The house was silent and the wooden bookshelves were empty, yet a small something caught my eye. In the corner of one shelf stood a tiny metal figurine: an Indian in headdress, from a cowboys and Indians play set from long ago. The man was kneeling with a rifle pointed off in the distance. The figurine was hand-painted; possibly made from lead. It was just the kind of little toy I recall seeing in the house in which my father grew up in Mauston, some 70 miles from where I now stood. There was a box in my Grandpa’s den office that contained cowboys and Indians, toy soldiers, wooden blocks and other assorted goodies that we grandkids played with.
I looked around the room, amazed that this one little item remained hidden after all of the furnishings were gone. The house I grew up in was nearly ready for market, mostly empty of content but not of memories. After days helping clean and polish the house, I found myself saying goodbye. Yet here, some 52 years after first setting foot in this place, the house was saying something to me as well.
The Indian figurine was the second surprise of the day as I made my way around my parents’ home. A few minutes before, I noticed some crumpled salmon-colored construction paper jammed into the corner of a cupboard beneath the basement bar. I figured it was a random scrap that should be out in the trash. But as soon as I picked it up, I realized it was anything but. It was a play program from Mauston High School’s January 1950 production of The Atomic Blonde, a play my father starred in. As I carefully opened the brittle paper, I recognized my Grandmother Ruby’s handwriting across the top of the first inside page: “Jan. 6 – 1950.”
This sure was a treat. The Atomic Blonde, the program read, “takes place in the lobby of Bob Nickerson’s and Skid Weiling’s hotel and and healthitorium in Silver Springs, a summer resort town in the mid-west.” On the other inside page was the cast listing for the play, “presented by the junior class of 1950.” Dad played Skid Weiling, one of the main characters. I recognized many of the cast names from when I helped Dad design a program for his 55th high school reunion in 2006. Mary Crandall, Carol Quamme, Roger Quick, Robert “Jigger” Jagoe, Clayton “Ty” Fiene, Bob Beck and others.
I dug around in my news clippings and found an article, “Atomic Blonde Scores Hit Here,” from the January 12, 1950 issue of The Mauston Star. That article made the play sound more interesting: “Take a couple of love-sick guys, one of their pals masquerading as a blonde glamour gal, a headless ghost, a gigolo or two, an ambitious mother and several lovely gals and stir them into a broken-down resort hotel warmed by a steam bath.” Pretty spicy stuff for 1950. The paper was effusive in its praise of the student actors. “Heading the cast were Dave Hanneman and Pat Dougherty, who were well chosen and able in their resort-operator roles.”
It appeared that my late father, who died in April 2007, was here in this empty house, reminding me there are still memories to be preserved and celebrated. So, as I did years ago when I said goodbye to my own home, I walked the three levels and tried to unearth as much as I could from 52 years of memories.
The Hanneman house was built and then occupied in 1965. It was one of the first homes in the Royal Oaks subdivision of Sun Prairie. And royal the oaks were, with 17 of them towering over the rear of the half-acre property. The house’s blueprints came from Better Homes & Gardens magazine and its signature home design for 1965. While the house was under construction, we lived in a rented home on Lake Wisconsin in Columbia County. Dad made frequent stops at the house and often found things on site not to his liking. One day he was so disgusted by the builder’s sloppiness, he redid an entire window frame. Dad complained for many years that the builder messed up the plans. One room was too big and another too small. We couldn’t tell the difference, but Dad was very exacting.
Over the years, many hundreds of people came and went through the front door, including grandparents, neighbors, school friends, card buddies, bridge club members, foster children, cousins, a couple of reigning Misses Wisconsin, doctors and, in later years, paramedics. I won’t describe here about the events surrounding Dad’s lung cancer and death, since I wrote about that extensively in my book The Journey Home.
I was now standing in the family room, which was the heart of group activity. On one side I could see my Grandpa Carl, rocking in the mahogany recliner. On this day, he looked rather sad. It was probably 1978, not long removed from the July 1977 death of Grandma Ruby. Many a Friday we drove from Sun Prairie to Mauston to bring Grandpa back for a visit. He was so sad and lonely after losing his wife of 52 years. It always started the same way. One of us would pick up the phone on a Friday afternoon and hear a long pause before Grandpa burst into tears. He couldn’t even get the words out. “It’s OK Grandpa, we’ll come get you! Don’t be sad!” I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it. A few of those calls took on serious urgency, like the time Grandpa said he was laying on the floor and could not get up or walk. Dad quickly drove to Mauston to retrieve him, discovering Grandpa had a case of gout that needed attention. Our home became a haven for Grandpa Carl up until he fell to liver cancer in 1982.
A few feet away stands the white-brick fireplace with double mantle. What a treat it was when Dad would bring some firewood from the woodpile out back and build a roaring fire. We would lay in front of it, propping our bare feet on the lower mantle and toasting our toes. Each kid jockeyed for position to get the best “seat” for the fire. I noticed the upper mantle was decorated with greens for Christmas, interspersed with fake fruit covered in glitter. I can still see the Christmas stockings. Most of them were not hung but set on the lower mantle due to the weight of the oranges and apples always at the bottom of each. The fireplace became a critical asset one spring week in the 1970s when a massive ice storm hit Dane County. We had no heat or power for three days. Dad was gone on business and could not get back due to the icy weather. Mom kept things going. The experience was surreal, especially the creepy groans and creaks the tree branches made under weight of the ice. Then came cracks like thunder just before branches fell to the ground. We used the fireplace for heat. We took turns bailing out the basement sump pump to prevent the house from flooding.
The television set always stood under the bookcase to the left of the fireplace. I vividly recall watching one of the Apollo moon landings with the Greens, our next-door neighbors. Way back then, the television was a black-and-white console with vacuum tubes that glowed in the back of the cabinet. The TV had to “warm up” before it showed a picture. Every so often, repairman Phil Wedige came over to replace a tube or some other part. We watched countless hours of programs as a family. Among the most memorable were “Jesus of Nazareth,” the “Roots” miniseries and the four-part “Holocaust” miniseries recounting the Shoah. Dad loved his Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne westerns, and we all enjoyed Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider.
Televised Green Bay Packers games were always memorable, even when the Packers were forgettable. The kids sat on the floor and the adults had the real seats for the Sunday spectacle. Our usual guests for the games were Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Behrend. Dr. Joe was our family physician. I remember more groans of pain from him and Dad during those games than I ever heard at the medical clinic he founded in Sun Prairie. I was too young to really remember the Lombardi glory years, but I sure remember the painful seasons under Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Pack really was back, and those sad little bumper stickers we put on the car finally meant something.
A Love of Reading
A couch once stood in various places in the family room. We went through several couches over the years, from one with solid green upholstery to a truly gaudy scotch plaid number that made up for its appearance with comfort and extra length. I recall Mom reading to me from toddler age on. Even busy with five kids, she found time to read to each of us. My favorites included “Harry the Dirty Dog,” by Gene Zion. “Harry was a
white dog with black spots who liked everything … except getting a bath,” the story went. Then there was “Crictor” by Tomi Ungerer, a story about an old lady and her boa constrictor. Perhaps my favorite, though, was “Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman. The charming illustrations in this book (edited by Dr. Seuss) captured my imagination. They detailed in colored pencil the adventure of a baby bird who fell out of the nest and went on a grand search for his mother. Mom read these books countless times. I never tired of the stories.
When the house was first built, it had a back patio under roof with posts that supported the overhang. Eventually, Dad framed it in and installed screen panels. That was a luxury, having a screened-in porch. It was quite a treat to dine al fresco, without Wisconsin’s state bird (the mosquito) interfering. My most vivid memory of the screened porch came in July 1975, when we hosted a reception for Grandpa Carl and Grandma Ruby for their 50th wedding anniversary. Grandpa wore a dark blue blazer, crisp white dress shirt and silver-blue patterned tie. Grandma wore a pearlescent seafoam green dress. Her corsage was a lily; his was a yellow rose. I stood at the entrance to the back porch and noticed how the late afternoon sun cast itself warmly across the happy faces of people no longer with us, such as Uncle Wilbert, the “rock hound,” and my dear Aunt Lavonne, who was taken from us just 11 years later at age 48.
The kitchen of course held a special place in our hearts. As I walked in on this day, I saw Grandma Mulqueen, Mom’s mother. For some reason, we never called her by her beautiful given name, Margaret Madonna. She was just Grandma Mulqueen. She rode the Greyhound bus from Cudahy to Sun Prairie to spend a few days. Her visits meant fresh bread and cinnamon rolls; her own secret recipe. She and Mom mixed up huge batches of dough in a green plastic tub, then tucked it away under the sink, where heat from the dishwasher and water pipes helped the dough to rise. Of course we couldn’t resist pulling back the dish towel that covered the green tub and taking a pinch of dough. “Don’t touch that bread or it will never rise!” came the admonition from another room. Too late.
I sat in Grandma Mulqueen’s lap and she told stories. About what I don’t recall, but I do remember her voice was kind and soothing. We begged her to make us a big pot of oatmeal, acting like Mom never fed us. At night, after Grandma retired to her guest room, we peeked into the bathroom to see if her dentures were sitting in a glass of water. They always were. We always looked. It was always gross. Such memories!
The kitchen was also the main spot for playing board games and cards. It was the site of many bitter losses in Monopoly. Bitter for us children, who were almost always bankrupted by landowner Dad. Usually you could tell the game was nearing an end when Dad said to one of us, “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.” This was usually followed by confiscation of property, and for some players like my sisters Marghi and Amy, occasional tears. Dad laughed, but not in a mean way. It was more of an “evil but loving” thing. He was competitive like that.
Other games that graced the kitchen table included cribbage (which I regret never learning), poker and dirty clubs. It was the latter card game that was responsible for some epic battles. One night, Grandpa Carl got especially upset, slammed his cards on the table and stormed away. He then uttered words that will forever live in Hanneman lore: “Baby bullcrap! I’m walking home!” If Grandpa Carl lost that game, it was a rare letdown for the veteran card shark. He was every bit as competitive as Dad. One night in high school, I sat at that table until midnight and took an unparalleled pounding at dirty clubs. When the smoke cleared, it was Carl with 80 wins, Joe with 1. One. Win. Every time he won, Grandpa patted my hand, giggled and said, “I’m so sorry.” Ha. He enjoyed every one of those 80 wins.
Back to Nature
One of the great features of our home was the huge backyard. At one time, there were 17 huge oak trees creating a dense canopy. It’s down to about six now. When I was a preschooler, I hauled my bedroom pillow down into the yard, lay in the grass and just looked up. The giant limbs swayed in the breeze, only occasionally letting a ray of sunlight pierce the cover to reach the ground. The high canopy provided a test to us budding athletes, too. If one of us could punt a football high enough to hit one of those high limbs, an offer from the Green Bay Packers was sure to await us. I’m still waiting.
In the early days before neighboring houses were built, my brother David and I liked to make our own “snow” in the back woods. We rubbed Styrofoam on the bark of the oak trees. One time we got bawled out by some nosy lady who happened upon us. She yelled that we were going to kill the trees. Pah! Never happened. On one side of the lawn near the house, Dad built an incredible rock patio out of sandstone. It included a horseshoe-shape wall and a patio surface that was probably 10-by-20 feet. The borders between the rocks were filled with tiny pebbles, which we were forbidden to mess with. Of course we did, although quickly discovering the unpleasant duty of sweeping them back into place.
During at least a few winters, Dad poured an ice surface in the back yard. It wasn’t as smooth as the local ice rink, but heck, who else could say they had a skatable ice sheet in the back yard? In the fall, we all worked to rake up what seemed like millions of oak leaves. We never had a fancy lawn vacuum like some of the neighbors. So it was a bamboo rake, blisters and arm aches for all. Our efforts created a leaf mountain that we all jumped in, which at least partially made up for the pain of raking. The video below shows my firstborn child, Stevie, romping in the leaves on a 1990s fall afternoon at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, along with Bailey the golden retriever. Aunt Marghi was behind the camera.
Back inside the house, I continued my tour with the dining and living rooms. We usually were not allowed in either unless it was a special occasion like Thanksgiving or Christmas. Thanksgiving was a big deal in our house. I recounted in my book The Journey Home how exacting Dad was in preparing for and then carving the turkey. Those celebrations changed over the years as grandparents left us and grandchildren appeared on the scene. Eventually, the dining spread spilled onto several tables, with the grandkids assigned to the card tables. I never felt so adult as when I carved the turkey one of the first years after Dad’s death. It just wasn’t the same. The large group in a smallish space created lots of chaos, noise and stress. One of the last years we had a large Thanksgiving gathering around that table, Mom’s nerves were a bit frayed. During a particularly loud time during the meal, she snapped at my youngest daughter, Ruby, “Would you shut up and eat your dinner?” Whoa. Poor Ruby looked around the table in stunned silence, since she hadn’t said a peep.
Christmas was another chaos-inducing holiday at the Hanneman home. Everybody talked at the same time, which is evident on the video below from December 1994. When we were little, my parents made sure we had lots of things to open. I don’t know how they did it, especially when money was tight. One of my favorite Christmas gifts was a die-cast metal Batmobile with a missile launcher. It actually shot tiny plastic missiles off the back. Perhaps the most lasting, beautiful gift was an art print by Wisconsin wildlife artist Owen Gromme, which Dad exquisitely framed and signed on the back. When my son Stevie was 11 months old, my brother David taught him a disgusting skill on Christmas Day. Grandpa Dave walked in to the bathroom to discover Stevie flushing toilet paper and splashing in the water. “Don’t teach him that,” grandpa boomed. Watch below and chuckle.
Back in the 1970s, Mom and Dad decided to turn the basement into a rec room. About two-thirds of the basement was covered with a commercial-grade red carpet. Dad put wallpaper on the east wall. The pattern showed chess pieces on a board. That was OK, but the way it hung on the wall made the whole wall appear to be tilted. Even though the paper was hung with total precision. I know this bothered Dad to no end.
The centerpiece of the basement was always the pool table. I don’t know where he got it, but Dad in the 1960s put in a gorgeous full-size billiards table from the Sydney Laner & Co. of Chicago. Sydney Laner established his billiards firm in 1918. It operated in Chicago until 2010. Dad carefully laid the huge slate on the supporting beams of the table, then leveled the entire table using playing cards as shims to ensure every area of the playing surface was level. Even after 50 years, the green felt has no wear marks, and the cushions have just as much pop as the day they were installed.
As was the case with cards, action on the pool table was dominated by Dad and Grandpa Carl. Both wielded the cue stick with power and precision. There was nothing like the sharp cracking sound when the cue ball hit the racked pool balls to open each game. I learned all I know about pool from them: how to line up a shot, figure angles on the bumpers, properly chalk the cue tip, etc. My skill never rose to the level of our resident pool sharks, but it was so fun to play against them. I’ve not played pool in many years. I have fond memories of my own children playing “rollin’ bowling” with the pool balls. I will miss that table.
During the early years, the basement frequently got rainwater and an occasional sewer backup. Dad got into an epic battle with Sun Prairie city hall over the drainage for the entire subdivision. One backup was awful. It burped brown sludge 3-4 inches deep across the entire basement. This was just after the new carpet was installed. Outfitted in rubber boots, gloves and masks, we used shop vacs to slurp up the mess. We each got a 2-by-4 to squeegee the filth from the carpet. Dad used Nolvasan, a surgical scrub, to help disinfect the entire basement. What a horrid mess. I vaguely recall there was litigation over the sewer backup.
Eventually, Dad contacted NBC 15 television about the drainage controversy. They sent Bob Richards, the ‘Contact 15’ consumer affairs reporter, to city hall to cover hearings on the issue. Dad, a former Sun Prairie alderman, was interviewed on TV. The publicity helped pressure the city to put in new drainage pipes and tiles at Main Street and Thompson Road. Ultimately that solved the issue for the entire subdivision. I was so impressed with the TV reporter, I went to watch him in the studio during a 6 p.m. newscast. It was a major influence in my decision to become a journalist.
The final memory I have of the basement was of the beautiful stained-glass windows that stood hidden across from the furnace for decades. Dad obtained them from St. Mary’s Hospital as the hospital demolished its old chapel in 1973. The two tall windows included four sections. When Dad was being treated for lung cancer at St. Mary’s in November 2006, he got the idea to donate the windows back to the hospital. It was providential timing, since St. Mary’s was in the midst of a $182 million expansion. The hospital not only accepted the donation, it asked the architects to incorporate the windows into the new hospital wing. Today, there are four waiting areas at St. Mary’s graced by the windows, backlit with beautiful dramatic effect. “I want these windows to come home to St. Mary’s,” Dad said at the time. And so they did. You can read more about the windows in The Journey Home and on the Hanneman Archive website.
I walked the house a final time, impressed by how many memories flooded back to me. They could fill a book. This home has ably done its duty for more than five decades. The man of the house has gone back to God, and Mom needs the sale proceeds to ensure good ongoing healthcare. How do you say goodbye to such a special place? I thought I accomplished that by quietly pulling shut the door into the garage. On second thought, no goodbyes. Only memories, written here and displayed in the photo gallery below. My hope for this place is it takes such good care of another family for many decades to come.
©2017 The Hanneman Archive