In honor of Mother’s Day, and in an effort to balance out the number of posts about Dad, this week I’m turning things over to Mom. She has been sharing family stories for years, but in the last year or so I’ve been capturing a number of these from her emails. What follows is some of her childhood memories from growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s, I’ve done just a bit of editing and set up the post, but that’s about it from me. So here’s Mom with a few of her stories…
I was born at the Wisconsin General (now known as UW) Hospital in Madison on May 30, 1939. My birth fell on the Decoration Day holiday, which is now called Memorial Day. The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed after I was born and officially became recognized as Memorial Day by a Federal law passed in 1967. My mother, Mary Minnie (Middleton) Brown told me it was raining so hard she didn’t think they would make it to the hospital with University Avenue being flooded. The water was so deep it came into the floor of Dad’s (Earl C. Brown) car. Mother said when I was born she was so happy to finally have a girl, with having had three boys that she started to cry. She was also overjoyed to see that I had dark hair and long black eye lashes.
At that time we lived on the Old Middleton Road near the bottom of the big hill going up to Old Sauk Road. My grandma Bertha (Becker) Middleton and grandpa George Henry Middleton lived at the top of the hill on Old Sauk Road just a couple miles away. They lived in the Middleton family homestead for over 45 years where Grandpa George’s parents (my great grandparents) lived prior to that.
I often thought with the name Middleton being a part of so much of my entire life we should have been in the Guinness book of world records. And I repeatedly wondered if the Village of Middleton was named after my great grandparents. I later found out it wasn’t, but it didn’t make the name any less meaningful for me.
Growing up in Middleton left me with many, many good and treasured memories. In the early 1940’s the population of Middleton was about 200, and was small enough so everyone seemed to know one another, if not as friends but by name. Neighbors helped each other when needed and it was rare to have any who didn’t get along. My have times changed! Today Middleton’s population is well over 17,000 people and the sprawling fields where I played officially became a city in 1963.
When I was three years old and my fourth and youngest brother, Wayne (Peewee), was one-year old we moved to another house in Middleton. The house we had been living in was very tiny and had no running water and so hard for my mother to care for myself and four brothers, Wayne, Frederick (Fritz), Norman, and Stanley (Punk). We only could rent 3/4ths of the bottom of a big house owned by John Dick on the corner of Hubbard Avenue and Middleton Street. John was elderly and lived in the other quarter of the downstairs. The meat market he owned on Parmenter Street in Middleton had just been sold, so he was officially retired. Meanwhile the upstairs of the house was rented out to another family.
While it was nice to be in a house, what we had moved into was really almost too small for seven of us. My four brothers had one bedroom with two sleeping in a double bed and two sleeping in an iron army type bunk bed. Mother and Dad had a tiny bedroom with just enough space for their double bed and a dresser. Our living room was very tiny. It was just big enough for what my Mother called a Library table, wooden desk, tiny dresser and a small couch with two hard couch pillows to sit on. Most people in those days called their couch a davenport, but no matter what it was called, this was to be my bed. The few clothes I had were put in the tiny dresser and my few dresses were kept in Mother and Dad’s closet.
We had a claw foot bathtub in a tiny bathroom and a kitchen with room for a big round Oak table. Our refrigerator was in a small backroom enclosed porch and it had to have a big square of ice kept in the top to keep our food cold. Refrigerators back then had a wooden exterior and no electricity. The ice man from Oscar Mayer in Madison delivered the ice in a big ice truck. We would run out to the truck to get pieces of ice to suck on, so of course we always looked forward for the ice man to visit.
Since my grandma and grandpa lived nearby, I spent a good amount of time at their amazing 200-acre farm. There were winding paths where the cows had walked that I could follow as well. Tall trees and giant ferns provided lots of shade and cool breezes in the summertime. I watched my grandpa hang kerosene lanterns in the barn because they had no electricity. It gave him enough light to be able to milk cows first thing in the morning. The whole atmosphere was simple – and so peaceful and quiet.
Grandpa had a pump by the barn with a cow tank below it. He had to go up into the woods to a neighbor to turn their electric water pump on, and then pipes above ground would bring the water to the pump by the cow tank. If they didn’t use the electric pump of the neighbors, then they had to use the pump by the cow tank and hand pump the water into the tank for the cows to drink out of. More pipes went across the cow yard in front of the barn. That way water had to be pumped towards the house and into a little building with a cement water holding tank.
Grandpa had to bring his few milk cans to that tank of cold water to put his filled big metal milk cans in to keep the milk cool until he took the cans to the Pet Milk factory in Middleton to sell it. Pet Milk Co. made it into different milk products, like evaporated cans of milk.
My grandma’s wood stove, with no temperature gauge made the best tasting and smelling baked goods. Everything she baked left the best smell, and it was something you couldn’t forget. The top of the wood stove was flat on 3/4ths of it where she cooked all the food and even canned old chickens. On the remaining part was a deep opening where she put water that would stay warm for use in washing your hands and stuff.
Today, the woods on the way up the hills and hooked onto grandpa and grandma’s property is called Owen Conservation Park. Professor Edward “Buck” Owen lived in the woods above my grandparent’s barn and where they pumped water. My mother did housework for Prof. Owen before she got married. Prof. Owen left 92 acres of his property to be made into a park, and it’s now a mix of prairie and woods with over three miles of hiking trails.
Some of my favorite memories were the tastes and smells of grandma’s baked goods. Another special thing I recall is my dad playing the harmonica. He only had a little one, but really knew how to knock out a tune with it. I remember him playing “The Old Rugged Cross” and “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” along with many other songs until his asthma got much worse and he couldn’t do it anymore.
There are so many other stories I could tell about the people and places in my childhood. This really just scratches the surface of that time period, but hopefully gives you an idea of what life was like for our family. Things weren’t always easy back then, but I wouldn’t trade these memories for anything!