get a phone…, it would have been until 1951 when we moved on to Olmstead Street, and that was the first phone that we had. Cronigers got a phone, and then Yaches lived aside of us, and then they got a phone. But it was usually Basil and Katherine Croniger across the road that, you know, let us or let my folks use their phone, or bring messages to us.
Yeah, refrigerators, you didn’t have a refrigerator, you had an icebox. The ice truck used to come. Paul Moldenhauer over on Drummond Street used to have an icehouse. And, um…, in the summer time we kids couldn’t wait for the iceman to come because he’d usually, you know, chip us off blocks of ice, and it was really neat. That was a big treat for us. Or we’d stand on street corners and wait for the trucks hauling peas or corn, you know, and hope that we could grab some of the pea vines off the truck and have fresh peas (she laughs). Or pick up the cobs of corn that would roll off the truck when they came to a stop, you know. But, yeah.
Television; we didn’t have television until I was in fourth grade. So I would have been what? about ten years old. Prior to that there were friends, Booty and Phyllis Hendricks had television. Oh, we just thought that was so great. Well, I think Bill and Jane Schlei actually had television before we did, too. Black and white television. But in those days, you know, you still wanted colors so there used to be these vinyl sheets. Remember those? Pink and green and kind of blue clear or blue clearing, you know, that you put against the TV set. Oh, and then you thought you had color TV (she laughs).
(Jim Laird): And remember the…, when TV first came out the screens were like twelve inches, and you could buy a big magnifying glass to put it in front of the small screen so you’d have a bigger picture? See, maybe that’s why we waited, because ours was a fourteen-inch Focus. I can remember it (she laughs). And yeah, it was actually, you know, a piece of furniture. Ours wasn’t just a TV set, it was actually a piece of furniture.
I remember we had one—I think it was in the garage—it was like an old one, I remember it was a TV and a radio in one. It was like a big cupboard, it was a big fancy, hardwood, nice looking thing. No, ours wasn’t very big. It was a fourteen-inch screen, and actually very flimsy (she laughs).
When I was living in Sparta we only had two channels. And the antenna was fixed, and you had this little switch that if you switched from channel one to channel two, whatever, you had to switch the antenna too, it was this little toggle switch that you had to flip over. Uh-huh, yeah. I remember that too.
And then when we moved here in Waupun out in the country—I don’t remember in town, but out in the country—I guess they had a little motor on the antenna, and you had to actually physically switch it down here by the TV, and it actually turned the antenna so you could focus it in. Wow, wasn’t that something.
And then we only had…, I think there was only like three channels then. Now there are like millions of them. And there’s still nothing on. (We all Laugh.) Nothing worth watching.
(Jim Laird): Can I make a comment? You talked about your dad going to Milwaukee to get this man. As I understand that in this area, when I moved to town in ‘61, (Highway) 41 was four-laned, and that must have been one of the very, very first things that was four-laned. But you got to the outskirts of Milwaukee everything was through traffic. So when he went down he probably volunteered two and a half- to three- hour trip each way. Oh, I don’t know that.
(Jim Laird): Because you went through every town, and... Because as a child I don’t even remember (Highway) 41 being there. But, we used to go down through Slinger (Wisconsin).
(Jim Laird): Yeah, they called it…, it might have even been (Highway) 41, because they talked about old 41 and new 41. Again, when people watch this ten years from now they need to understand that the interstate was (President) Eisenhower and things afterwards, so then when you went anywhere, when you went to Madison you went diagonally across Beaver Dam, and it took forever. You went diagonally through Columbus (Wisconsin). So when he volunteered to make that trip he was volunteering a great amount of time to go down and do that. Yeah, because it was, it was the next morning, well into the next morning. I know we all got up and ate breakfast over at the Schlei’s house. And then, you know, it was after that when he got home. So yeah, it was a long trip. It would have had to have been.
I can remember one time we went to a wedding down in Milwaukee. And I don’t know what kind of old car my dad had, but we were on, well, it would have been old (Highway) 41 or whatever, but the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the snow. The snow was so heavy, you know. He’d drive just a short distance, and then he had to get out and clear the snow off of the windshield and, you know, back windows and stuff. And, quite truthfully, I don’t know how we ever made it home that night. I mean, there was a ton of snow that fell and it was really wet and heavy. I know he got stuck once, and he had to go and get a farmer to pull us out. But, I mean, that wasn’t unusual.
My grandparents, my mother’s folks, lived off of Highway 26 up by Oshkosh. And you turn off of (Highway) 26 to go to their place, and in the winter time you hardly ever made it down to their home without getting stuck. You would always have to have, you know, a farmer come and pull you out, or whatever. And sometimes you would be pulled out by horses. I mean, grandpa used to come and get us by a team of horses, so.
Those horses were just his pride and joy, and I can remember I was scared to death of ‘em (she smiles).
It’s phenomenal to me that—thinking back—it’s only forty years ago, forty, fifty years ago that horses were used on farms and stuff. It wasn’t that long ago. That’s, you know…, it was before my time, but it wasn’t that much before my time. Like ten years or so, maybe twenty. Ah, I am trying to think what year grandpa died. I think it was in ‘48. I was five years old when grandpa died. And then my uncle took over the farm. And it was…, it was at least two years before he got a tractor. And even then, I mean, the tractor that he got, you know, one of the first models, it wasn’t a very reliable tractor. He kept the horses for quite a while because you couldn’t really rely on the tractor.
But I can remember my aunts. Well, then, of course, when we go up in the weekend my dad always used to pitch in and help with farming too. But I had two unmarried aunts. Old maids we used to call them (she laughs), Gladys and Juileen, they used to work out in the fields. And I can…, my grandma, I mean, the work that my grandmother used to have to do, you know, compared to how I do work today, you know.
And, I guess…, oh, one of the fondest memories I got of grandma was always her apron, you know. She always had this apron and it was used for everything and anything, you know. In the summer time we used to go out and gather eggs, and she’d pull up the bottom of the apron and we gathered eggs in the apron. Same in the garden, you know. We’d go out to do the gardening, and up come the apron and grandma would carry all the goods in, you know, in her apron. And in the house, you know, it was a dish towel (she laughs). Sometimes they’d be used to wipe the kids’ noses, just everything and everything. Grandma’s aprons (she laughs). And she used to have a lot of ‘em. She used to sew them herself out of old feed sacks or whatnot. But that was always fun. I can always remember that.
But on the farm…, in town, you know, my earliest memories here in town, we had electricity over on Maxon Street, that wasn’t a problem. But out at the farm. I can remember they had electricity in the dining room and in the kitchen, but they did not have it in the living room or—there was one bedroom down stairs—or the upstairs. In fact, the upstairs…, oh man, it was in the late ‘50s before they ever made, you know, bedrooms upstairs. I mean, we used to sleep up there in the winter time, but it would just be bare rafters, you know. And they had the old china pot, and in the morning there would be frost in the pot (she laughs). And I used to hate that. But I hated the outdoor privy, too.
I would say it was actually [the] late ‘50s before they actually put a bathroom in that house, too, and, you know, put wiring in the whole thing, because at Christmas time they used to put the tree in the parlor and we had our meal and everything out in the dining room. It was a huge dining room, and we had our meal and stuff out there. But then after we had done eating everybody had to be really, really still. And they’d open these glass doors, you know, to go into the parlor. And then grandpa would light the candles on the Christmas tree. But once you were in the parlor you could not move. You had to sit, you know, very, very still. And you’d light the Christmas tree and you’d watch it for a few minutes, then he’d extinguish the candles and you marched out. But that was okay because then we usually went for a sleigh ride. We hitched the team of horses up to the sleigh and go for a sleigh ride, so we really didn’t miss that part.
But presents, presents were always distributed in the dining room, never in the living room by the tree, so. And to this day I have the little tin candle holders, you know, that were used on the tree, and I use them when I have Christmas. I clip them onto the plates and I put the candle in on the plates and, you know, everybody thinks that’s really special.
But what else can I remember?
(Jim Laird): Well, talk a little bit about cooking. Because, now, did you have electric stove, gas stove, or wood? Oh, out on the farm it was wood. In town here my mom and dad had a…, it was an old electric stove. It was just…, just a little tiny one. It wasn’t very big at all. And, I mean, the apartment that we lived in had three rooms. And…, there was my older brother and I in that apartment. My brother used to sleep on a cot that they used to bring out and put up in the living room at night. And then, of course, I was in the crib. I was in the crib until…, jeepers, till we moved to Olmstead Street, which would have been just before my [younger] brother was born in ‘51. So we were probably there until ‘50. I must have been seven years old and I was sleeping in the crib in my mother’s and dad’s bedroom. It was the living room, the bedroom, and then the kitchen.
And then we had an old wood icebox, and then we had this little bitty electric stove. And, you know, you really…, I can remember mom having to plan the meals because you couldn’t get much in the oven, you know. We had a chicken on Sunday, but if she decided to roast the chicken, you know, it wasn’t like you could put other things in the oven—that was it, you know. You’d have to do your vegetables and potatoes and stuff on top of the stove, so.
And then I can remember in the summer time, too, the icebox, you know, you’d really got low on ice and you’d really had to be careful of what was in it because you couldn’t let anything spoil. And depending upon how winter was, you know, that determined how much ice there was available in the summer time. And sometimes, you know, it almost got to the point of rationing the ice out as well.
Occasionally, I can remember dad walking with us. We’d take the coaster wagon and he had like old blankets, you know, and we’d walk down to the icehouse and just buy a small piece of ice to tie us over until it was time for the iceman to come again. And we’d have to cover it all up, you know, with blankets and stuff to walk it back home.
How often would the iceman come? I would assume it was once a week.
Where was the icehouse at? Down on Drummond Street. It was located in the back of a house. And I mean it was….
(Jim Laird): I think it depends a little bit about historically what era of time. You talked about Moldenhauer, when I moved to town I lived in the house next to him, Paul. They had the icehouse there. But prior to that Harris’ had an icehouse down on what is the Mill Pond… Yeah, and they used to cut the ice right off the Mill Pond.
(Jim Laird): …and they got the ice right on the pond. When we were kids the ice was modern, because I remember the iceman being there too, and we actually…, he’d give us hunks. And that was wonderful in the summer to have that cold ice to suck on. But they must have made the ice artificially because I can’t believe that they would let the kids to much suck on the ice out of the Mill Pond. They used to store it in saw dust, saw dust and black canvases. That’s how they stored it. And, you know, they come with the ice and, you know, a lot of the times you have to sit there and flick the sawdust (she laughs) off the chunk of ice. Some of the kids used to—I can remember—they used to like to get the sawdust in their mouth and they’d chew it. But I could never do that (she laughs).
You remember the milkman? Oh, sure, yeah, yeah, yup. Door to door delivery.
The little milk bottles? They were recyclable and stuff? Right, milk bottles. And depending upon what time your milk came, you had to be up early if it was in the winter time because, you know, it would freeze in just no time at all. And I can remember a couple of times in particular where mom was planning on, you know, milk or cream, you know, to make something special, and she wouldn’t get out of bed in time and it would be froze and all, you know, coming out of the bottles and whatnot (she laughs). But, I mean, in those days you couldn’t afford to go out and replace that, you know. There was just so much money.
You talk about the milkman, but then we used to have a bread man too. The Omar Bread man. Well, in fact, beside bread, we used to have a grocery truck that used to come around, and you could actually buy groceries off a truck. But the Omar Bread man, that was big thing too.
(Jim Laird): When I moved to Waupun in ‘61, the year she graduated, there were two bakeries in town. Isn’t that something? Yup, yup.
I am trying to think….
(Jim Laird): Now, do you remember making cakes when you were a kid? Oh, yeah.
And they were from scratch? Oh, yeah, yeah. Always. In fact, to this day, I mean, my favorite cake used to be called a sunshine cake. And my mother used to make it in three layers. There’d be a layer of yellow, a layer of pink, and a layer of green. She always used food coloring to make it. And, I mean, to this day that’s my favorite cake. And, you know, every now and then I’ll bring that cake out.
But then, of course, you know, you used to have…, Donnie’s mother baked an eggless, milkless, butterless, cake. I mean, can you imagine that? Eggless, milkless, butterless, but, you know. She said, “You have to do that, you have to make do with what you had.” And that’s, I mean, that’s a cake that I still bake today. Sunshine cake; eggless, milkless, butterless. Um, oh, there was another one. Just a very simple cake.
My aunt and my mother used to make, for birthdays, angel food cakes. Lots of angel food cakes. Oh, yeah. With all the eggs. You had to separate all those eggs.
(Jim Laird): White eggs, the whites of the eggs. Hmm hmm. Or chiffon, chiffon cakes were the same way.
(Jim Laird): I remember as a child that one of the most common things was the seven minute frosting. Now, could you imagine living—I shouldn’t say that—but could you imagine people cooking today spending seven minutes on the frosting when today all that you do is open the can (he laughs). It used to take a lot more than seven minutes. Oh, but I, no, but I still make seven minute frosting. I mean, that’s, that’s just an old staple. But it takes a heck of a lot more than seven minutes, I’ll tell you what. And those egg whites in the, you know, double boiler, and you got the water boiling underneath and you’ve got to be whipping those egg whites. And, of course, now today, you know, we have electric hand mixers and stuff. But I can remember my mother doing that, or my grandmother, doing it by hand with nothing but a whisk.
I remember my mother doing laundry by hand. We had an old…, it was a wash machine, it was a round one and it had an agitator. But the ringer was a hand ringer. You had to take ‘em up, take the clothes out of it, out of the washer, put ‘em up in the ringer and hand ring ‘em, and then put ‘em out on the line. Oh, yeah, yeah. And, I mean, you did that year round. I mean, the sheets would come in and they’d be froze solid. But see, in our house—where we finally ended up in was on Bronson Street—and we had this great big center register, you know, it heated the whole house. You had registers in the ceiling to let heat get up, you know, upstairs.
We used to yell back and forth through them. Good intercom systems. Oh, yeah (she laughs). Or if your Sunday School teacher, like Margaret Kuenzi, used to come and pay a visit, tell how bad my brother was in Sunday School, then we used to lay on the floor upstairs and look down and hear what she was saying (we all laugh). But, I mean, that big old, you know, iron grate from that register, and my dad would have to get up, you know, in the middle of the night to stoke the fire to make sure we had an even temperature. But you used to bring your sheets and your jeans in and stuff, and they’d be board stiff, and you’d put ‘em on the register to thaw out.
(Jim Laird): When you interview us I want to talk a little about, you know, the whole thing, but life styles were different. Monday was laundry day… Right.
(Jim Laird): …and it was the whole day, because you washed and you had an agitator and two tubs. You didn’t have an automatic…, you did not have an automatic machine. The automatic machines didn’t come in until the ‘50’s. And the first ones were actually bolted to the floor because they vibrated so much, which meant that you had to…, in our circumstances, had to heat the water, put it in the machine, and then you had these two rinse tubs and you’d put Little Boy Blue, drops of bluing, in there to make the white…. And that’s how…, and it took the whole day to do the wash and take it out. There was no driers. Again very, very labor intensive.
I remember the tubs, now. Oh, sure. And those tubs were just…, oh, they were wonderful ‘cause you didn’t only use them for washing. They were a swimming pool for us kids in the summer time and whatnot. But now, you’re talking about….
They were almost half the size of the couch, the tubs, if you put two of them next to each other. Remember…?
(Jim Laird): Yeah.
(Author): The ones I remember came in…, they were next to…, they were two tubes attached to each other.
(Jim Laird): Originally they were round, then they made them square so they would fit together nicely. Yeah. We were married in 1961, the same year that I graduated from high school. And we didn’t get an automatic washer…, it…, I betcha it was…, it wasn’t until the ‘70’s. I always used to use the…, but, of course, later on they came out with power ringers, and, let me tell you, you had to watch it. One time I rang my arm up to my shoulder, and I was there at the house alone and I didn’t know what to do. And the blood started squirting out of my fingers, and I thought, “What am I going to do?” So the only thing I could do was I was able to reach it and reverse it, and I rolled my arm back out (she laughs). I tell yah. It was something (laughing).
(Jim Laird): Well, that happened a lot. It was very, very dangerous. If a woman had a ringer washing machine she had to watch the kids, to make sure the kids stayed away from it. Because it was a real hazard around the house. But you see, when I was small and my mom used to wash, you know, I can remember as kids we used to stand by the wash tubs and help rinse the suds out, you know. And then she’d bring ‘em through into the next tub and, you know, likewise. But yeah, and then hanging them out on the line.
(Jim Laird): And a little bit again about labor intensive, because, basically, the clothes were dried and brought into the house, and then Tuesday… Was ironing day.
(Jim Laird): …you’d take them out, dampen them, get your thing and dampen them and get them…, and roll ‘em up…. You used to have these little tops that were all full of holes, and you used to take a soda bottle, and you’d fill the soda bottle with water, and you used to sprinkle your clothes with that.
(Author): Oh, yeah. I remember watching that.
(Jim Laird): And men wore white shirts in many jobs. And shirts…, the woman on Tuesday would mix starch, heat it on the stove, and the cuffs and the collars of the white shirts had to be starched. And then the latter part of Tuesday and Wednesday was ironing. Everything was ironed. Everything that showed was ironed. Underpants weren’t addressed… Oh, yes they were (DiAnna laughs). I used to have to do that (she laughs).
(Jim Laird): Well, it depends upon the family (we all laugh). Our family never ironed the underpants and never ironed the sheets… Oh, we used to iron the sheets, bath towels. I even used to do that.
(Jim Laird): …but some people ironed the sheets and everything was ironed. And, you know, that was another day or two activity of labor intensive. But when my little girl was born in ‘62, Debbie, like her little dresses and that kind of stuff, you know, they were always starched and pressed. They used to be out of organdy or, you know, like little cottons or something, and to make them look nice, you know, I always starched ‘em. I used to mix up the starch on the stove and, you know, stick ‘em in and starch ‘em, then dry ‘em again and then bring ‘em in and sprinkle ‘em and then iron them.
(Jim Laird): And we were talking about the World War II era, and, you know, this is the World War II era plus, but what we were talking about doing in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s they were also doing in the early ‘40’s and things in order to make it through the war effort.
(Author): I also…, I remember…, today with all the safety and stuff, OSHA and stuff, fans are very safe, but back then they had a guard around them so you couldn’t fall into ‘em, but you could definitely stick a finger into ‘em or a hand into ‘em. (DiAnna nods her head in agreement and laughs.)
(Jim Laird): Well, as a child…, she talks about a pipeless furnace. We had a stove, and one of the difficulties was that during the summer the stoves might be there all summer long, the heating stoves, but they were cold because you weren’t using them. When winter came it was a whole new experience to tell the kids, “Don’t touch, stay away.” And those things went out at night, and when people got up the next morning it was nothing for those things to get red hot in order to heat, so it was another real big danger in the house. You didn’t have hot water heaters either. Down in the basement you’d have this little gas thing, maybe about yea big around and yea high (showing approximately a two and a half- or three-foot box with her hands), and down here was the coil, and it was gas. And if you wanted hot water you could go down and light the hot water heater. And it would take probably two hours or more, you know, to get enough water heated for like one bathtub full of water, so then, you know, it was…, I was the girl, so I usually got to go first (she laughs).
But that was on Bronson Street, so that had to be 1953 when we moved over there. But prior to that when we lived on Maxon Street and Olmstead Street my mother used to…, buckets and buckets in tea kettles full of water to get enough hot water, you know, to put in the bathtub to take a bath. Like on Olmstead Street the bathroom was upstairs, so, you know, she and dad would have to cart all that hot water up and down the steps to get it into the tub.
But that gas burner was really a life saver for us because…, oh, what year was that? In the mid ‘50’s? was it ‘53 when the tornado struck Waupun? I think so. I think it was ‘53 that tornado came through. And the damage was just unbelievable. And, I mean, we were without electricity. It was well over a month that we didn’t have electricity, and we had an electric stove. I can remember dad going down, and he would light that little gas burner in the morning, and my mother had a little frying pan, and he would go down and fry one egg at a time and bring it up to us kids. At lunch time, you know, maybe they’d do hot dogs down there or something like that. But eventually, you know, we got sick of that kind of stuff and they went out and they bought this little tiny charcoal grill. And oh, man, we thought that was heaven, you know, because he could make hamburgers on it. And we did chicken on it, you know, and whatnot.
But that was a long time to be without electricity. But in that instance they finally brought prisoners out from the prison to help with the cleanup. But we lived on Bronson Street, and like the damage in through that area was just…, Dodge Park, it literally cleaned Dodge Park out of trees. It took almost every tree out of Dodge Park. It used to be a heavily….
Was that on Madison Street, Dodge Park? Yeah, hmm hmm.
I lived right across the street from there. Okay. And I remember…, it must have been like a week after. We had company down, and we walked over to the park, and I still have splinters of wood that we took from the trees, you know, the twisted splinters of wood. It was something.
(Jim Laird): Lucky, we didn’t have a bathroom. You didn’t have what?
(Jim Laird): When I was a kid we did not have a bathroom. So when we had our bath we got the rinse tub from the laundry, and that went in the middle of the kitchen floor. And we got two inches of water in the bottom, and that’s how we got our bath. And eventually it got to be kind of hard because we were big enough that we really couldn’t sit in it, we would have to kind of hang our feet up and over the edge and just have our rear end in the tub with the water (Jim laughs). Yeah, if we were at the farm on Saturday night, that was how we took baths too. And then I can remember on Saturday nights too, my mom, after we had our baths and…, oh, like if she’d want to curl my hair she’d tie it, you know, in rags and stuff. And then the big thing was to get everybody’s shoes out and shine their shoes, polish their shoes. They had all the different bottles lined up, you know, for whatever color shoes you had, and you had to have your shoes polished before you went to church on Sunday morning.
(Jim Laird): Baths were once a week usually… Oh, yeah. Right.
(Jim Laird): …you know, we’re not talking you’re dirty so you might get two or three a day now. But baths were once a week, and they were a Saturday night event so that you were clean when you went to church on Sunday.
Let me ask you a couple of questions real quick. Okay.
You got married in 1961, you said? Hmm, hmm.
And who did you marry? Don Mueller, Donald, M U E L L E R. But you know that (she laughs). And he came from a family of twelve, he was one of twelve children. And what is so weird about your lives, you know, you just kind of…, you go back and look at ‘em and you think, “Well, how did that ever happened?”
My brother, my oldest brother, married…, her name is Patricia Weisar, and she came from down at Fennimore (Wisconsin). And my husband was born down at Livingston (Wisconsin) and lived there for quite a few years, as did Pat. And when I started going out with Donnie and finally married him and stuff, Pat and Donnie used to sit and they’d talk. And they knew a lot of the same people down in that area. You know, it wasn’t that far apart. And they’d talk about different families who lived down there and how they used to play with, you know, the kids and stuff. But somehow or the other they never, you know, made the connections. But it was one of those little quirks. So it was really pretty neat.
Well, how many kids did you have? Three. No, I don’t, I have two. We had three kids (meaning herself and her brothers). I got two. I got Deb, who was born in ‘62, and Dustin who was born in ‘69.
Do you have any grandkids? Yeah, I got four grandkids. Cassandra and Christopher are my daughter’s kids. Cassie is what? twenty-two and Christopher is eighteen. And then my son has BreeAnn who’s ten and Peyton who is three. Four grandkids.
Did any of them serve in the military? No, they did not.
Did your husband serve in the military? Nope. He did not. He would have been eligible during the Vietnam Era to serve, but, because his family had, you know, there was twelve kids in the family, he was one of the bread winners for the family. He was working, and so he never got drafted. He would have liked to have served, and to this day he still feels guilty that he didn’t, but it was a matter of him having to go out and work to support the family.
Now, he was one of twelve brothers and sisters? Yup.
So there were fourteen in the family? Hmm hmm.
Wow, that’s a big family. Yeah, it is. It really is. And they’re all alive yet. None of them are dead. There’s in-laws that are dead. But everyone’s alive yet in the family, and that’s quite remarkable
(Jim Laird): Did you go to the Whiting or the Classic Theater downtown? Well, what was it? It was the Classic Theater, yeah. Where the old….
(Jim Laird): The motion picture theater. Yeah, where Pete’s Automotive stood. Yeah, and that was a sad day when that came down. I mean, matinees….
(Jim Laird): But you remember going to it as a child? Oh, yeah, yeah. Oh, and they used to run contests, and one year they had a Valentine contest, and I entered it and I won tickets for the movie. And I thought that was just wonderful, you know. Yeah, Shirley Temple, Lassie. Oh, that one Lassie movie where the barn was burning and Lassie was in the barn, and oh, I was so scared I crawled under the seat. I couldn’t watch it (she laughs). And then, of course, when we got older there were the Elvis movies (she laughs). Used to sit there and scream like an idiot (she laughs harder) with my friends. Oh, we were so crazy about Elvis.
Yeah, but the Shirley Temple movies. My aunts, my old maid aunts used to come down from Oshkosh on the weekend. Sometimes they’d bring the bus down, the Grayhound bus, and then…, on Sunday afternoon. Now, mind you, we’d have to get dressed up when they were here, and we’d walk from Bronson Street down to the theater and we’d go to the movie. And then after the movie we’d go over to Guth’s to Trojan Candies. And they had the little, you know, booths in there, the fancy little lights and whatnot, and they’d always buy us a treat. But that was really special. We had to get dressed up to do that with them (she laughs), so. But, hmm, yeah.
(Author): Where was the theater located at? Where Pete’s Automotive is right now.
(Jim Laird): Carrington and Main (Streets). Across from the Corner Restaurant.
(Author): Okay, that’s where the old Ford Garage used to be?
(Jim Laird): No, across the street. Across the street from the Ford Garage.
(Author): Oh, okay. It was actually…
(Jim Laird): Was it a Clark station, maybe? …when it was torn down it was a Clark station. Hmm hmm, a Clark station went up. And, you know, that was another thing Donnie and I were talking about just the other night. In the late ‘50’s early ‘60’s, remember how many gas stations there were in this town? How in the world did all the owners of those gas stations make it?
(Jim Laird): You know, it wasn’t just the gas stations, it was the number of car dealerships and things in these small towns, because there was a Plymouth, and a Chrysler, and a Pontiac, a Ford, a Studebaker. Yeah. Yeah, it’s just unreal.
(Jim Laird): And all of these small towns had all of those things. And those people were usually rich. Or at least they acted like they were (she laughs). You don’t know what was really going on, but, you know, they appeared to be rich. And then, of course, Waupun became know for the number of churches and the number of bars (she laughs).
I remember when I was growing up, before I could legally drink, it seemed like every other store downtown was a bar, almost. The same with Fox Lake. But then remember the neighborhood grocery stores too?
Yup. I remember my mom, she’d go to town to do grocery shopping and I would go with her, and we’d go to four different grocery stores. Get bread here, get meats here, you’d get milk over here. And, I mean, it was like…, and it didn’t take that long. I mean, within an hour or so you were done, on the way back home again. But it was…, its still…, to this day its amazing to me we’d do that. Now you just go down to the nearest grocery store and get everything. Yeah, yeah. No, there used to be…, well, right down here where the laundromat sits down at Brandon Street, that used to be a little grocery store. Then up where the Catholic Church parking lot is, that used to be a little family grocery store. Then there was Redman’s where Hearthstone Realty is now, then there used to be a little grocery store at Brown and…, Brown; one of those streets.
I remember there was a…, on the other side of Main Street there used to be a house that the front end of it was a little grocery store, and almost across the street from that was a little grocery store. And we used to hit everyone of them.
(Jim Laird): And homes did not have freezers. Freezers are a late ‘50’s, middle of late ‘50’s addition. The only…, we had an electric refrigerator—we didn’t have ice. But the freezer in the electric refrigerator was about six inches square, and you could freeze ice cubes and that was about it. So that meant that ice cream in the home didn’t happen… Oh, no. You went to Super’s Ice Cream. You gotta remember Supers (speaking to me).
(Author): Oh, yeah! Used to get a big milk shake. Yeah.
(Jim Laird): …you had to go somewhere to get it. And hence-wise, because of the icebox and things, women…, it was almost a daily, or every other day, go to the store and get things because they just weren’t able to keep. Well, that used to be—when we lived over on Bronson Street—that used to be my brother’s and my job. My mother would call Keach’s Meat Market or Houdek’s Meat Market, and, you know, she’d order what she wanted. And it was usually maybe two days worth of meat. And then that used to be our job, we have to go down to the meat market and pick up the meat. And you’d stand in line and wait for your order to be up, so.
(Jim Laird): I remember so vividly the smell of the butcher shop and the meat market. You walked in, it was such a unique smell. And in my home town—I don’t know how it was here—but in the butcher shop they had sawdust all over the floor to catch the blood from the meat. And a big, big wooden block; that’s where he cut. And when you went in you ordered, it wasn’t wrapped and ready for you. You went in and said, “I want three pork chops.” So he went and got the saw and knife and cut the three pork chops off. Oh, yeah. And they used to do their smoking too. And that’s what I always liked, the smoked meat smell. It was so unique.
(The interview ended here.)
Last updated on 27 Jan 2013 .
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