Born either on October 30 or 31st, in 1900, our grandma Marie Catherine Munshausen always claimed Halloween as her birthday. As the 9th of 11 children, her parents might or might not have remembered exactly which day it was. Devout Catholics in those days, all of their children were baptized in the church so perhaps they thought that All Saints Eve would be easier to remember. It certainly helped the rest of our family to remember and gave our “ReeRee” a certain cachet. She always struck me as far from spooky, but my sisters may think differently. As Halloween approaches she is on my mind.
Immigrating to New York from Luxembourg in 1891 the family quickly settled in Hastings, Minnesota, home of the Ketter family – Margarethe’s family. One can imagine that the letters home from this branch of the family helped to encourage Charles and Maggie Munshausen to make the change. After all, at that time, they had just three children.
Not long after, the enterprising family found a boarding house to run in the college town of River Falls, Wisconsin, across the Mississippi. Close to the Normal School, which trained teachers, there appeared to be a steady stream of boarders. Charles worked as a barber and a bartender during those years. Marie grew up in that boarding house. Life was likely quite difficult for the younger Munshausen girls during their adolescent years. Her father left the home around the time she was becoming an adolescent and she retained a very goal oriented and work focused mentality. Her 3 older sisters, Mag, Lena and Jo, left home around that time as well, so many tasks likely fell to Marie and her two younger sisters, Sophie (Betty) & Suzy (Pat).
Marie met her first husband, Fred Collins, in Seattle after the girls, their mother and new stepfather moved to Seattle from St. Paul about 1919. The oldest daughter, Mag, had moved there with her husband Ted. Betty married in April of 1920 at the age of 17, with Marie as witness. One wonders if this helped Marie see marrying Fred as an appropriate rite of passage for a 19 year old. They married that July. Our mother was born in April of 1922 and they were divorced by 1927. Marie soon remarried Charles Craig, who was known by us as “Granddaddy”. Grandpa Fred (Collins) remarried also in 1930, to Irene Dahlgren, our “Auntie”. Although it was strange for their grandchildren in the 1950s to have so many grandparents, we made the most of it. Christmas was a real bonanza! We also gained two uncles – one from each marriage – who are still vibrant members of our family.
The time I spent with Marie was generally busy: we walked down Highway 99 to the Poodle Dog Restaurant in Fife – I thought she was really brave! And we filled days with domestic things like making cookies and sauerkraut. It seemed that there was always a crock fermenting in the garage and we would periodically check it. I remember the aroma was very strong and evokes those years when I smell it now. I learned to love it then and think of our Reeree fondly when I prepare or eat a dish that contains it – like a Costco hotdog. Not quite the same as homemade, but good.
A ritual that never failed to entertain and satisfy us was the Saturday morning trip to the Brown and Haley factory in Tacoma where Granddaddy would get the “broken pieces” to share. They apparently sold them by the pound and inexpensively. We would also make a stop at “George’s Store” – the Washington State Liquor Store – called that for the picture of George Washington on the window.
One of the things I remember about domestic chores was the wringer washer in the garage. This was before dryers, so we would wring out the clean clothes and hang them on the line. I still love the smell of clothes that have been dried on a clothesline.
Granddaddy worked for the Telephone company (I suspect this is where he and Reeree originally met, she did also) and going to visit him in the exchange where he worked was a wonder. Lots of floor to ceiling machines and things that clicked and buzzed and rang nonstop – this was how the phone system worked in those days and, despite his attempts to explain it to me, it stayed pretty mysterious. See it here:
Marie became ill in about 1958 and when her husband died in 1959 she took a turn for the worse and began to have serious memory problems. She lived with us for a time, but caring for her became too much for our family and she entered a nursing home where she died in July of 1962. I think of her with love every Halloween.