What Do You Think the Poor People are Doing Tonight?

Last night, my wife made her soon-to-be-famous Breakfast Cookies- a hearty cookie which includes whole wheat flour, rolled oats, milled flax seed, pecans, applesauce, and about 47 other ingredients which elude me.  She’s scoured the internet and has combined some ingredients from this recipe with some ingredients from that recipe.  This is the third or fourth time she’s made them and each time they seem to get better and better.  After she finished baking last night, she commented that she thought she had finally gotten the recipe “dialed in” and proceeded to write it down.

While she tends to prefer the consistency of a proven recipe, I prefer to develop my recipes by feel.  Lately, I’ve been concentrating on trying to emulate some of the principles that guided my grandparents and other ancestors, namely that expensive ingredients do not necessarily equate to good food and that inexpensive ingredients can often equate to excellent food.  I’m starting to feel pretty confident about being able to make really good bread, pasta/ noodles/ dumplings, Swedish Pancakes, soups, pesto, and lately home-made pita bread or naan.  All of these are very inexpensive to make.  This fall I really want to start making sausage.

[singlepic id=48 w=300 h=220 float=right]There are several dishes that my grandparents on both sides were famous for and many of these recipes, I’m sure, were passed down from generation to generation.  On my mom’s side, my Grandma Emma was known for being an exceptional cook.  She had the ability, imagination, and patience to be able to turn an inexpensive piece of shoe leather into an incredible roast.  Some of her recipes, Sauerbraten and Knoedl for example, were “influenced” by her Bavarian husband, my Grandpa Dodge and his family.  Knoedl are dumplings made from the stale bread my grandmother collected during the week.  Nothing went to waste.

[singlepic id=49 w=300 h=220 float=left]On my dad’s side of the family, my Granny Pat and Aunt Grace often made Potato Dumplings.  While this may not sound exciting, just the mention of Granny Pat making Potato Dumplings would send my cousins and me into a lather.  This dish consisted of dumplings made from finely grated potatoes, eggs, and flour which were boiled, drained and then covered with a broth made with sliced onions, bacon, and bacon grease.  My arteries are hardening as I type this.  My Uncle Bob Rathkamp used to say that the best thing to use to squeeze the water out of the grated potatoes was an old t-shirt.  I have no doubt this recipe is Pommeranian, and was most likely a recipe brought over by my Waege, Brockhaus, or Wesenberg ancestors.

Good food, eaten with people you love, has the ability to bring people even closer.  My Grandma Emma and Grandpa Dodge did not come from wealthy families, quite the contrary.  But her culinary abilities made us feel like we were eating like kings.  Always and without fail, my Grandpa Dodge would end a special meal by pushing his plate away, and with a giant grin on his face say, “What do you think the poor people are doing tonight?”

From Rathkamps to Waeges

Time to shift gears a little.  I’ve spent most of the last 6 months researching and compiling Rathkamp family information, just because there’s been a flood of it, thanks to Friedhelm Wessels.  The truth of the matter is that researching other parts of my family has been a little easier.

I think most families have some sort of family lore that’s passed from one generation to the next.  There are a ton of stories that have been told from my mom’s side of the family, the Niesls and the Walzes.  There’s very little that has been passed on from the Rathkamp family.  The exception on my dad’s side comes from my maternal grandmother Alice “Pat” Waege and her sister (my great aunt) Grace.  Waege is pronounced “waggy”.

Friedrich Waege Farm in Lomira, WI

Pat and Grace were born and raised in Hustisford, Wisconsin, a small farming community about 45 minutes northwest of Milwaukee.  Their mom and dad were Wm. & Ida Waege.  Ida’s maiden name was Brockhaus.  Bill & Ida were both among the first generations of their respective families to be born in the United States.  Their parents were from Pomerania, the eastern part of Germany that is now part of Poland.  The Waeges emigrated in 1856 and the Brockhauses in 1865.

The Waege family originally settled in Lomira which is probably 20 miles northeast of Hustisford.  I have no idea what brought Bill’s dad (also Wm.) from Lomira to Hustisford, but I think this happened sometime around 1880.

Bill Waege's Confirmation
Bill Waege’s Confirmation, circa 1894

The challenging part of digging up Waege information has been due to the inconsistency in how the name was spelled.  I’ve seen it spelled Wagge, Wege, Wage as well as the much preferred Waege.  Well at least preferred in our family.  Inconsistency in spelling is pretty common in genealogy.  But it’s almost laughable among Waeges.  In fact, it seems Bill settled on his spelling, while his brother Carl seems to have generally used the Wege spelling.

Wm. Sr. appears to have been quite an enterprising individual.  Born in Germany in 1845, he immigrated to the US when he was 12.  Throughout his life, he was a farmer and a cheese maker.  He and his Leitzke in-laws purchased the first steam powered thrasher in Dodge county, and offered thrashing services throughout the area.

What remains of Bill Waege’s farm near Hustisford

I get a definite sense of drive and ambition from Bill Jr., born in 1882.  In 1899, the Dodge County Directory shows him owning 184 acres.  He was 16.  in the early 20th century, the family moved into town where Bill built his garage and started his Buick dealership.  The home he owned in Hustisford was a very large home.  So large in fact, that it was ultimately turned into a hospital.

Family lore has it that Bill went into business with another guy from the Hustisford area and that they were very successful initially.  As the story goes, this “swindler” somehow bilked Bill of his fortune and that the family went from riches to rags.

So, how much of that short story is true?  It’s impossible to tell.  The “swindler” it turns out, is Kurt Rex, the son of the pharmacist in Hustisford.  I have a book of poetry that was given by Kurt to my grandmother as a gift, possibly a birthday present.  From that, I wonder if Kurt and Bill were more than just business partners.  More than likely, they were good friends.  Both families after all had deep roots in Hustisford.

At some point, between 1920 and 1930, Bill & Ida moved from Hustisford to Milwaukee.  I don’t think they were exactly broke, because they bought a house on North 27th street.  The 1930 US Census shows the value of that house to be $9000, a pretty big sum in those days.  Bill’s father, Wm. Sr. lived with his son and his family.

I try to imagine what Wm. Sr.’s mindset was at that time.  Think of all the changes in scenery throughout his life.  From Germany to Lomira to Hustisford to Milwaukee.  Wm. Sr. died during a visit to his sister’s in Lomira in 1932.

Ida, Grace, and Bill Waege, circa 1940

Eventually, Bill Jr. and Ida ended up on Horicon, WI, where I was born.  I’m not sure what the circumstances were.  By that time my grandmother had married my grandfather, Bill Rathkamp, and were raising their family in Milwaukee.  Horicon put Bill & Ida closer to Hustisford, and I’m sure that was part of the reason for their move.  Who knows…maybe they wanted to get closer to their families, but didn’t want to get too close to the “swindler”.

Ida died in 1946.  I think it was at about this time that Grace moved back from Milwaukee to Horicon to be closer to her dad.  Grace had been married to Eddie Larson, but they were divorced after a short time.  Supposedly Eddie was a gambler.  Grace apparently found Eddie stealing money out of her purse and left him immediately.

After Grace moved back to Horicon, she started dating George Anfinson.  My mom always said Grace told George she wouldn’t marry him until after her dad died.  Her dad died in 1959, George died two weeks later.  Very sad.

Grace stayed in Horicon for the rest of her life.  I’ve always associated Grace with Horicon.  She was very active in the community.  She was the Treasurer for the Chamber of Commerce.  She worked for many years for the Wisconsin Power & Light Company.  She and her Anfinson “family” had a cabin between Merrill and Tomahawk on Hwy 107.

Meanwhile, my grandmother, Pat, spent the rest of her life in Milwaukee.  For most of my childhood, she lived on 41st between Lloyd and Brown, just a few blocks west of where my Niesl grandparents lived.  There were a lot of times I would visit my mom’s parents and then could just walk over to visit Granny Pat.  I vividly remember her always making chocolate milk for me.  My grandmother died in 1985.

Ironically, I was much closer to my aunt Grace than I was my own grandmother.  After a very busy and fulfilling life, Grace died in 2003 at the age of 91.  She is buried in the Hustisford Cemetary along with her Waege and Brockhaus family.