Memories of country life and 65 years together
Couple looks back in time to an old New Berlin homestead
New Berlin - When Irene and Francis Kau look out the window, they can still see in their minds' eyes a Model A bouncing up the farm driveway.
It was New Berlin in the 1930s, and the car was typically coming for three families' children - including Irene and her cousins, who lived on the farm next to hers - so they could get to Holy Apostles grade school 2½ miles away. Packed nine deep in the Model A, they would have traversed National Avenue, the only paved road at the time in their neck of the woods.
Irene and Francis now live at the Parkwood Highlands retirement community at 137th Street and National Avenue on the same land where Irene's cousins lived. When they look out the window, they can see where Irene's childhood home was, though the neighborhood today looks nothing like their memories.
Francis grew up nearby, on a 130-acre dairy farm at 124th and National that extended all the way to Cleveland Avenue.
Farm life in childhood
The couple, which just celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, can't look at Irene's old homestead without remembering good times in farm country.
"My cousins had a swing," Irene said, recalling how the two families played and worked together.
"And in summer, my mother had a big patch of strawberries," Irene said. The whole family picked those strawberries, and then her mother and father drove their haul to her mother's customers, she recalled.
There was also an apple orchard, plus a big garden that lavishly spilled out vegetables for the family to can and eat all winter. The dairy farm also had cows, chickens and pigs and grew hay, corn and oats to feed them.
Irene's childhood home also had a big cider press, and people came from miles around to have their apples pressed into juice.
When they needed supplies, they headed for West Allis, where a butcher shop at about 81st and National sold fresh meat that supplemented the family diet during the summer.
When the air acquired a cool nip around Thanksgiving, it was time to put up the meat from one of the 200-pound pigs on the farm. Irene helped and both the "farm kids" say the meat that was put up in jars for winter was more tasty than the pork that is served on today's tables.
"It was good, nice and soft and full of flavor," Irene said.
Francis, too, is well-aware of how succulent the meats were because his mother also canned meat every fall.
Maybe it was feeding the pigs entirely on oats and corn with no artificial anything that made the difference, Francis suggested.
A life together
Irene and Francis don't really like to talk about how love blossomed between the two farm kid neighbors, but blossom it did.
The couple had five children, bringing them up for a short time on the farm where Francis grew up. Son Charles, their eldest, was 11 when the family moved to West Allis and Francis worked for the city of Wauwatosa.
The couple ended up next door to Irene's childhood home because of Charles. He and another brother live in New Berlin and, wanting mom and dad to be close, Charles picked out the Highlands.
Although Irene's childhood home was subdivided in the 1960s, and homes now stand in the sunshine where hay and oats once did, she and Francis are accepting of what what progress has raised on the old homestead.
"It's real nice," Francis said. "The old fence and garage are still there."
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