His parents, my great-grandparents Ralph and Babe, had taken on a lot more responsibility in the 12 years since their 1930 marriage. Not only did they now have three young children, they had also recently taken in Babe's elderly widowed mother.
“My grandfather [Earl] fell from the corn crib and broke several ribs (I can’t remember if anything else was broken), and he lingered for quite a while and then finally died," said my grandfather Dinon. "I was probably seven or eight years old when he died ... And after that we had the funeral, and they had an auction and they sold everything in the farm [in Illinois] and the farm itself ... Then Grandma Henness came to live with us after that."
In her old age, Grandma Henness had developed rheumatoid arthritis and the knuckles of her hands were swollen and painful. But she did what she could to help out around the house, especially in the kitchen.
“She was the one who would bake the bread, almost every day. And I took it on myself to get her to forget to take the bread out of the oven because I liked the crust nice and dark brown (and she liked it light brown)," Dinon said, chuckling. "So I would try and do everything I could to get her attention away from the bread for a while so that it would get darker. I don’t think we ever burned it, but sometimes I’d get my way and it would be cooked a little longer. I enjoyed that, let me tell you."
727 McIndoe Street, Wausau, WI
(Present day: Google Maps Street View)
Initially, the Boyer family rented a home in Wausau, just east of the Wisconsin River and near the train station. Shortly after their arrival, Ralph purchased a house for the family just a block-and-a-half away.
"Now that was some house in Wausau," my grandfather said.
The house, 727 McIndoe (MACK-in-doe), was a big white house three stories tall. Its face was ornamented by two big bushes and four huge pillars, and it came with a four-car garage. It even had a back stairway and a perfect patch of dirt for my grandfather to play war games with his toy planes and a few firecrackers.
Babe and Ralph (and infant Glenda) stayed in the second-story bedroom at the front of the house, which included a small balcony over the porch; Dinon and his brother Darryl shared a second-story room at the east corner of the back of the house; and Grandma Henness had the third floor (minus the storage space) all to herself, including a bathroom.
“She liked being up on the third floor," Dinon said. “I can’t remember when Grandma died, but she lived with us for a long long time.”
The house was so big that it even had a room just for the kids and their toys.
"I remember there was one room designated as the playroom, and I had a Lionel train set that I played with," Dinon said. "It had a big loop, two switches, and a smaller loop inside. And I would play with the blocks, and make tunnels and different things."
A photo of my young grandfather and his toys,
including the blocks his Grandpa Henness made
The blocks he played with had been handmade years ago by his Grandpa Earl Henness for Babe (Dinon's mother), the only child in her family. Earl also made a large toy box for Babe, and both the box and the blocks were passed down to her firstborn, my grandfather. Today, that box is sitting against the wall of his family room, and inside are the same wooden blocks from this photo. Though still sturdy, they are chipped, dented and stained by four generations of children's play.
Since there was a playroom for the boys, Dinon and Darryl's bedroom was small and practical.
"We had a bed on each wall and an aisle in between," Dinon said. "We did have a bureau, which we had to share, so each of us had a small drawer at the top on each side, and one big drawer, so we didn't have a lot of clothes. In the summertime, that wasn't so bad.”
And the boys were responsible for keeping their room tidy.
“When I was a kid, I always made my bed before I went down for breakfast, it was just part of the routine. And you didn't waste any time, particularly in the winter, getting dressed," said Dinon. "My parents believed that you needed fresh air when you slept, therefore the storm window was always raised four to six inches. And if it snowed, you might have a little skiff of snow right on the window ledge. So, I’ll tell ya, when you got up in the morning, you wasted no time, you got dressed and got your bed made and got of your room and into something warm.”
The Boyer family lived in the McIndoe house until 1946, and my grandfather's middle school years played out in Wausau, including his first job, deaf classmates, and two rounds of scarlet fever.
(to be continued)