Death is a mighty test of faith, just as much so when the beloved is of the four-paw variety as with one of our departed human family members. I learned this painful lesson anew when saying goodbye to my best little canine buddy, Mr. Puggles.
He came into our lives on October 15, 2004, fresh off of a plane ride from Colorado. He jumped from the laundry basket in the back seat of my car and nipped the noses of our three children. He was a little wild man. We knew right then that our Mr. Puggles would be a larger-than-life part of our family. I’ll never forget that first day home, when the little sprout climbed up on my head as I lay on the floor and pasted my face with wet kisses.
We learned quickly that he needed limits set, as he bolted across the street in our suburban neighborhood and led us on a merry chase. He was fast and would not be captured until he was good and ready. The kids were able to teach him a few things, but Mr. Puggles was usually going to do things his way. We just needed to figure that out.
As a growing puppy, he loved to ride in the car. This was before he learned about trips to the vet’s office. The kids would sometimes tease him, “You want to go for a ride in your very own car?” Yeah-yeah-yeah oh-boy-do-I-ever!!” So we usually piled into the car or the minivan and took him for a ride “in his very own car.”
Mr. Puggles could be naughty. He even had a “naughty face” that often gave a clue that chances were high for mischief. He once chewed a hole in our denim couch and proceeded to pull out much of the white bunting in the cushions. This exercise came to be known as “puff clouds” and, my oh my, did Mr. Puggles like puff clouds. He needed good exercise, but he barked so incessantly at everyone in the neighborhood, we had to do our walks after dark. He still barked.
His personality changed a bit in October 2006 when we adopted Madison, a fawn Pug who was rescued from one of those hoarder hell homes we all read about now and then. Madison was a street tough; used to having to fight for food. She attacked him a few times, and the sounds created nearly caused some of us cardiac arrest. Eventually they found common ground, as long as Mr. Puggles gave up his toys on demand. They ate in separate rooms under supervision. In time they both mellowed and became best buddies.
Mr. Puggles was not one to be bothered with niceties such as going to the bathroom outside. He started by jumping from the bed at night and going into the closet to relieve himself on the carpeting. Frequent trips outside were the only solution. Over the years, the carpeting in most rooms was replaced with hardwood flooring. Much easier to clean! We had to keep him away from the bottom of the Christmas tree, since he would drink the water and then have to pee more. I recall one time outside when I was talking to my daughters and Mr. Puggles was standing nearby. A minute later I looked down and he was peeing on my shoes and pant leg. At least he didn’t tell me it was raining.
Mr. Puggles was a pretty good sport. Samantha and Ruby sometimes tried to dress him up for Halloween, but any costumes were short lived. Stevie dressed him up as a character from the television show Futurama, with a cape and boots. Less than 5 minutes into the Halloween celebration and the boots were history and the cape was wound around his neck. Mr. Puggles and Madison were kid-friendly dogs who liked to sit in laps, or better yet, fed a stream of doggie treats.
Perhaps Mr. Puggles’ most valued role was that of comforter. Through many very difficult times, he was my God-given solace. There’s nothing quite like curling up in bed and having one Pug nestled just behind my legs and the other with her rear right against my neck. I wasn’t going anywhere without them knowing it. He was generous in affection, quick to forgive a harsh word, and always there with a wagging curly tail when I returned from a business trip.
The first signs that he was aging came when I lived in Georgia in 2012 and 2013. We’d be out for a walk and he would start dropping poops out like a Pez dispenser while he walked. It took me quite a while to figure out this was not intentional. Some of that nerve control was weakening. I noted it with concern, but quickly convinced myself that he would not have to worry about aging.
Mr. Puggles and Madison came with me on quite a few changes of address. They were good sports and didn’t complain about the uncertainty. During some very difficult times, we lived in hotel rooms and even spent a few crazy weeks camped in our car. None of it fazed them. If we were fed and stayed warm, it was all good. Dogs are such selfless companions. I thank God for that.
Even as Mr. Puggles’ rear legs began to fail, we still found ways to enjoy the outdoors. I bought a hip harness from a web store that caters to disabled pets. It gave his Pug caboose just enough help to still be able to roam about the yard, marking every tree and barking at falling acorns and the occasional brave squirrel. I felt slight pangs of dread as his face turned from jet black to salt and pepper. I would not want to face losing him, so I pushed those thoughts aside.
He had terrible health scares over the past year and a half. In March 2018, he stopped being able to pee and I had to rush him to Madison Veterinary Specialists. They did surgery on his bladder, which was almost completely full of what they described as “sand.” Eventually I learned those were “struvite stones,” which often form as the result of an infection. Since he wasn’t as able to fully empty, his risk of infection rose. The surgery was successful. To keep him from dribbling, I put a belly band with a bladder pad in it around his lower mid-section. He didn’t mind at all.
Over the past year, he and his new little sister Mickey had to get used to me coming and going a lot. Evenings it was off to spend a few hours watching television and visiting with Mom, who was in her final months with us. Back home after 10 and it was a late dinner, and sometimes, rawhide treats while camped out on the bed. It’s an incredible comfort having canine companions who hang on my every word like it’s REALLY interesting; who cuddle up close when I’m sick and act like I’m the best each time I come home.
The past two months were a drain. Bladder infections and upper respiratory troubles had us back and forth into the emergency hospital. This caused Mr. Puggles’ back legs to weaken a bit more. But I’d pick him up, go outside and hook up those hip holsters and he still did OK. (Later on I sat and watched security camera footage of me carrying him back and forth across many weeks.) He had trachea surgery at the University of Wisconsin to relieve his worsening breathing problems. The operation was a great success and I hoped we’d get him back to health.
Saturday, July 27 was destined to be one of the saddest and most difficult of my 55 years on this earth. I had rushed him back to the UW with labored breathing. He was placed in an oxygen cage. Scans showed pneumonia caused by him aspirating food or water into his lungs. It would be touch and go to battle yet another infection. But it wasn’t to be. With breathing getting harder, I either had to authorize a ventilator (which rarely ends well) or make another decision.
Mr. Puggles laid quietly on the exam table at the UW vet hospital. Tears streamed down my face as I petted his head and said his name. When he heard my voice, he lifted up his little head and looked at me. My heart broke into a million pieces. I kissed his soft little ear and whispered, “I love you so much, little buddy. You’re going to go home to God.” He lifted his head and looked at me again with big brown eyes. I’ve never seen that look before. It seemed to carry deep meaning; something you would not expect from a pet. The look seemed to say to me, “It’s OK. You took good care of me. Take heart. I will be here in God’s time.”
As he closed his eyes in sleep, I sobbed so hard I thought I might vomit. Tears flowed like they never have before. I felt this deeper than just about anything else in my life. It is said that St. Peter cried so hard and often after betraying Jesus that furrows developed on his face where the tears flowed. I might just have those same furrows before my grief subsides at the loss of my best buddy.
I later received a sympathy card from the staff at UW Veterinary Care. They took great care of him. One of the interns who cared for Mr. Puggles during his two stays ended her note with this thought:
“All good dogs go to Heaven — and Mr. Puggles was a very good dog.”
We decided to bury him at my sister Marghi’s house. She has a nice wooded back yard; the kind of place he loved to spend time in. I went to the UW clinic again to pick up his body. They had placed him in a little cardboard box that resembled a casket. On the cover, written in marker, was “Mr. Puggles” along with a hand-drawn red heart. I carried him to my car and started to drive to the pet memorial company to have terra cotta paw prints made.
I opened the box and looked at his little Pug self, motionless as if frozen in time. The whole drive I had my right hand on him, petting him and talking to him as if he were still here. I apologized for times I lost my temper, like when he’d wake me at 3 a.m. and want to have an early breakfast. But mostly I said “thank you” for nearly 15 years of companionship and unconditional love and support. As I stroked his soft little ear, I recalled all of the nicknames I had for him, and how often I made up little songs about him that probably drove him batty.
We had a good final conversation. Those who have pets will understand the depth of pain one feels in losing a friend so giving and innocent. More tears flowed and we made that drive to his final resting spot, under a maple and a pine tree. I set his box on the ground, took off the lid and tucked him in with a new dog blanket. I told him something I said every morning when he tried to get up early: “It’s OK, buddy, you can keep sleeping.” I put his favorite lion toy up near his head. On his blanket I placed a St. Benedict crucifix and a green scapular.
As I sprinkled Holy Water on the grave and on his box, it all welled up inside me. This would be a great test of faith. We are taught that our pets are not endowed with souls. Yet they stand watch over us and care for us like the angels. They love with the brave and sacrificial love of the great saints. Mr. Puggles gave everything to me and my children. He spent himself to make our lives brighter. I just have to believe Our Blessed Lord has made provisions for such a beautiful life.
My consolation came as I read prayers that are typically used to bless Catholic burial grounds:
God, Creator of the world and Redeemer of mankind, who wondrously dispose the destinies of all creatures, visible and invisible, we humbly and sincerely beseech you to hallow, purify and bless this cemetery, where the bodies of your servants are duly laid to rest, after the labor and fatigue of this life come to and end…”
There is was in the first line of the prayer. God, who “wondrously dispose the destinies of all creatures.” All creatures. God gave us animal companions for a reason. These selfless beings become an invaluable part of the family. I believe in His goodness, God will give us back our canine and feline companions in eternity. For he made them as part of his wonderful creation, which he declared from the beginning to be good.
On this day, that thought brought a measure of comfort to a grieving, wounded heart. Requiescat in pace, Mr. Puggles. May we meet again one day in an unending field filled with warmth and love.
The hospital staff wrote this on his burial box.
Tucking him in for the last time.
A new blanket and a favorite toy for the journey home.
I heard the answering machine pick up a call in my office. Normally they are hangups or some robo-call, but I sensed this was different. I strained to hear what the woman was saying. It was clear it was something I needed to attend to, so I played back the message.
The caller was the owner of Suburban Studio in Sun Prairie, a portrait photography business that has been around for a long time. She had noticed my Mom’s obituary recently and realized she had a large, framed portrait of my late father from when he was mayor of Sun Prairie. The portrait hung in the studio for years as a sample of their work. She was calling to see if I would like it.
I contacted her right away and made arrangements to pick up the portrait. She did not charge for the 16×20 inch print (although I did buy the frame it was in). When I stopped at the studio the next day to pick it up, I was really taken aback. Not just by the size of the portrait, but the look of it. This was similar to the photo we used in Dad’s obituary in April 2007, but it was different. I stared at the image. Dad seemed so close and alive; almost as if he was about to speak. The studio owner agreed, saying the image had something about it. You almost sense the person is there in the room.
I kept racking my brain trying to think where I’d seen this photo before. Then it struck me. Dad used this photo in his literature when he ran for re-election in 2005. I vaguely recalled seeing his brochure back then and thinking this photo had a different quality.
I rarely believe in coincidences, so I chalk up this whole encounter to Divine Providence. It reminded me of the time I was sitting at my desk in my home office in Mount Pleasant in the early evening. I dozed off and was in and out in one of those semi-conscious sleep states. I was jolted awake though, by the sound of my father’s voice.
Hello? Are you there? Yes, it’s me. I’m still alive!
I sat upright and looked around the room. Where was his voice coming from? Dad kept talking and I recognized it as part of an oral history interview I did with him in November 2006. While we were recording in Dad’s room at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, he received a call on the cell phone from his brother, Donn (1926-2014). I have no idea how this recording started playing on my computer while I was half-asleep. My tears flowed freely though, as it seemed Dad was really speaking to me from Heaven. I will never forget that moment.
Listen to a portion of the oral history interview I did with Dad while he was being treated for lung cancer:
Now I have this beautiful portrait, a gift from Louise Floyd at Suburban Studio. I look at Dad’s expression and it, too, speaks to me. Funny, it seems to say just about the same thing as the recording from my computer. “I’m still here, son. I am alive!”
UPDATE!!This will be a little hard to explain, but it brought more tears to my eyes. Yesterday I was at St. Mary of Pine Bluff Catholic Church shooting photographs. The main thing I photographed was the gold monstrance that holds the Blessed Sacrament for exposition and adoration. See my photo below. That holds the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus under the appearance of bread. When I was doing closeups, I kept noticing reflected colors in the glass of the monstrance. So I lined up my camera and shot a bunch of images. Later I sent one to Father Richard Heilman and told him to look at the reflection. I thought it looked like a veiled woman in blue.
When Fr. Heilman looked at that photo earlier today, not long before I published the first version of this article, he saw the reflection of a man in a suit and tie with glasses. When Father later read my post and saw Dad’s portrait, he said, “THAT’S THE MAN I SAW!” I saw the Blessed Virgin and he saw this very photo of my father. Let that sink in. What a blessed day this has been!
Video can convey meaning in a story unlike just about anything. Which is why I created a memorial video dedicated to my late mother for use at the visitation back on Jan. 5, 2019. I’ve done three of these previously and found them to be very cathartic.
One of the opening images of this video, showing Mom as a toddler in a snowsuit, was a gift from Mom. We found the photograph in her nightstand about an hour after she died. It is the first image I’ve seen of her younger than 16.
“Memories are time that you borrow, to spend when you get to tomorrow.”
Most family history never makes the newspaper, so unless it is documented or passed down in oral stories, it can be lost. Even items that made the papers over the decades and centuries can be hard to spot. With that in mind, The Hanneman Archive has added a NewsBits page with a growing collection of “all the little news that was fit for print.”
Historic newspapers carried regular columns on what might be called “neighborhood news.” These items varied from who had dinner at whose house last night, to births in the family, to strange happenings like the poisoning of a farmer’s horses. We are fortunate, especially with our Hanneman and Treutel family lines, to have relatives who enjoyed reporting their comings and goings to the local paper. One of our favorites was when Donn Hanneman brought a tomato in to the offices of the Mauston Star in September 1942, showing the salad fruit seemingly had a V for victory grown into its skin. During World War II, patriotism was the order of the day.
Read more NewsBits and enjoy! We try to update the page weekly.
After more than 10 years publishing the Hanneman Archive history web site, your humble correspondent can no longer cover the operating costs involved in this enterprise. So rather than risk having to take the site down, we turn to our readers and relatives to ask for support.
Since just 2014, the Archive has drawn nearly 33,000 visitors from around the world who accessed close to 84,000 page views. Our article count has topped 185, and the site includes thousands of photographs and videos.
Many years ago when I first attempted to transfer old 8mm films to digital format, I made a series of “Glimpses of the Past” DVDs with footage from the 1950s and 1960s. Over the years, with several moves and changes in computers, the source material for those was lost. But now I located one of those DVDs and ripped it to digital using Handbrake software. The result can be seen below in the Vimeo player.
The compilation includes:
Footage of my parents in the first year of their marriage.
Grandpa Carl and Grandma Ruby Hanneman at Mauston.
Mom, Dad, Grandma Ruby, Grandpa Carl and Aunt Lavonne on a trip to Arizona in 1959.
Christmas scenes with my Minneapolis cousins.
Scenes with my Grandma Margaret Mulqueen.
A priceless scene where my Aunt Lavonne has Grandpa Carl stuff oranges down his shirt and then show off to Grandma Ruby. She wasn’t amused.
My brother David’s first birthday. His birthday cake had one large tapered dinner candle on it. Also other birthdays and a Christmas at our former Michigan home.
My sister Marghi’s first birthday, with the obligatory dinner candle in the cake.
Those pictured in the video include David D. Hanneman, Mary K. (Mulqueen) Hanneman, David C. Hanneman, Joe Hanneman, Marghi Hanneman, Carl F. Hanneman, Ruby V. (Treutel) Hanneman, Jane (Hanneman) Olson, Mary (Hanneman) Cochrane, Tom Hanneman, Margaret Madonna (Dailey) Mulqueen, Tom McShane Sr., Ruth (Mulqueen) McShane, Lavonne (Hanneman) Wellman, Laura (Mulqueen) Curzon, Edward Mulqueen, Sally Schaefbauer and family, and a number of people I can’t identify. Venues include Mauston, Cudahy and Sun Prairie in Wisconsin; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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 Homehow 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.
Sometimes identifying the location show in old photographs is easier than others, like the giant lettering, “Cornucopia, Wis.” in this photo from around 1942. Such a small detail, but it turns out there is quite a story behind the Hanneman family’s time in this northern Wisconsin area on Lake Superior.
You can’t get much farther north in Wisconsin than Cornucopia, an unincorporated hamlet on Siskwit Bay in Bayfield County. And that was just the point for Carl and Ruby Hanneman, who took my Dad to Bayfield County every summer to escape his crippling hay fever suffered around the family home at Mauston, Wisconsin. In August 1940, Ruby placed a classified ad in the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune seeking a travel companion to share expenses. The older girl in the photo above is unidentified, but she is too young to be an adult’s travel companion.
David Hanneman, unidentified girl, Lavonne Hanneman and Ruby Hanneman.
It appears Ruby took my Dad and his little sister Lavonne to Bayfield County in late summer when pollen counts were especially high in Mauston. Dad’s allergies were so bad, he suffered from nonstop sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes. The hay fever was truly debilitating, so the family went far north until the seasons started changing. The area is popular with summer tourists, so the family had their pick of cottages and cabins in which to take up residence.
They treated the annual trek as a vacation, allowing siblings Donn, David and Lavonne Hanneman to see attractions such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and its world-class array of lighthouses. Other destinations included the beautiful Madeline Island, accessible by car ferry or boat. One of my favorite photos of my Dad shows him digging his toes in the sand on Madeline Island (see below). I guess if you have to suffer through horrendous allergies, you might as well get some vacation out of it!
The images are grainy and slightly out of focus, but four digitized reels of old 8mm film from the late 1950 and early 1960s are like priceless time in a bottle. The films were shot on the 8mm film camera owned by Earl J. Mulqueen Sr., my maternal grandfather. They were loaned by my Aunt Joanie so we could get them scanned and made into digital video for all to enjoy.
Seeing these silent moving images reminded me of the 1970 hit song Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce, although the video predates the song by at least seven years. It also made me think of the wonderful Kodak commercial song The Times of Your Life by Paul Anka:
“Look back at the joys and the sorrow. Put them away in your mind.
Memories are time that we borrow.
To spend when we get to tomorrow.”
Even with the technical flaws, the video is amazing. I had never seen moving pictures of my Grandpa Earl, and I had just a few seconds of video showing my Grandma Mulqueen. This batch of 8mm film fixed all of that, giving us a peek back more than 50 years at a Christmas morning, a visit to the folks house in Cudahy and times at my parents house in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
It also provides the first video I’ve seen of my Aunt Evelyn (Deutsch) Mulqueen, who died of brain cancer at age 33. That was more than a year before I was born. There are shots of Earl J. Mulqueen Jr., Evelyn and their six children. As you can read elsewhere on this blog, Earl was a war hero U.S. Marine who fought at Guadalcanal and Tarawa. He lost his leg in the West Loch Disaster in May 1944 at Pearl Harbor.
I found myself choking back tears to see video of my late father holding my older brother, David C. Hanneman, in the summer or fall of 1963. For the loved ones of all the dear souls who appear in the video, the images are like spun gold. You can enjoy the full 11 minutes 47 seconds below. [We’ve also added a second volume in the viewer at the bottom of the page.]
The look on Ruby V. Hanneman’s face in this classic photo says it all. “I have NO idea how to run this rig!” This image was scanned from a Kodachrome slide taken by Ruby’s husband, Carl F. Hanneman. The year is about 1958.
Judging by the other slides in the batch, the Hanneman family was attending a wedding in the Wausau or Wisconsin Rapids areas when this photo was taken.
According to a variety of equipment-collector blogs we sampled, the Oliver 99 diesel tractor was produced from 1955 to 1958. The color slide film really brings out the brilliance of the green paint. Well done, Grandma Ruby! Now get down before you hurt someone.