autobiography

by carbonboy on March 13, 2011

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Anton and Delores Milauskas with Michael MilauskasInspired by recent works of famed authors Patti Smith and Seth Godin, and moved by the recent death of my mother, I decided that the artist within me (and within us all) is now task to write about the early years of my life.

Given I’ll likely never achieve fame or fortune, I am doing this just for fun, and for the sake of my memory which may falter in the decades ahead. And who knows; should I manage to attain some notoriety, I’ll be spared the task to write my memoirs when that time comes!

The words below are the short beginning of a first draft that will grow quite slowly, at my whim, to the present day, should I live so long. The project is a task that falls within the least important things that I am doing for the present, thus it is just plain frivolous fun!

First Memories – Etched  Images, a Sense of Life’s Awe & Summer’s Sweetness

Setting the Scene Before My Time

I was born at 1:56 pm on a cold winter day early in November in the small city of Sheboygan, Wisconsin; a city on the western shores of the mighty Great Lake Michigan. It was the early 195o’s.

The city populace was mostly of German heritage, although Dutch and Poles were well represented. At the time, there was a close-nit Lithuanian community, of which my father was a part.

Catholics and Lutherans dominated the religious front. Any friction between them was unspoken. Yet my mother, a Lutheran, and my father, a Catholic, were not permitted to marry in either church. Their marriage took place in the massive pillared courthouse in Milwaukee, fifty miles to the south. Only years later could they have a ceremony in a Lutheran church, after my father, to the disdain of his parents, converted.

Likely at the time of my birth there was not a single Black, Hispanic or Asian resident living within the county. They would arrive only well after I left to seek my fortune in sunny California. This situation is nothing I take any pride in; I’m only stating that Sheboygan, like most small towns in the upper Midwest, was culturally diverse only with those of European ancestry.

The massive Kohler and Vollrath factories added to the overall wealth of the community, churning out white porcelain bathtubs and toilets, chrome plated fixtures and stainless steel cookware, all to support the biggest post-war boom of the country’s history. Dozens of smaller furniture factories that were scattered about the city’s old industrial area supplied the country with needed furnishings for growing families busily creating the other post-war boom: the baby boom. I was one of those babies – one of the tens of million baby boomers!

It was the city of cheese, churches, chairs and children. And it was, even in those days, the self-proclaimed bratwurst capital of the world! The Bratwurst Day Parade and related festivities were a bigger event than the Fourth of July.

Likely there were many more taverns than the already numerous churches in the city of my birth. If there was not a tavern on a major intersection, then likely there was a local market, or both. Many of the taverns remain; all of the mom & pop markets are gone, replaced by mini-marts.

Sheboygan was the home to the Kingsbury Brewery and at least four local bakeries, all of which made fresh daily rye breads, mudpies, twisters and coffee cakes; and each with their own secret recipe for the Sheboygan Hardroll (a prerequisite partner to the Sheboygan Bratwurst).

Sheboygan had a population of slightly less than fifty thousand residents. From my earliest memories, it was a city of a perfect size, a perfect lake, and a near perfect culture. It was, in my humble view, also perfect time to be born.

In thinking back, it is inconceivable not to have a great body of water nearby during one’s childhood. To this day, there is an emptiness within me if a such a great body of water is not close to what I call home. As for the others things, well, all local cultures have their own uniqueness. I would have loved to grow up in LA or New York City. I am not about to judge which to be the better. One is simply born where and when it happens.

Humble Start

My father told me that there was a rare blizzard that day, and he almost didn’t get my mother (and I) to the hospital on time. I’m so glad that he did!

I was delivered by Dr. Bernard Marsho, who later had the record of delivering more babies in the county than any other doctor – so his lovely daughter Roberta told me a half a century later. She sat directly in front of me in high school homeroom for three years, and I had an unrequited crush on her for that entire time. Although we have never met since then, I finally revealed that fact to her in a friendly email a few years back.

Michael Milauskas at age one

Early in my childhood my mother proudly informed me that my dad was so excited by my birth, he had taken a week off of work, and graciously handed out dozens of “It’s a Boy” cigars at the local taverns. He confirmed the story with glee!

Later, when I could better reason, my mother informed me that they were “trying” to have a child for some three long years. I was their first success. For the sake of my two sisters and I, we are, no doubt, glad it worked out that way. We got lucky as a result of that unplanned delay!

Before my siblings came along, this new family of three lived in a small apartment above a storefront, or perhaps a dedicated apartment building (I must check) on Michigan Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets. I have no recollection of that place other than my mother showing it to me when I was old enough to comprehend. It is still there today.

Shortly later we moved to a larger second floor flat that I believed was owned by my mother’s uncle, Clarence Kolb.  This is where I have my first memory, in the form of an image or two. It was a long wide straight stairway to a door outside on the floor below. I had both a fear and fascination with those stairs. I must have sensed that this massive vertical corridor was the path to freedom and adventure.

As I could only crawl, or was just learning to walk, it was on the edge of my universe. Likely for that reason, I remember one of those expandable wooden gates, placed there to prevent this young toddler from tumbling down. My first memory was an image outside my world, except when safely in the arms of my father or mother.

Again we moved to the south side on Swift Avenue and again, a second floor flat. I was two to three years old, as I had still not started school. But I had gained the freedom of mobility that I had, rightfully, been denied as a mere crawling baby.

There are only a handful of images from that time, but they are forever etched into my mind. I often wonder if there is some process to go into the forgotten depths of the mind and pull out a few more. No matter, as at least these few memories remain.

The Layout of the Flat

Again the only stairway to the flat was from the backyard of the property. Once up, there was a small hall and a kitchen with a view of the backyard and magical alley (alleys are a kids best close-to-home playground). I loved the view from the second floor both from the back kitchen and the front bedroom.

To this day, wherever I go, I have the insatiable desire to get to the top of anything and look down – whether it be a mountain,  a pile of large rocks, a tower, skyscraper or any such structure – I want to see the view from the top and take in the big picture.

Past the kitchen was the living room and all I can recall is a rather large gas space heater. There was no hall through the flat and the next room over was the master bedroom. It had two screen widows with a view of the tree-lined Swift Avenue.

I have only a vague recollection of what might have been my tiny bedroom on the west side of the flat, but oddly no details of the room itself.

Cosmic Cognizance

Next comes, what no doubt we all experience – a visual image combined with a sensation – in this case one of awe coupled with nurturing.

One night from the narrow pantry on the east side of the flat my mother showed me a full moon, bright and white as it was high in the sky. Later she showed me again and half of it was gone, and still later fully recovered. No doubt it was my first witness to a lunar eclipse.

I recall some explanation from her, some teaching and a nurturing experience and, of course, that mystery of that full moon disappearing and returning. I recall her closeness, perhaps as I had to be lifted to view out small window.

That was the first time ever having a multifaceted memory, the image of the moon over space in time during a rare natural event, the darkness, the warmth, closeness and love of a nurturing mother, and the awe of life itself.

Summer Sweetness

I know for certain we spent one summer on Swift Avenue, as I was free to roam with a limited area of the neighborhood. My first summer’s delight, in my mind and soul is, again, a memory that involves my developing senses and well images.

It was a warm, bright and very breezy day. In the backyard my mother had hung the laundry – not just the normal stuff, but all colors and textures of sheets and blankets wanting to fly away in the wind, save for the old style clothes pins preventing their escape.

I was alone and running in the soft grass through a maze of fresh cotton sheets, linen table clothes and wool blankets. I could hide from the world in here and run right out again. The warm wind and animated fabrics were like nothing I ever experienced. Imagine what simple things delight a small child.

Perhaps that day, or another I would wander east down the alley to a kind woman’s home and she would, I’m sure with my mother’s approval, reward the journey to the limits of my universe with milk & cookies. I recall only one such visit, but no doubt there were many, as it was a visit to a familiar grownup.

The remainder of my outdoor universe consisted of the front yard’s steep, grassy bluff, coolly shaded by elm trees that lined both sides of the street. There I recall sitting and talking with my first ever neighborhood friend. I know nothing of what we said or did. We would sit on the top of the bluff rolling and, as we became braver, somersaulting down, giggling and talking.

Later, visiting at his house directly to the west, we played some games. I remember admiring his many toys and awesome marbles. In his house, his father had a large globe, which I found intriguing. I was allowed to spin it, but only slowly.

Other than my cousin Jim, who was six months my senior, this was my first ever childhood friend. If only I could recall his name!

Next: Life on Logan Avenue

{ 6 comments }

Kathi – your sister February 16, 2010 at 11:02 am

About five years ago, Mother told me that they got married in a Catholic church too. You would have to confirm that fact with Aunt Adeline if that really ocurred!

carbonboy February 16, 2010 at 11:42 am

Thanks Kathi – well it is just the start of a draft. Many “facts” will be lost forever now that she is gone.

The move to Logan Avenue comes next, but you don’t enter the picture for a time.

Victoria February 16, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Hi~the boy in your picture looks like happy.
I wish you can keep this great happiness and bright smile entire your all life sincerely…
Like you~

carbonboy February 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Thanks Victoria! Just like your little boy – life is (mostly) happy when you are one year old! Of course that photo was taken a very l o n g time ago. But yes, I try to wake up with a smile every morning.

Happiness is when your mind is thinking through your heart. -Judi Singleton

Roberta marsho March 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm

WOW! Pretty cool to see my name in print in your autobiography! If I had known you had a crush on me back then I would have talked to you more than just a quick “hello”. I just assumed most boys didn’t notice me. Since my dad gave the sex ed. talks at the junior high, he was glad that there weren’t too many boys showing up at the doorstep!
You mentioned your mom passed away recently. I’m very sorry to hear that. My parents are both still with us but I know that sad day will come soon enough.
I hope to see you at the reunion this summer. We can reminisce about the good old days in homeroom.
Roberta
ps- cute baby picture…I’d recognize that smile anywhere.

carbonboy March 12, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Roberta – oooh – you of all people were not suppose to see that. I hope you don’t mind – and I had your name misspelled – now fixed.