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Rural Street

July 19, 2012

Rural Street! Yes, that really was its name, and is where I lived from age 4 to 14 until I went off to church boarding school. Rural Street, when I first lived there, was still a dirt road, about a mile long, running east and west between Wisconsin State Highway 49 and County E, 3 miles north of the little village proper of Berlin.

My parents bought their first home there, and I am sure that like all young couples buying their first home, they were excited and proud to have reached that stage in life. The house was nothing more than a 3 room cabin, really, with a tiny kitchen, a small living room, and one walk in closet sized bedroom where the bunkbed my sister and I shared barely fit. The little white clapboard house sat at the end of a long gravel driveway on five acres adjacent to a small year round creek that we used as our neighborhood wading pool, playground, and ice skating rink in the winter. The kitchen barely had room for one person to move around in and although it had running water, there was no bathroom in the house. Outhouses in 1955 rural Wisconsin were not uncommon, although we were the only family on Rural Street that boasted such luxury! My parent’s bed was in the living room, as was our table and big gas furnace that we bathed in front of every Friday in a battered tin tub. Looking back on that, I just shake my head. Did we really live like that? As a kid it was just home and I don’t think I gave it much thought, but it had to have been hard on my mom who was working full time at a leather factory in town, going to night school to try and get her teaching degree, and dealing with the inconveniences of that tiny, poorly equipped house.

My life, however, revolved around the people….mainly the kids…..of Rural Street. When I lived there just five families lived on the street. Down at the west end were the Nigbors. They lived in a big two story house with several outbuildings including a barn, although they were not farmers. I didn’t have much to do with them. There was a girl several years older than me that I only knew from riding the school bus; a son, Eugene, who was a year or two older than me, but he was a bit full of himself and I thought he was nothing but a bad boy. He did play softball with us on a few occasions once I was in jr. high. His little sister Melody was too young to be on my radar screen.

Just east of the Nigbors, lived Mr. and Mrs.Toll. They were ancient (probably in their 40s or 50s) and lived in an immaculately kept two story home that looked more European than rural mid-west American. With its carved and painted shutters, window boxes filled with flowers, and the ginger bread trimmed eaves in several colors it was definitely many fashion steps ahead of all the other houses on Rural Street! I never knew what either Mr. or Mrs. Toll did, or whether they had children or grandchildren. I often saw Mr.Toll outside working in his lavish garden, trimming trees and shrubs, or working in the flower beds, of which there were many. I remember Mrs. Toll giving us rhubarb and asparagus from their summer bounty.

Coming along east on Rural Street the next family was the Fitzpatricks. They lived across the street from us, just kitty corner from our driveway. They actually lived in a trailer house. Jerry Fitzpatrick was a couple years younger than me and played with my sister on occasion, but his little brother was too young for me to have interacted with at all.

The next house was ours and then just to the east of us lived the Inda’s. With their 3 kids, 5 coon hounds, a bunch of pick ups, a couple old sheds, and lots of people around day and night, it was “kid central” and where I spent most of my time after school and in the summer. Carol was a year older than me. Dorothy was exactly my age, and Jimmy was two years younger and a great buddy to my sister, also two years younger. The five of us got into more mischief, ran in and out of each other’s houses all summer long, planned and plotted great schemes, formed clubs, performed shows, told secrets, fought, played, picnicked, learned about the birds and bees and more from each other, and in general were the “Rural Street Gang.”

There was one more house…..just across Highway 49 at the east end of Rural Street…..where the Ziege’s lived. Mr. Ziege did a bit of farming, had a meat locker and ice business, and had horses and Shetland ponies. His daughter, Shari, was in my grade and became my very best friend from childhood through 8th grade. She too was part of the “Rural Street Gang” although she had to cross the highway to be on the street! She freely shared her ponies with us and there was and never will be a better summer afternoon than the one where 3 or 4 ten year old girls rode those ponies up and down Rural Street, around the corner to the “Big Woods”, picnic in tow, and not a care in the world.

No crazy stalkers, child molesters, kidnappers, or other evils to worry about back in the 1950s of rural America. We kids left home after our chores were done in the morning and came back at twilight just as the fireflies began to twinkle and moms had dinner on the table. It was an era of innocence that has not been seen since, but for those of us who lived on those quiet, dusty, rural streets of America, we were the privileged ones.

WIshing you all a pony ride kind of afternoon,

Chatty Grandma  




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  1. jeannie lindberg permalink

    Amazed that you remember all their names. I remember that tiny house. It was bigger that my home. We had running water in another building and the old outhouse. That was the life. Much less complicated …

  2. Lynda Baier permalink

    I remember Melody Nigbor and Jerry Fitzpatrick as they rode the same bus as I did back in the day. And of course I remember Dorothy Inda and Shari Ziege.

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