PART 2: I remember the Blase family, their home and the attic bedroom but not WWII.
Grandma and Grandpa lived in a 2 bedroom house in Springfield Illinois on South 11th street. I remember their phone number x4140 probably because when I was very young, it was drilled into me so in case I got lost or something. The phone company sold so many phones they ran out of numbers and had to add a 3 digit prefix. It was easier to learn this addition than the original numbers. Is it amazing that to this day I still remember it?
Carl Henry Blase Jr., born April 26,1909, and Nellie Princess (nee Wallner), November 18,1909 were married March 4, 1933. They had 4 daughters, Carol, Norma Jean (my mother), Bonnie and Sandy.
Grandpa wall tall and wiry, about 6 foot 2, of course you can get this from any old picture, I especially like the one of him in Chicago, when he was attending plumbing school. The picture was snapped as he was walking down the street wearing his familiar and I think favorite hat. But what the pictures don't show is how strong he was. He used to tell stories about his "wrassling" days, this as apposed to the 1994 version of "wrestling". Today's show is a 'put on' just to entertain. Grandpa did this for money probably back in the depression. The years were difficult and it was around 1930. $5 for going three rounds or something like that. He said he quit, not because he wasn't strong enough, but because these guys were bulky, often outweighing him by 100 lbs or more, and eventually he hurt his back. But you would never know it in later years. I saw him carry some awful heavy things, bathtubs, sinks, toilets, etc.
My Grandpa was the son of Carl Frederich Henry Blase Sr. It appears that the "Sr" is not an official title. I use it simply to distinguish between Grandpa & Great Grandpa. He was born Germany March 17, 1881. His wife was Louise Maria Blase - born Engelbrecht, also in 1881. Great Grandpa was only 5 months old when his father, Carl Frederich Blase (born December 18,1842) brought him to America. Carl Frederich was married to Kathrine Ilsabein Blase (born Haerstermeier). This was his second marriage as his first wife passed away from unknown causes. It was also her second marriage. Baptism records for Carl Frederich indicate Franz Heinrich Blase (aka Blesse or Blaase) was his father. Franz was born in 1817. The Blesse name is not confirmed in any family records in my possession, only online research so my guess is that the translated spelling is incorrect. Franz would be my great, great, great grandfather. To my grandsons Alex & Shawn would that be 5 generations?
After I moved away, whenever I went for a visit, our greeting was always a handshake. Not just a warm, friendly "how do?" but a purposeful, hearty, squeezing, "who's the strongest" handshake. Grandpa always won when I was a teenager. Occasionally he would ask after a particularly hearty shake, "OK?" "Yes" was always my answer, but I knew my hand had been shook my a powerful, healthy man. This continued for many years. When Grandpa was in his early 60s and I was in my 20's. He could still make me wince. It just amazed me he was that strong.
As I got older, there was one particular greeting that I clearly recall. I don't remember the day or the year, or how old we were, just that on the exchange of our usual handshakes, I saw a brief look of pain in Grandpa's eyes that day. I never felt exactly the same about Grandpa after that. I knew a couple of things I had not known before. One was that I would never squeeze Grandpas' hand that hard ever again and that someday I was really going to miss him, a lot. We continued to exchange handshakes for many years, for me it became more that just a greeting, it was a way I could tell how he was feeling without really asking. You see, Grandpa was a proud man, he didn't believe in doctors and I don't think he ever thought anything was really ever wrong with himself. "Just a touch of this" or "nothing a little nip" wouldn't fix. For him, this worked his whole life. He judged his health by not seeing a doctor. So, if you asked, you rarely replied anything but "do in" OK.
My Mom was quite young when I was born and divorced quickly after the marriage soon after my birth. Carl & Nellie Blase' oldest daughter was rebellious at an early age. There was so much upheaval in her teenage years my grandparents insisted that I live with them until she obtained some stability in her life and this is how I ended up calling them “Mom” & “Dad”. This may seem kind of confusing but to me it was perfectly clear, I had two MOMs and one Dad.
If you want to know family history, then check out the website "My Heritage" and become a member of the family tree. A small book exists from Nellie Blasé that this website blog is based on along with a ton of research. The Heritage tree also exists in physical 'book' format. This picture was taken on their wedding day. So when I say "Mom & Dad" in this writing, unless otherwise explained, I am actually referring to my Grand Father & Grand Mother pictured below.
As head of the family in 1881, Carl Frederich Blasé decided all would move to America. They boarded the ship General Werder at the Bremen Germany port of call and sailed to New York on or about September 14,1881, arriving September 27. It must have been quite an adventure. My best information as to where the Blase's lived is a town in the Herford district named Bunde, situated in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. I've also heard it's by "Dunne". In 1881 you didn't exactly get on a plane and fly to Bremen to "catch a boat". So my speculation is that since they lived close to OSNABRUCK the family traveled there first, then boarded a train to Bremen. I can't imagine what the transportation was like from Bunde to Osnabruck. Can you? They stopped in Alton Illinois and eventually settled in Springfield. This was the first of 2 known trips to America. The ship manifest lists 6 total Blase family members at that time with Carl Frederick's occupation listed as 'farmer' - age 38. 'Anna' was 36, Heinrich was 9, Marie was 9, Heinrich was 7 and Carl (my great grandfather) was just 4 months old. These manifests were hand written by an unknown 'interviewer' at the time they boarded the ship. You can read about all this and more in the blog post titled "German Immigration Family Research".
When "Mom & Dad" married they spent their lives in the same house on 11th street save for a short time in an apartment. Since this in October 7, 1994, and I’m just starting, I will try to verify this. [NOTE: It is now 2017 as I continue my review and rewriting of my original document and this is indeed accurate]. These dates demonstrate that this is a life long work for me.
Mom Blasé (born Nellie Princess Wallner) grew up in Hettick Illinois. Dad was born in Springfield. Why the family stop in Alton? Once again something to cover in "German Immigration Family Research".
Their house had a wooden front porch floor with about 5 cement steps you had to walk up. The door had a lock that worked on a skeleton key. It wouldn’t have been unusual to have that one key open every lock in the house. It might even work on the neighbors house. When you entered from the front, there was a living room with a couch two chairs and an “end” table. The TV with a tiny round screen sat in the corner, by the window. I was about 5 or 6 when I first started paying attention to it. I remember how everyone made a fuss over the NBC peacock. It was in color. Most programs were not. Before my time there was a black and white TV prior to the color one.
The doorway to the next room was really an open “archway” as wide as the room. In here was the piano, the dining room table and two built in corner hutches. Built by Grandpa I’d bet. Continuing straight ahead, on the left, a heavy wooden swinging door opened into the kitchen or out as it were. All the doors were occasionally "shellacked". This made them somewhat sticky to the touch especially on humid days but this completely sealed the wood and protected it. Every once in a while the doors would contract or expand with the weather and that would make a noise, a sort of "thump" like someone knocked once on it.
On the left were the simple wooden cabinets and a sink with no disposal. All leftover food capable of decomposing was taken out back and buried. To the right of the two way swinging kitchen door was the gas stove, the refrigerator was next and then Grandma's bedroom door. A third door led to the basement. The kitchen was 8 by 8. Three doors in this tiny kitchen! Heading into the bedroom turning to the right was the dresser, a door leading to the hallway. Looking left you see the door leading to the attic. As soon as you stepped into the hallway, the only bathroom in the house was on the left. A tub with no shower, a sink and stool. A 4 by 4 room if you don't count the tub. Straight down the hallway was the only other bedroom in the house. Halfway down the hallway an opening on the right led back into the dining room. It was a very small house by any standard. To compensate, grandpa had built a room in the attic. In fact it was 2 rooms with a third unfinished room for storage - Christmas decorations, etc.
Following is a note written to me from my mother when she was a child remembering the attic:
Mom (or whom my son & grandsons' knew as Granny T) was just 7 years old when her father told her this. Indeed I still have some of her ration stamps. My Aunt (her sister Carol) was 4 1/2 yrs old. It eventually became my bedroom. A 5 year old could stand up without obstruction, but in later years when I went back to visit, I could not stand up at all.
You reached the basement by exiting the appropriate kitchen door, and descend two short flights of steps. If you entered the house from the outside back door, you stood on the “landing” between the two sets of stairs. I’ve seen this design in many older houses. When you enter the house from the back, as soon as you open the door and step in, you’re facing a wall. You have to decide to go up to the right towards the kitchen or down to the basement. The back door would not close until you made up your mind and actually took steps one way or the other.
The basement was open. Well, sort of. I guess what I mean is that in some houses the basement is ‘finished’ with drop ceilings, plastered walls, floors, etc. Not in Grandpa’s basement. It was as naked as the day it was built, except for a few improvements he made. The steps come down along the wall. As you walk down them, there isn’t but a foot or so after you get to the bottom before you run into the outer basement wall. Turning the corner to your right lets you see the underside of the steps, the washing machine under the steps and the electrical box. It used fuses that were little devices that you screwed into a hole in the box to make an electrical circuit. Eventually these were replaced by modern circuit breakers. Then there’s a homemade table. This is one corner of the basement, and as you see below, my favorite. This is the only known picture of the playroom side of the basement. Can you say dungeon?
In the center of the basement is the furnace. The first one was a coal burner that looked like a real monster, the kind of furnace with a grate like the door on a pot bellied stove or a steam locomotive that opens and lets you shovel coal in. The fireman (or the stoker) has to put in coal to keep the pressure up on the train wheels. This furnace is somewhat akin to a brick oven pizza maker but its 10 feet across and because of its size divides the basement into 2 halves. The left side, the side you see when you walk down the steps and look to the right, is lit up, has a small refrigerator, a small pot bellied stove, and a desk (right next to the furnace) these items are lined up in a row and form an isle down the left side of the basement. This area is all grandpa’s office and the only known picture below was taken in 1967. He is sitting at his fathers desk and you can see the furnace behind him. Grandpa's father was city treasurer until he died in 1948. The desk came out of his office. This of course is the second furnace not the original coal burning one.
At the end of the isle is a steel door that opens to a small room with all kinds of junk in it. This room used to be the coal room. When the truck making the coal delivery would back up into the driveway a small door at the corner of the house foundation would be opened to allow the driver to fill the room. Coal is a misnomer. From the late 19th century until the 1950s, 'anthracite' was the most popular fuel for heating homes and other buildings in the northern US, until it was supplanted by oil burning systems and more recently natural gas systems.
If you walked from the basement steps to the right, going past the washer, then you were on the “other” side of the basement. There was a small steel couch with very thin cushions. The steel slats could be clearly felt when you sat on it. Across from the couch just on the other side of the pot bellied stove, was a sink. This arrangement made a kind of room that you could play in as you can see in the previous picture. A rug was placed on the floor and it was fairly clean, as far as musty old smelly basements go. This room had a back door, well there wasn’t actually a door but a hallway entrance to another “back” room. In my younger days I didn’t go into this room often. In fact it used to scare the daylights out of me. You could not turn a light on first and go into the room. You had to 'enter' the room and in the dark reach for a string tied to a pull chain light. Then a little further into the room you could see another pull chain light. When both lights were on the room was OK. When they were off, well that's what nightmares were made of.
In those early years there was "hell" to pay, if you misbehaved. Grandpa was a big believer in "SPARE THE ROD AND SPOIL THE CHILD". I can remember a particularly bad day when I had done something, and I got a whipping with the belt tha looked like about 2 inches across and six feet long. To this day I think there were staples in the end of that thing, but I couldn't swear to it. I only know that after one of those whippings I had trouble sitting down for awhile, in fact the only ‘safe’ place was in the old, handmade wooden swing set outback. Whatever it was that you got paddled for, you NEVER did again. To this day I can't remember what I did wrong.
Grandma wasn't exactly a prude in this area either. I could outrun her though. Grandpa would be out working, and I would do something wrong. Grandma would decide you needed the "switch". Her method was to make you go outside and break a thin branch off a bush and take it back in the house for her to whip you with. Well on this particular day I decided I wasn't putting up with that anymore and promptly began running around the house. If you recall the layout of the house from earlier you could run from the dining room to the kitchen, to the bedroom, down the hallway, thru door to the right and into the living room and go around again. I don't remember for how long she chased me that day, but finally she said "if you don't stop I'm going to tell your father". Visions of that belt made me stop and take the "switch".
Grandma was never paid to work after her first born. Her job was to raise 4 daughters and a son (me, well...), take care of the house, cook three meals a day (this seemed especially important), do the laundry, hang clothes on the clothes line and on and on. As far back as I can remember there was never a dryer in the house, until they retired. Heavy woven rugs comparable to Persian rugs I suppose, had to occasionally be carried outside, thrown over a clothesline and 'beaten'.
She did a lot of work in the garden out in back of the garage. Behind the garage were two raspberry bushes, all full of stickers, and two metal garbage cans that were actually "buried" up to their lids in the ground. There were holes punched in them and they were strategically placed next to the garden. Anything that would "decay", such as leftover food, spoiled things, watermelon rinds, that kind of stuff, was put in these cans. No one in this house ever had an electric disposal. Many times it was my job to take this trash out after dinner. I hated to reach down and lift the lid. I always thought something was going to come out at me.
The garden was about 5 feet wide and ran along the neighbors fence for the length of the yard (about 30 feet). There were the usual things, peas, carrots, lettuce etc.. I think this was one of the few chores around the house that Grandpa helped with. The rest of the "running of the household" was left up to Grandma. So don't misunderstand me when I say Grandma never worked outside the house. She had her hands full. But far from complaining (and I NEVER heard Grandma EVER complain) I think She seemed very happy and contented with her role.
As a child, when ever we had liver which was always tough and chewy, Sandy used to tell me the bedtime story about Jonny’s liver. She was 4 years older than I and I always thought of her as a sister. The story was how this mostly dead guy, would come limping down our alley at night dragging one of his feet, with his arms dangling at his side, opening the lid of each trash can. He was looking for his liver! This was my first exposure as a child in 1957 to ZOMBIES! "Where's my liver!!" he would call out in a slow moaning voice. "Clang clang did you hear that?", Sandy would say. "He's opening the cans at out house!. He's in the backyard! "Oooooh, where's my liver? Who took my livvver?". Louder and louder the moaning would get! What happens when he finds me and I would have to tell him I ate his liver? How would he get it back? He would take mine! Then Sandy would say "good night" and leave me in the attic all alone.