Autobiography of Jean Tilsen Brust
Chapter 1 Chapter 2
It is September, 1928, a beautiful fall day. In the adult world, the talk is of the election contest between Al Smith and Herbert Hoover. On the steps of New Leipzig School, an older friend is explaining the election to me. I am 7. My first political memory is being created.
"Every four years," she explains, "a Catholic and non-catholic run for President, but the Catholic never gets elected. That's because if he did, we'd have to kneel to the Pope and Americans won't do that."
But that doesn't make sense. Why would they go to all the trouble to play that kind of game if they knew how it would end? It puzzles me.
My memories begin in New Leipzig, North Dakota. But the story begins in Odessa, Russia, in 1904. The Russian-Japanese war is on. Hundreds of young men receive orders to report to the Tzar's army. For many, it is the final straw, the final argument tipping the scales in favor of emigrating to the New World, to the Promised Land of the USA. Stories drifted back from those who had left before. In the USA every man could make his fortune and no man could be drafted.
One of those who undertook the dangerous, long, and expensive adventure was a young grain merchant, Louis Reuben. Like many of the Jewish draftees, he was motivated mainly by fear of being forced into eating pork, thus breaking the Hebrew dietary laws.
He left Russia with his wife, Muriel, and their children. Among them was his eldest daughter, Esther.
Esther told the story from their arrival in the USA: how they settled in the Jewish ghetto of Philadelphia, how they learned to speak English from their neighbors, how poor they were. The oldest children lied about their ages in order to get factory jobs and never again knew their exact ages. The other children in the factory would ice skate during their lunch hour, but she wasn't allowed outside since she was so tiny the foreman was afraid some official would see her. This was the end of formal education for Molly, Sam, and herself, oldest of the siblings.
She told how the city-reared family ended up on a farm near Ashley, North Dakota. When Louis had tried to organize a union at his plant he was offered a foreman's job, but refused it and was fired. He took up a homestead near Ashley with some other Jewish immigrants. Esther told how hard they worked on the farm, doing tasks new to the city family.
Especially difficult for her was cooking during the late summer, when the neighboring farmers would get together to harvest, each in turn, all the homesteads. Her voice would drop, and, speaking slowly, she retold how a horse ran away, throwing her mother out of the carriage, how she stayed with her mother in the hospital until Muriel's death, and then how, still in her teens, she became mother to her younger, American-born siblings.
My mother spoke with bitterness toward her father for the choice he had made in turning down the foreman's job, blaming him for the move to the farm and for her mother's death. But the bitterness always disappeared as she told the rest of the story: how the young peddler from Milwaukee came to the farm and wooed her. Her family teased her about her beau, and named him "Milwaukee." She told how they married and he helped her to raise the younger Reuben children. Ed and Esther had never lived alone after their marriage. Always one or two of her siblings stayed with them until after their own first four children were born. Last to leave was the youngest sister, Sylvia, known as "Cis" to Ed and Esther's children.
"Milwaukee" was Ed, youngest son of Clara and Herschel, also immigrants from Russia. The knowledge of what year and what part of Russia they came from is lost in the same past that conceals their real name, lost when the immigration authorities, unable to spell the Russian name, gave them the name Tilsen.
For the Tilsens, history began when they came to Milwaukee around the turn of the century. Like thousands of the immigrants from Russia, they were driven out by the pogroms, the black hundred. From what part of Russia? We never really knew. What formal education Ed had, four or five years of schooling, was in the old country. How he came to be a traveling salesman, how he, younger than four brothers and three sisters, cam to assume the responsibility of supporting his parents, remains unknown. Ed's stories, and he told stories often and well, were never of hardship and never bitter. We knew only that Grandpa Tilsen was a religious scholar, a yeshiva student who never held a job. Grandma Tilsen was a small, silent woman, devoted to her husband and her large family.
These two, Ed and Esther, met, married and raise five children, each born in a different small town in the Dakotas or Minnesota, as Ed attempted one business after another to support his growing family. Later, Esther would tell stories of the failures - all caused, according to her, by a betrayal by one or another relative or friend, taken as partner by her too trusting husband. Later, sometime after the early thirties, these stories too revealed a bitterness. It was not an easy life. They moved over half dozen times in the first 12 years. Each time, she turned a new house into a home, made new friends in a strange town, felt settled and secure, only to once again be faced with packing and starting the difficult process over again. And by the time 12 years had passed, she had their own five children underfoot. Besides her own adjustment, the children too had to be helped to adjust to new schools and new friends.
I was their middle child, born August 31, 1921, in Elgin, Minnesota; delivered, the family story has it, by a shell-shocked doctor assisted by a deaf and dumb nurse. I was named Margaret-Jean by my Mother, who wanted me called romantically by both names. But Dad, afraid I would be nicknamed Maggie, called me Jean from the start, and Jean I remained. According to family lore, I was a happy child, nicknamed Merry Sunshine, always smiling and quick to make friends.
My own memories begin, as I said, in New Leipzig, North Dakota. Even then the early ones are hazy. How much I remember of the first years, and how much I was told later, I cannot be sure. But I do remember living above Dad's general store on the main street of New Leipzig, and something of the role that store played in the life of my parents, and consequently of myself and my siblings.
New Leipzig could have been the setting for Sinclair Lewis' Main Street. Wooden buildings stood in straight lines on either side of the two to three blocks which housed the town's commercial center. Dad's general store was in the middle of one of these blocks. Next to it, a long one-story addition housed his egg storage facility.
Above the store was an owners' apartment. There we lived. We were Mom and Dad, my older sister Mimi, older brother Ben, and I. Sometime in those years, Bob was born. Kenneth, the baby, was born later, after we'd moved to a bungalow. In the store, Mom and Dad worked side by side, waiting on the mostly German village residents and the farmers from nearby. Both my parents became fluent in conversational German and passable in Polish as well, in order to converse with their customers who were, like themselves, immigrants.
A hired girl, daughter of one of the neighboring farmers, lived with us and helped with the housework while Mom worked. The girls came and went, but the one I remember was Ida. I was her favorite, and she was my joy and companion. Once or twice, Ida took me with her to a barn dance — a dance literally held in a barn, with fiddles playing and an occasional accordion. I loved the music, any music, and happily sat in the corner watching the dancers fly past.
Mom would tell me later how I'd sit on the curb outside the store, making friends with all who passed by, calling the tramps (unemployed workers on the bum) who wander through "my nice man," and bringing them into the store to give them food.
She would take them upstairs and feed them. (Is it my imagination, or was there always a pot of soup available, steaming on the wood stove? Thick Russian borsch, or chicken soup rich with homemade noodles, and with the forming eggs floating in the broth.) Later, she would scold me. "The things in the store are not yours to give away. You can give anything of your own, but nothing from the store."
"You always took me literally," she recounted, telling the story years later. "Once you gave all your dresses away to your friends. When Ida tried to stop it, you told her, 'but it's all right; they're mine and Mom said I could away anything that was my own.'"
One Christmas — I must have been five at the time — Ida took me to her farm house for the Christmas festivities. I remember lying awake Christmas Eve, in an agony of excitement and delight at the sparkle of the Christmas tree and the anticipation of a full stocking, hanging empty now beside those of all her brothers and sisters. It was unforgettable. Hanuka paled into nothing before the color and theater of that family farm on Christmas Day!
Religion was not a big part of our life in those days. A traveling Rabbi came occasionally to Mott, a few miles away, where the Starkows, friends of my parents, lived. All of the Jewish families within easy driving distance would gather there, supposedly to receive some religious training. We children had Bible lessons. But what I remember was the pleasure of playing and giggling with my friend Rose. (Years later, when we were adolescents, Rose visited us in St. Paul for several months. One of her eyes had been damaged by the dust storms that plagued the Great Plains. She was threatened with blindness, and stayed with us while she was being treated.)
Religion thus became intertwined with relatives and friends, and there was little emphasis on purely theological matters. On the important holidays in spring and fall, we'd drive about 100 miles south to Bismarck, stay overnight with Uncle Herman (Dad's older brother), Aunt Paula and a house full of other relatives.
We'd attend synagogue, but the service fades into vivid pictures of the dances in the evening, with Russian songs echoing through the big hall while the grown-ups danced folk dances. Years later I recognized these dances in the revolutionary documentary From Tzar to Lenin.
Aunt Cis, who lived in New Leipzig with us until she was thirteen, was always closest to us of Mom's family, close especially to Mimi, first born of all her nieces and nephews.
Other sisters came occasionally, or we would travel the long trip to Red Wing, Minnesota, where Mother's sister Molly had settled after her marriage to Dad's brother Max.
All four of the Reuben sisters were beautiful, but Mother was judged loveliest of all in my youth. It was a judgment I held her entire life. Her deep brown eyes shone with her warm smile, almost matching her shining black hair. Sometimes on an evening, Dad would pull out the long, bone hairpins and remove the matching combs which held it neatly in place. He protested bitterly when styles for young women changed in the late '20s and she cut it. Mom was independent though; in many ways she did as she pleased. But as a concession, she kept the two thick braids. Later, teenage Mimi would wear them like a crown to extra special events, impatient for her own to grow long enough.
Helping with the dishes was my chore, and as we worked together, Mother would recite poetry, or sing. Often I'd ask for my favorite, a corny, sentimental prohibition verse, and tears would roll down my checks as she recited:Father, dear Father, come home with me now,
The clock in the steeple strikes 12.
I'd never heard the song again, nor heard mention of until late in 1993, when I attended a panel on literature. Roger Zelazny, one of the panelists, was giving an example of an early popular but bad novelist who had, according to Zelazny, written the same novel over 100 times. But the only thing this writer is remembered for is one song, which became one of the most popular of the pre-prohibition era!Sometimes she would sing in a soft clear voice, another popular song of her youth, aimed at teasing Dad:
Reuben, Reuben, I've been thinking
What a nice world this would be,
If the boys were all transported
Far across the Atlantic sea.
Dad would get even. In his dreadful monotone, he'd sing over and over:
My wife has gone to the country,or
Hooray, hooray!I wish I were single again, again,
I wish I were single again.
Oh, when I was single my pockets did jingle,
And I wish I was single again.
All of their lives he'd sing to tease her. She, though, stopped singing and stopped teasing during the troubled late '30s. Now I can remember only these lines, and Dad's terrible voice, which, unfortunately, all of us but Mimi inherited (or learned). I was well into my thirties before I became reconciled to my own inability to carry a tune.
Home was always full of books and music. Dad read only the newspaper or listened to the news on the newly invented wireless.
But Mother not only collected books, she read them, and from her we all learned to love reading and cherish good books. We had sets: the collected works of O'Henry, Dickens, Dumas, Hawthorne, Kipling, such as traveling salesmen sold to housewives anxious to fill their bookshelves. Over the years, she added all of the writers of the period: Edna Ferber, Edith Wharton, Dorothy Canfield, Kathleen and Charles Norris, Sinclair Lewis were all familiar names on our bookshelf. Later, during the depression, she would rent more recent novels from the lending libraries, or buy used ones as they were discarded.
Years ago when comrades would ask if my parents had influenced me politically, I would deny it, protesting that they were really quite conservative. But the forces that shape us are never that easy to detect. Looking back, I see much from those early years in myself. For example, a few years ago I picked up a book of Dorothy Canfield's, The Home-Maker, which I remembered having read in my very early teens, and was somewhat startled to find one source for my early assumption that I would never be a stay-at-home housewife. It was an early example of literature which gently and politely insisted on both the right of and the ability of a woman to have a profession if she so chose.
Mother always regretted her lack of formal education, and was deeply ashamed of her foreign accent, her handwriting, and her poor spelling. As we grew up, each of us in turn was given the job of rewriting her letters and addressing her annual greeting cards to relatives. She was proud of her children's education, and respected teachers above all other professions.
Determined to start us right, she not only kept the house full of good books, and good records for the wind-up Victrola, but she bought us our own books, including a set of Compton's Encyclopedias. From simple rhymes in these illustrated books, I memorized the alphabet and learned my numbers, so I could read and do simple arithmetic before I started first grade. Our school went from grade one through twelve, with no kindergarten, and two grades to a room. So from first grade on, I would listen to the upper class in the other half of the school room do their lessons when my own bored me.
I was a good student, staying well ahead of the others in most areas, yet I always felt slightly inferior at home. Mainly this was because Mimi had skipped two grades, and Ben one, yet I was never selected for this honor. And then – oh, the disgrace of it: in third grade I failed penmanship and got a D in spelling, the two subjects that Mother judged important above all others.
Fortunately, I had a excellent teacher who kept me after school, tutoring me in push-pulls and ovals until my handwriting approached the Palmer Method standard, and drilling me in the fundamentals of spelling. Both improved enough so Mother could again hold her head high. Consequently, I could raise mine. (Years later, from my sons' problems, I learned about dyslexia and its tendency to be inherited.)
Not many flowers could grow in the short, hot, windy, dry summers of North Dakota, so Mother collected each fall the prairie's wild flowers and even weeds. Some of these, like milkweed pods, she then painted for winter cheer. Whatever she could find, Mom had a knack for arranging gracefully, so they never seemed just thrust into the vase. Lilacs were unique; they not only survived the Siberian winters but they loved the hot summer sun, and bloomed profusely. In spring, the house would be fragrant from the lavish bouquets.
Except one year. Early that spring I came in, excited, hands full. Running to her with my gift, I exclaimed, "Look, Mom, I've pulled all the nasty bugs off the bushes!" She almost cried. My "bugs" were her lilac buds. It was many years before I heard the last of what became a favorite family story.
Scenes return: Ben, pulling a red wagon loaded with galvanized milk cans full of water from the city pump; the beautiful gasoline lamps ready to be lit when our newly installed electricity went out; walking to school in winter through snow drifts up to my shoulder; riding on the toboggan behind the car as Dad pulled us over the snow covered roads; Mom, putting tiny gum drops on twigs cut from the lilac bushes, creating our traditional birthday "wishing tree"; Mom and Dad, dressed in holiday costumes, leaving for a party sponsored by her "Royal Neighbors' group" or his "Workman's Circle"; Dad creating a shower in the cellar by running pipes from the reservoir from our wood burning stove, and bathing the younger children as they stood in the galvanized laundry tub.
But most vividly, I remember the fall of 1930. I came in from play to find Mom and Mimi mending runs in silk stockings, pulling them one at a time from the wicker discard basket, where they had been stored for stuffing toys.
To my question, Mother explained. "We've got to start saving money. Dad is broke, and we will lose the store." Dad had been speculating on egg futures, and had lost heavily. "Everything is going to change."
And everything did change. A few weeks later, we moved to Bismarck.
Yes, everything did change. Dad worked with his older brother Herman, selling furs to furriers, I believe. Mom no longer worked side by side with Dad. Instead, she was home with us. Ben got his first job at age 12, in a carmelcorn store.
The biggest contrast, though, was between Bismarck and New Leipzig. This was not a tiny shopping center for the surrounding immigrant farmers. No, it was the state capital, and to us a Big City. There was a real downtown, some two-story stores, even a temple and a movie house. And the people! Although most spoke English, there was such variation between them. For the first time, I met Native Americans, Gypsies, even an Oriental or two.
Ben had one Chinese classmate who became a close friend. He loved mother and once brought her a gift of Jasmine tea in a beautiful pink lacquered tin which she treasured all her life.
As we met people from this varied background, our parents gave us our first lessons on the equality of man. Mom used words, Dad taught by the example of his actions, but their message was the same. "All people are essentially the same," Mom would say. "You must treat everyone you meet with respect. They may look different, but they're all human like we are." It was a lesson repeated over and over hundreds of different ways over the next years. And if there was a conflicting message also, if were also told that yes, everyone was equal, but Jews a bit more so, it was for me the first message that took.
Bismarck was the first of many moves. Before many months had passed, we moved to St. Paul's East Side, and then moved again to the West Side. Each move meant a new attempt by Dad to find a way to support the seven of us. By the start of my tenth year, we were in Iron Mountain, Michigan, where Dad was managing a general store.
Iron mountain was smaller than Bismarck, but a city compared to New Leipzig. But it had none of the characteristics of a frontier prairie town that our North Dakota homes had shared, nor did it share the drought-stricken dust bowl with them.
No, Iron Mountain was a small industrial city, and it bore the scars of the depression which dominated the country. In Iron Mountain I first became aware of the working class and learned what real poverty was. Iron Mountain, as the name indicates, had been an iron mining town build around one Oliver Company mine. This mine was advertised as the deepest iron mine in the world. It turned out this represented a handicap, since it meant both great expense and great danger was involved in mining the ore.
About the time we arrived, the Oliver Mining Company had announced its intent to stop pumping water out of its closed mine, despite opposition from the townspeople. If the pumping stopped, it meant the mine would never reopen. In addition, there was fear that water would case a cave-in, and the only bridge connecting East Iron Mountain with the main section of town would collapse. This would isolate the section of the town where most of the miners lived. Despite protests, the pumping was stopped. Years later, I read in a news service dispatch that the bridge had collapsed as predicted, and East Iron Mountain was indeed isolated until a new bridge could be built.
In addition to the mine, there had been a small Ford assembly plant, which was also closed now. Alice Champion soon became my best friend; her dad was one of the unemployed Ford workers. Even though we were sort of broke and had to watch every penny, they seemed to have none to watch. From the Champions, I learned what read hardship was, but also something of the courage and will to survive that sustains the working class.
Mr. Champion was in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps. (President Roosevelt had started several work programs called the "alphabet plans" because they were known by their initials.) The CCC differed from the Works Project Administration (WPA) in that only men were enrolled, most of them young. They lived in camps and worked under semi-military discipline, mainly in national parks and forest preserves.
We lived near the top of a steep hill, E. Street, three blocks long. Alice and her family lived at the very top, just two houses away. East winter, E. Street was blocked off to cross traffic, and reserved for toboggans, bobsleds, and smaller sleds. Mrs. Champion was a loving, kind-hearted woman who each winter turned her home into a welcome warming house for great crews of children who used the hill. Almost always, she had homemade root beer and popcorn for us; whatever she could afford. (Later, when my children were growing up, I learned the difficulty of trying to treat the whole neighborhood the same as your own.)
Such things didn't bother me then, of course. Those years I was a bit of a tomboy, and much preferred to rough-house on the street with the neighborhood gang than attend the dance class Mother tried to force me to endure. She had a hopeless task, trying to force me into the image of my beautiful sister, Mimi. I was hopelessly awkward, and accident-prone, so I was also self-conscious. So much so, that to get out of a dreaded dance recital, I deliberately fell off a bobsled, turned my ankle, and pleaded great pain. Since I turned my ankles often in those days, I had no trouble convincing my poor deceived mother.
In summer, "hootenannies" on the hilltop took the place of the snow activities. These bore little resemblance to the gatherings of folk singers that went by the same name in the '60s and '70s. Instead, all the children of the neighborhood, from toddlers through the younger teens, would gather around a bonfire, roasting potatoes, and later marshmallows. Once in a while, we'd have weiners too, as a special treat. And yes, we did sing, to a uke or banjo as I recall, mostly old cowboy songs.
On still summer afternoons, we'd hike along the water pipes through the beautiful north woods, feeling like brave world explorers as we crossed from hilltop to hilltop, high above the brooks below (even though we suspected our adventuring was perfectly safe, as the pipes were two feet in diameter).
Sometimes, when I had to babysit for Bob and Ken, we "borrowed" enough sheets to build a theater on the front porch, and I'd write and direct a play – bossing the boys with a perfect excuse, and then charging pennies from any audience we could capture.
In mid-summer, when the Champions went berrying, I would go along to pick the tiny, sweet wild blueberries and strawberries, eating almost as many as went into the pails. Never have berries tasted as sweet as those.
A year or two before we moved, Mrs. Champion was very depressed at Christmas time, a state she rarely let her family see. Then just the day before Christmas, a package arrived from the captain of the CCC camp, with something for each kid in the family. I was there when the package came. She broke down and cried when she opened it. Suddenly I understood that she'd been afraid there would be nothing at all for the children that Christmas. Thus gradually I became aware that although we weren't really hungry, others were.
Mother seemed to change in Michigan, or maybe with my approaching adolescence I became more critical and aware of her nagging and almost constant complaining. Mimi and Ben both worked, Bob and Ken were still very young, but I was with her a good deal, helping with the housework and listening to her bitter tales of the hardships of her life. Indeed, her life had been hard. Yet her complaints were most often about Dad's numerous attempts to keep her in the dark each time something began to go wrong with his current business or job. And in the very nature of petty enterprises during the depression, many things naturally and constantly went wrong.
Mother was a very contradictory person. Consciously and verbally, she completely accepted her role as mother, homemaker, and housekeeper. Yet, until she was well past middle age, she wanted more. Behind each complaint was a plaintive demand to be treated as an equal, a partner who had a thinking mind and a right to help make family decisions.
My father, on the other hand, saw it as his sole responsibility to support his family and his sole right and sole duty to make all decisions. None of us ever doubted that they had a deep and romantic love for each other that lasted all 68 years of their marriage. Yet they bickered repeatedly as we were growing up, usually about completely unimportant things. Dad tried to protect her from worry, from problems, from work. He tried, in fact, to build a Doll's House for her. Unlike Ibsen's Nora, she didn't leave him. Her nagging and constant complaints revealed the resentment toward her role that she never openly acknowledged. Only in her last decades did she become the clinging, dependent woman Dad had always envisioned.
Shortly before my thirteenth birthday I had a fight with the town Rabbi which resulted in my definitive and lifelong break with religion. It did not, I'm afraid, take place after a prolonged philosophical struggle. Jewish boys at 13 had to go through a "bar mitzva" or coming of age ceremony. (In fact, today most girls join the boys in going through this rite of passage.) In preparation, each boy went through several years of after-school classes, learning to read the Torah in Hebrew to prepare for their big day. Rabbi Fisher's daughter Marjorie and I were the only Iron Mountain girls in the same age group. Although girls took no part in the ritual in those days, the Rabbi wanted his daughter to learn Hebrew and I had willingly joined her at class. I rather looked forward to writing to my grandfathers in Hebrew. In addition, I hoped to get out of the dance classes I hated.
Rabbi Fisher practiced the old world precept, "Spare not the rod and spoil not the child." His rod, though, was a cat-o-nine-tails, a long whip with nine strands of leather dangling from it. One day as he flicked his whip toward one of the boys for talking out of turn, the end of one strand hit my forearm. Shocked at both the pain and the very idea of it, I exploded. "How dare you use that thing? It's monstrous."
"You must stay out of the way," the Rabbi remonstrated. "I don't hit girls, you know. Anyway, it is not your place to scold me."
When I tried to protest again, he went on, "What happens to boys is no concern of yours, is it?" Angered, I raised my hand to hit him. As he grabbed by arm, I saw the shock on the other faces. "Get out!" he shouted. I went, disgraced but defiant. Although Mother argued with me and tried to justify the Rabbi's actions by his old world background, I was unrepentant. That was the end of Hebrew School for me, and of religion as well.
Looking back, I realize why this incident had such a traumatic and long-lasting impact on me. Almost never was physical punishment used in our family, and then only as punishment for the most dangerous and irresponsible actions. Dad would usually make sure we understood the nature of our mistakes, and then forget it completely. Mom, on the other hand, was a nag, and would go on and on until I sometimes wished she would spank me; anything to get the incident over with. But never before had I witnessed pain inflicted so casually or for such minor cause.
We stayed in Iron Mountain until I'd finished eighth grade, by which time I was a confirmed bookworm and would bring home armfuls of library books several times a week. By this time, I had read everything the librarian would let me check out from the public library, and most of the books in our house. I had cried over David Copperfield and Little Women, thrilled over Jane Austin's novels, and tried to understand Back Street. Moreover, as I entered my teens, and often felt tears struggling to flow in spite of my best effort to hold them back, I would grab Anne of Green Gables, throw myself on the bed in the closed bedroom, and let them flow. The tears came not from empathy with the heroine's troubles. No, the book was to provide an excuse in case Mimi or Mom wandered in to ask, "What on earth is wrong with you? What happened?" How could I answer them when I didn't know? I couldn't simply admit that I just felt like crying, could I?
My life was not all lived though books, though. I had fallen in love with the Northern evergreen forests, the cold blue streams, the unexpected waterfalls, and the many lakes – all testimony to the long departed glaciers. After the harshness of the dust-swept North Dakota plains, I gloried in the mere presence of water in so many forms. The abundant winter sports hardly interested me, but I became an enthusiastic if very inexpert swimmer. Often I went with friends on long hikes, through the woods on top of the big water pipes, following them to the rapid filled stream from which our water came to Iron Mountain.
That summer, the blow fell: the store Dad managed was sold, and we would leave Iron Mountain. This time, the move wrenched at my heart. I loved the schools, my friends, the physical beauty of the Upper Peninsula. But for my family this move back to St. Paul proved to be the final uprooting. For my parents it was not the jarring change of earlier moves, for in the Twin Cities area were family and friends. Mimi and Ben, too, welcomed our move, as it meant reuniting the family. They had preceded the family to the Twin Cities; Mimi in June of 1934, and Ben a year later, each upon graduating high school.
Mom's sisters Rose and Cis with their families were here, as was her youngest brother Maurice with his. Uncle Max and Aunt Mollie still lived just forty beautiful miles down the Mississippi valley in Red Wing. A few years later, another brother, Phil, settled in the area, making the Twin Cities home for almost all of the Reuben and much of the Tilsen family. Only Mom's oldest brother Sam, married to Dad's youngest sister Gert, settled in Milwaukee near the Tilsen grandparents.
My sister, my brothers and I had all had enough of moving too; over the years, the Twin Cities became home, and all five of us settled and raised our own families there. When Ed and Esther died in 1984, their descendants numbered almost 80 and covered five generations.
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© Jean Tilsen Brust
For more information contact Jon-Jay Tilsen at email@example.com