11 october 2020

Family. Chapter One.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Family stories from birth to 1930. Musa family photo circa 1941 with Myrtle (age 38), Diane (6), Florence (20), Misko (46) and Naomi (8).

To start at the beginning I must regress and go to the time prior to memory, and while I admit it may all be hearsay, tell of the early days. I was born in May of 1924 in the city of Chicago, on 89th and Manistee, within sight and sound of the steel mills. My mother was Myrtle Musa, nee Matteson and my father was Misko Musa. I was born at home and the house I was born in has been torn down and the latest addition to Bowen High School now stands on the site of that house.

My mother was 8th generation American with her ancestry including Scottish nobility going back to the Clan Munro on my Grandmother Matteson’s side while my Grandfather traced his ancestry back to the Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania and included Ulysses S Grant as a relative. My father was an immigrant who came, as did so many others in the early 20th century to seek his fortune in the land of opportunity. He was born in Mostar, Croatia in 1894 or 95 and arrived in the US via Canada in 1913. He worked as a laborer, carpenter, roustabout, and on occasion as a carnival wrestler. It was at a carnival in South Chicago in 1919 that my parents met. And after a whirlwind courtship which was fought every foot of the way by my Grandparents, they were married in December of 1919. They always claimed they were married by a janitor, as the minister who performed the service was busily engaged in tending the church furnace when they arrived for the wedding. Myrtle was 16 and Misko 24.

I have a number of siblings, first born was Eve, who was gone within minutes of birth. Florence was born in 1921, myself in 1924, Naomi in 1933 (she was a premature twin, one of whom died at birth) and the last was Diane who was born in 1935. More about all of these later.

My first recollections were of about 4 years of age. We lived in a nice home in the area of 91st and Woodlawn. Dad was working for the Pullman Standard Car Company as a carpenter and Mom had bought a baby grand piano which I remember them delivering with a block and tackle arrangement to our second floor flat. I can remember it was a happy time for all concerned. There were the two of us kids, Florence and me. Mom and Dad were happy with each other and the house was always the scene of happy family gatherings. Even the Grandparents were to all appearances happy with the way things were going. And then came 1929, and Dad like so many others suddenly found himself without a job, without savings, and pretty much without hope. Almost overnight we've gone from a fairly well-to-do middle-class family with what seemed to be a secure future to the brink of poverty. Looking back I remember Mom crying as the same people who delivered the piano just the year before came and lowered it out the big bay window to repossess it. This was followed closely by our leaving the big flat and moving to a small alley cottage, and Florence and I being shipped off to live with our Grandparents who had purchased a small farm around Walkerton Indiana. This began an intermittent phase of my life which I now look back on with a great deal of nostalgia mixed with regret. Nostalgia for the good days on the farm with my cousins (four of the Jordans were there), the warm carefree days filled with swimming in the creek, running and playing, doing small kid type chores all mixed with the love and discipline of my Grandparents. And regret that I wasn't with my mother and dad enjoying what I remembered so recently as a warm loving home. We would spend our summers, and I recall the winter of 1930, on the farm and then suddenly we would be on the train back to Chicago for a period of time only to be shuttled back to Walkerton. This went on for a period of 5 years.

It was while we were on the farm that my Great-Grandmother Wolfenburger died and I vividly remember it as being my first experience with death. All of the family came out from Chicago and other parts of the country to attend her funeral and see her laid to rest. I was living on the farm and of course the place was the focal point of the event. Grandma Wolfenburger had been a lifelong resident of Walkerton and the wake was a mini reunion of the Matteson, and Wolfenburger families. (Note: my Grandfather's father had passed away and his mother had remarried a Wolfenburger.) I did not want to be any part of the funeral and it was only under duress that I was finally forced to attend. I can still remember coming up the porch of the old place and as I looked through the glass panes of the parlor door, my eye level was just at the top level of the casket and all I could see was Grandma's nose sticking up in my line of sight over the top of the casket. To say this unnerved me is an understatement, as I guess I threw an immediate tantrum and was whisked away from the scene to the home of my Aunt Beulah and Uncle Norm where they tried to pacify me with generous helpings of pastry, and an overdose of lemon cream pie. To this day I have never again eaten lemon pie. Aunt Beulah’s was where the after funeral gathering was held and from what I've been told of the affair, I was truly hell on wheels, finally being banished with a cousin as caretaker back to the farm. Now almost 60 years later it is still one of the vivid memories of my childhood.