Sunday, January 11, 2015

Memories of Backwoods

This is one of the Backwoods Christmas parties.  The only Backwoods picture I have at this time.

 Back row: Einar Erikson, Harold Zuehlke, Ransom Tyler (my Dad), Ned Elton  Sitting:Rick Zuehlke, Pug (my Mom), Tom Erikson, Tip (my brother) in front, Henrietta Erikson, Janet Erikson(in front), KD Elton, Me in the grey sweater, Lynn (my sister), Eddie Elton.  Sitting in front on the right: Sue Zuehlke, Phoebe Zuehlke and I think Ned's Grandmother sitting in the chair.

Now I am going way back to reminisce about the great times we had in our neighborhood which we called Backwoods.  These memories were brought on because I just received word that the eldest of the Backwoods kids, Rick, has just passed away.  There were 8 of us and Rick Zuehlke lived next door and was probably 5 or 6 years older than I was.  The rest of the kids in backwoods were:  Janet and Tom Erikson, Sue Zuehlke (my best friend and confidant of our childhood.  She is a year older than I.), Lynn (my sister), Tip (my brother), and Ned Elton (Closest in age to me and my "boyfriend" through our childhood).

  We were a close knit group of kids because we lived sort of "out in the country".  We all went to the same elementary school (fondly called Jefferson Jailhouse) and were more like sisters and brothers than friends.  All of our parents went together and bought a piece of property from a farmer and built 5 houses in the farmer's backwoods during the depression!  It was so unusual that The Milwaukee Journal did a piece on the construction, complete with pictures, back when they were building the houses in the early 1930's. This was before I was born, of course.  The property was located about  a quarter of a mile from the Milwaukee/Waukesha county line.  Jefferson School was 1.2 miles from our houses and we walked and then later rode our bikes to get there and back home. It had started out as a 2 room school (I'm pretty sure Rick and Janet were in school at that time), but each room was then divided into 2 rooms and by the time I went there, there were 2 classes in each room.  There was no kindergarten so none of us except my brother (the youngest of the Backwoods kids) even went to kindergarten.

The backwoods was a pretty big piece of property of many acres and we had woods and ravines to play in.  Each family had a large vegetable garden (WWII was in full swing in my very early days and they were called Victory Gardens) and the Eltons  (who lived next to us on the other side) had grape vines and a raspberry patch down over the hill in back of their house. (the scene of one of our major adventures).   They had a chicken coop too.  Dad had an asparagus patch down there and there were currant bushes that Mom had us pick from to make currant jelly.  We had a chicken coop, apple trees, and a place for a milk cow (Daisy) too.  Dad had a compost hole that he made fertilizer in and he also tapped all our maple trees and Mom made maple syrup from the sap.  It was our job to collect the sap each day in the spring.

Some of my other memories of those early times were of Dad picking honeysuckle blossoms and Mom making honeysuckle fritters with them.  I never have tried it myself but I do remember how we loved those fritters! Dad also had crabapple trees and at least one plum tree.  I remember that Dad would get up early and go out and pick flowers for Lynn and I to put in our hair on Sundays and he always had fresh flowers for the house all summer long.

 Every week or so all summer the families of the neighborhood would take turns hosting a potluck Backwoods picnic. These were not quite the backyard barbeques we all think of now.  None of our properties were fenced so we had all 5 yards to play in.  The picnic sights were not too near the houses and we did not have barbeque grills. Our moms cooked over the open fire or made most of the food at the house and then brought it to the picnic sight. The grownups would sit around the fire visiting long after dark and all the kids would play 50 all scatter, Sardines, and other games using the whole neighborhood as our playground.  There were no city streets, only our private dirt road that the 5 houses used to access West Howard Avenue.

The other Backwoods event was an annual Christmas party.  It was hosted each year by a different family.  It was a potluck and I think our moms organized it so whoever hosted it had the main dish and the family that had it the last year brought the dessert and so on.  All the kids drew names for giving presents and I think there were family gifts given by each family to each family.  We had a big feast and then the whole group would play Charades (when we got old enough).  Oh how we loved playing that game!  I guess the youngest kids had to go to bed so it was a right of passage when you got to play Charades with the grownups!

There were other Backwoods gatherings but those were parts of our adventures to be remembered another day!

So long, Rick, I never forgot you calling me Vanilla Pecan instead of Penelope Ann, the time you tried to get Sue and I to pose sitting under the hose you hooked up to the clothesline pole so it dripped cold water on us in 99 degree and 95% humidity weather so you could take a picture to enter in a photo contest, and your early Disney movies shown on a sheet that you charged us a few pennies to watch after dark night after night. I will always picture you working on that Model T station wagon in your driveway. 




  1. Yea, I went to kindergarten, but in Greendale. Mom drove me there with two others (Judy Suem[sp] and Richard Moe). I remember coming home in the blizzard of 1948. I'm sure Mom thought we'd never make it.

    I believe the honey locust fritters were Lynn's idea (I kind of thought your idea also) picked up from girl scouts.

    Remember watching those old Micky Mouse movies that Rick would show on a sheet in Zuehlke's basement with an 8mm projector.

    How about one potato, two potato, three potato four, Here I come :-)

    Remember walking "Baby Step" to school and getting there an hour late? How about eating elder berries on the way home getting there with purple faces and a bellyache.

    We got away with an awful lot, had some good times and I guess we all came out of it in pretty good shape.

    1. I went to kindergarten too, in West Allis. One time I went home with a friend after kindergarten to play, because Mom was late. I think she called the police and combed the neighborhood till they found me. I don't think my friend's mother knew I was there. Lynn

  2. Thanks for the memories, Penny. Remember The Case of the Bleached Bones. And Ned, do you remember when we burned down the strawberry patch? How about crawling to school on our knees for a change of pace? And when we got older, we all attended "Tosa High." It's amazing to me that even now, 7 of the 8 Backwoods kids are still alive. Sue Larsen

  3. Sue we burnt down Eddie's raspberry patch! Those baby steps and crawling to school were that time we plYed follow the leader

  4. When we got to school (an hour late) my teacher wrote it on the board. I can still see it! We had to make up the time after school.