Grandpa by Ronald

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Grandfather Ralph

Interviewer Ronald Feichtmeir

I walked down a quiet suburban street back to my grandfather’s home. The day was clear and I could see the Santa Cruz mountains in sharp focus looming over the valley. For me, it is always a good thing to visit my grand parents. I arrived at their house and my grandfather greeted me warmly. I set up my recording equipment in his living room. He sat in a comfortable chair and I began the interview.

My grandfather’s name is Ralph Feichtmeir. He was born in Wausau, Wisconsin in the early Twenties. He lived there until half way through his freshman year of high school. His mother raised him Catholic. His father, my grandfather Casimir Feichtmeir, immigrated from Germany to New York's Ellis Island in 1884. He and some of his brothers moved to Indiana and then to Chicago, Illinois. In Chicago he married my great grandmother and they moved north to Wausau where he became a barber. He is pictured standing to the right of another barber at the shop in Wausau.
My grandfather, Ralph, had two older brothers and a sister who died of Diphtheria when he was only one-year old. A portrait of her smiling among the flowers still hangs on his bedroom wall. My grandfather's mother wanted him to have the portrait. His brother Armand was 13 years older than him, and his bother Ervin, seven years older. My grandfather always had the highest respect for his brother Armand who stood up for him--in great contrast to Ervin who bullied him constantly. "They were like night and day," he said, comparing his two brothers. Armand spoke German. Ervin could only understand it. Ralph didn't understand it at all. "When I came along there was no more German spoke in the house," my grandfather told me. When his brothers grew up, grandfather was left alone and felt as if he were an only child.
In Wausau my grandfather had many friends who played together in the snow and cold. During the winter the temperature would get as cold as thirty below zero and there was a lot of snow. "They get about six good months out of the year, the other six weren’t so good. But when you were a kid it was good because we got to play in the snow. I had a sled, skis, a toboggan and skates. I used them all. As I got older, I moved indoors and played basketball." Here he is, pictured in the lower left-hand corner of the picture, when he was on the freshman basketball team in Wausau.
When my grandfather lived in Wausau he always visited his relatives who lived close by. "Most of our family were in Wausau," he said, "uncles, aunts, all living in the same town. They stayed put in those days. All my dad’s uncles and aunts lived in Chicago, and I visited them many times." He says that people don't stay close now, and which is very unfortunate. "That is one of the things that is wrong with our society today," he said mournfully.
Casimir, his father, owned a beauty shop in Wausau. He cut and styled women’s hair. When the depression hit, no one could pay their bills, so the business failed. My grandfather’s brother, Armand, saved the family and brought them to California. Armand had a job in San Francisco working on the World Exposition--it is now the Palace of Fine Arts and houses the Exploritorium. He had majored in engineering at Stanford University in the early thirties.
Grandfather moved to southern California to stay with his uncle on a farm in Chowchilla for six weeks. Grandfather said that when he left to get back to his family, "my uncle's family gave me a bunch of apricots to take with me on the bus to San Francisco." He smiled as he reminisced, "Here was a little guy from Wausau walking around in a big city, not knowing where he was, carrying all this stuff," he laughed. "I’ll never forget that day!"
My grandfather Started his freshman year in high school in Wausau. Later, when the family moved to San Francisco, my grandfather attended Galileo High School. Grandfather said that he hated the place because there was nothing for him to do there. It felt like a prison in contrast to the much smaller city of Wausau.
He and a friend planned to run away to Wisconsin. "I wanted to run away, I was all mixed up." Before he acted on his plan, the family moved again, this time to a more quiet Palo Alto, California. He soon dropped the idea of running away.
He is in his mid-seventies now and still lives in the Palo Alto area. He lives in neighboring Mountain View on a quiet suburban street that evokes such fond memories for me every time I go to visit.
Recently, my grandfather got the idea to put together a family reunion with help from others including Armand. He brought the Feichtmeir family to Palo Alto from all over the United States. Feichtmeirs and related families shared pleasant memories at a picnic behind the Palo Alto Elks Club. My grandfather and his brothers shared memories as they watched the children play together--not a sled or toboggan in sight.
I was touched by the collective history in these three men as I watched them pose for a picture. Here they are: Armand on the right, Ervin on the left, and Ralph in the middle. My grandfather says, "This is what life is all about, having a good family get-together."
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