Two Veils

A Birth Veil

Mom told me she was born with a veil–sometimes called a veil of tears. Her mother told her it was a sign of beauty. It’s been said people like Freud, Charles the Great and Napoleon were born with veils and that it is a mark of uniquely extreme perception. I don’t know if there is any scientific data to support that but I do know Mom had a deep understanding of the greater things in life.

Mom

Mom

The farmhouse she grew up in was large and drafty. It was kept warm by a wood burning furnace in the center of the basement with a big floor grill above it. 

The Rahn farmhouse

The Rahn farmhouse

Grandma would heat water on the wood stove to fill the big tub used for bathing. The water was kept warm because the tub sat right on the floor grill. The youngest took the first bath and then it progressed by age. The oldest and dirtiest went last–which was her dad. 

Mom with her brothers Ronnie (L) and Joel

Mom with her brothers Ronnie (L) and Joel

Pneumonia was common and just as Mom’s life was beginning, she laid in bed struggling to breathe. She could hear the somber voices of her parents talking to the doctor outside her room. Then, in a feverish haze, she heard the doctor say, “Dolores isn’t going to make it through the night.”

Too weak to lift her head from the pillow or utter a sound, she prayed a short, sweet prayer, “Dear Lord, if I get better, I will live for you.” She did live through the night and her strength slowly returned that year. 

Mom

Mom

She continued practicing the piano and began to play a little at church. When she was 10, during the service one Sunday, Reverend Bernwirth asked if there was anyone who wanted to come forward to the altar to be baptized–they dunked. Sitting beside her Uncle Willard, without any nudging from him, she rose and walked steadily down the aisle. The pastor read, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27).  This was the first scripture she memorized.

Her father, Edward Rahn, was a tall, striking man and a strong farmer. Her mother, Alma Force, was different from the other women he met–she had become a teacher and worked at the school adjacent to his family’s farm. Ed had spotted her coming and going and soon made his presence known. It didn’t take long for him to capture her heart and they were married. Love was expressed differently between them–it was never spoken of.

There was a blizzard one Christmas Eve when Mom and her two brothers Ronald and Joel, drove with their parents to the Christmas Pageant at church. They made it into the building but by the time the pageant ended, the wind howled and the snow had become a white sheet. The parking lot was a mess of deep mud and icy slush. As they exited the doors, her dad scooped her up in his arms, wrapped her inside his coat and tucked her close against the warmth of his chest as he carried her to the car.

Mom and her Dad

Mom and her Dad

After a lifetime of struggling with it–like many do whose parents don’t know how to love well–Mom realized, that though he didn’t say the words, this event was a confirmation that he really did love her.  

A Wedding Veil

“It was in June 1950 that your Mom and I got married in her hometown church,” Dad recalled. “We had the reception in the basement and then celebrated some more at the house.

Wedding Day

Wedding Day

I never heard your mom’s Mom and Dad argue because her dad would just be quiet and do what he wanted. Like the day we were getting married.  Your grandma made it very clear she didn’t want alcohol at the party. Dad never said a word about it but on the day of our wedding he spent the morning cleaning out the garage. I didn’t think anything more about it until the delivery truck came from town and unloaded the alcoholic beverages.

Quite a few of my folks’ friends came for the wedding. Their group of friends was called the TPs. They would never tell us what it stood for. My sister Judy and I later figured out it meant Terrible Parents. Anyhow, they came to the wedding and stayed at various friends’ houses. Although Dolores’ home now had electricity, running water and a bathroom, one of the TP’s insisted on using the outhouse that still stood on the property so that he could say later he came to the wedding and had to use an outhouse. That was old Marty Rindfleich–he’d always find something to needle you about.

We had five each, bridesmaids and groomsmen. The bridesmaids all made their own dresses. Dolores bought the material. 

Wedding Party

Wedding Party

So towards the end of the church basement reception, Dolores’ older brother Ronnie came down and snatched Dolores and carried her to a pickup truck waiting outside.  Ronnie had placed the backseat of a car on the back of the cab of the truck and seated Dolores on it. When I came out and saw her there I had no choice but to join her and they drove us around town.

The wedding gifts were now all at the farmhouse. After the reception was over, we went through the gifts, marking the envelopes with the amount of money and taking out the cash so we’d have enough money to go on our honeymoon. We had to borrow my Dad’s car because we didn’t buy a car until later.  Our first car was a 1939 Chevy which we would drive from Champagne to Milwaukee or Lanark.

We had arranged to rent a motel in Freeport for our wedding night. The day after, we went up to northern Wisconsin to a cottage I had rented on White Sand Lake . 

Honeymoon

Honeymoon

We felt quite at home there because the cottages also had an outhouse. One of the nights, we’d gotten into bed and heard this fluttering sound. We turned on the lights and found a bat flying back and forth in our cottage. Dolores held the door open while I got a broom and maneuvered him outside. One day, we took a boat with an outboard motor and went fishing.  While we were out, a storm came up and the lake got pretty rough. I went to tend to the motor–I tied the motor to the boat and Dolores said,”

“What are you doing?”

“We might get swamped and I don’t want to lose the motor.” I told her.

“What about me?  I can’t swim.”

“She wasn’t too happy with that moment.  I just told her I’d always take care of her.

The cottage we rented was next to a cottage owned by my friend Bob Frey. Bob’s mother and father came to visit us one morning. Dolores had just finished making a pineapple upside-down cake. So she made a fried egg breakfast for all of us and we had the cake for dessert.

On our way home, the oncoming car somehow lost control and swerved right in front of us. I pulled off onto the side of the road to try and give him room. He swerved in front of us; tossing gravel against our car then crossed back to his side of the road and flipped over. Other drivers stopped and we managed to get the guy out of the car which was on its side. Dolores and I took him to the hospital. The gravel he had knocked up broke a headlight on my Dad’s car. When we got home, Dad wasn’t at all happy about that.”

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Cutting Oats

My husband and I live in the old family house I grew up in.  It’s been around since the late 1800’s and keeps Todd busy with repairs and upkeep.  Mom and Dad downsized to a condo and everything in the attic and basement collected over 40 years came with the house. The basement still needs some work but I went through the attic a couple summers ago.   

I’m a hopeless sentimentalist; holding on to the smallest scrap of paper if there is something special written on it.  Anything that Todd has managed to toss happened on a day I wasn’t around.

You can imagine what it was like to uncover boxes of old photos and scrapbooks from generations past.  I spent days sorting and carrying things down for Mom and Dad to look through.  They’d seen it all before and didn’t seem nearly as enthusiastic about it all as I was.  I found one rather large, tattered box filled with letters they had written to each other dated 1948-1949, saved in batches and carefully tied with ribbons. 

Mom was not one to look back.  As I record these stories, I wish I had more of hers.  They just weren’t that important to her to hold on to. She was a pioneer – always scouting out new territory and moving forward to the next thing.   The ones that were important to her, she told.  I guess what I’m discovering is that we love the old stories because it keeps people that have passed on alive with us.  Not only with us but with those that will follow.  That, to me, is important. So I write…  –Debbie

I learned a lot about the Rahn farm by being there.  I learned how to milk a cow by hand.  Dolores’s mother wanted some cows so they’d have cream and of course they’d drink the unpasterized milk.  Her dad hated these cows because you had to milk them morning and night and that was something he didn’t want to be tied to. 

Dad on the Rahn farm

Dad on the Rahn farm

I shared in the butchering of a pig.  You started with a 22 and would kill them with good aim and a quick shot.  Then followed the whole process of cleaning the intestines, cooking, grinding and stuffing the casings to make sausage. That was a fascinating thing for me.  I tried to help cut the oats and make the bales of straw but I’ve had asthma all my life so I didn’t do too much of that.  They had to bring me in because I was out in the field trying to pitch the straw and with all the dust I just couldn’t do it.  I was wheezing badly and Dolores didn’t know what was going on. 

“Are you going to be alright?”

“Leave me alone,” was all I could say. That was the first time she got introduced to my asthma.

Samsung 062713a 160She came to Milwaukee one time on the train to visit.  She loved being in Milwaukee and just being together — doing a little shopping at Gimbels —  that was the place to go then.  One of the precious things I remember about her was when she got a phone call from her Dad saying the neighbor was sick and she had to come home to drive the tractor.  I was impressed that Dolores had learned how to do that.  She spent a lot of time on the tractor in the field and entertained herself by learning to recite the ABCs backwards.  She told me how her Dad would holler if she didn’t get the corners square.  As the mower came around you had to make nice square corners or oats would be wasted so that was important.  When she got it right, he would smile.

So now we had a year apart because Dolores decided to drop out from school to work and save money so we could get married while I went back to school.  We each wrote a letter every day.  She found a job in a neighboring town at a publishing company as a clerk typist and never finished up at Illinois.  She’d get a ride each day because another gal from Lanark worked there.  I’d go to see her every other week.  I’d hitchhike to save money.  The other two guys on my meal job would cover for me. I’d leave after breakfast, take the bus to the edge of town and put my thumb out.  I only had one bad experience.  The guy who picked me up had been drinking.  I don’t know if he was really drunk but it bothered me.

Dolores’s farm was pretty far off the main road and on one of my trips the driver took me all the way over, right up to the farm house.  Another time, a driver even stopped and bought me lunch!  I always had my harmonica so while I was waiting for a ride I learned to play it.  On Sunday night, after our visits, her dad would take me over to a neighboring town that had a bus stop.  That made it possible for me to stay all day and leave when it was dark to catch the bus back to school.  I’d get into my room about 11:00 p.m. and start doing the homework that I hadn’t done all weekend. 

One Monday morning, I overslept. Around 8:00 a.m. there was a rap on my door and the two guys I worked with on my meal job woke me up and had brought me breakfast. 

So the big part of that year was every other weekend when I’d go see Dolores. 

A Love Story Begins

My parents wrote a song called “Direct Your Feet to Wright and Green Street”. That’s the corner of the coed theater in Champagne, Illinois where they met. My sister and I woke up hearing them sing it one morning during the last week of Mom’s life. Here’s the story behind the song.  –Debbie

Finding love

Finding love

It all started in September of 1948.  As I mentioned earlier, I felt I had been called to be an architect. Wisconsin didn’t have an architectural school in those days so I did a very serious study of the other schools I should go to.  I checked out Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and I took the one with the lowest out-of-state tuition.  I think it was about $100 a semester so I chose the University of Illinois.  Through a friend at church I rented a room and my Dad drove me down.

I let the Landlady know I was looking for a part time meal job.  She told me the house across the street served meals so I went there and got hired working with her two sons.  I set tables, served food and did the dishes for each of the three meals during the day.  I got all my meals free so that worked out well. 

The evening of the first day that I was on the campus, I went to a movie with some of the guys.  I still remember the film, it was called Wallflower.  We walked in, and I don’t like to leave empty seats in rows, so I sat down next to this young lady.  I’d kind of glance at her and talked to her as best as I could in a movie.

In those days, the movie would just keep replaying; you could come in at any time and stay until you saw the whole thing. We got to the place where she had come in so she and her girlfriend got up and left.  We stayed on until the part in the movie we had come in and when we got outside, would you believe this same girl was walking by?  She later told me she recognized my saddle-shoes.  So I introduced myself and struck up a conversation. I learned her name was Dolores Rahn and that she lived on a farm in northwestern Illinois outside of a town called Lanark.  We went for a Coke and found it very easy to talk to each other.  That was the beginning.  I walked her home and ended up taking her to the registration dance the next week.

The stadium at Illinois is huge – I think about 100,000.  I went to the football game and imagine this; there she was sitting right behind me.  It just kept growing from there. So it wasn’t in a Bible study or church, I picked her up in a movie.  What we found though was we really liked going to church together.  We went to the Presbyterian Church.  It became a ritual that we’d go to church and then go out to lunch.  I earned enough for my tuition and my books but didn’t really have enough for lunch.  Fortunately, my parents sent me $10 a week and that was enough to cover lunch.

As time went on I got to learn more about Lanark.  Her Dad raised beef cattle along with corn, oats and hay to feed them. I learned she went to a one room school — they had a very large class — the largest class in the school.  There were five students.

Mom (2nd from R) Top: 1st Grade; Bottom: 8th Grade Graduation

When she finished 8th grade, she went into the town school and she ended up being valedictorian.  It was interesting to me that, that little school could teach all eight grades and teach well enough for someone to end up being valedictorian. That says a lot to me about what we’re facing in our city today, and our country.  It’s not about how much money we’re spending — I don’t know what the budget was there.  I know they had to put wood in the stove in the winter.  It was a very simple life.  They didn’t have electricity until she was 13.  Up to that point it was just a windmill, a pump and an outhouse.  When I think about it, look at how green that was!  I don’t know, if things really get tough, we may be back there.

Along the way, she told me a story about when she was four years old — that would have been the middle of the depression.  Someone gave her a silver dollar for her birthday.  Of course, that was a real treasure.  She went to Sunday School and put the silver dollar in the offering.  The teacher saw that and then talked to her mother about it and asked if it was alright she put the silver dollar in the offering.  Her mother said, “If that’s what Dolores wants to do, then that’s what Dolores will do.”

She had piano lessons at a very early age.  They had a piano in the house and her mother encouraged her to play.  By the time she was 10 years old she was playing the hymns in church so she really had a gift.

After the school year ended in June of 1949, we stayed in touch by letters and occasional phone calls.  I took the train for my first visit —  in those days we had one that went from Milwaukee to Lanark —  no stops in Chicago.  She didn’t know I was coming.  They were having a street festival —  I found her, we talked for a bit and then I asked her to marry me.  I showed her, her ring — she was pleased.  She was the first one in her class to get engaged.