JERRY "MY MIDDLE NAME IS ART" ERDMANN
A WORK IN PROGRESS
WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN
This near where the trip started and now it looks like a good bet that there will be chickens near the end as well. At least they won't be nearly as big as I am. I am probably three or four here on my grand- parents' county home between Winneconne and Butte Des Morts in Wisconsin.
on the next farm down the road but it was a mile away and the one time I remember visiting them we got in trouble when we decided to strip down and go swimming in the horse trough. In the fall after my sixth birthday in February I finally got to go to a little red school house with eight grades in one room and no indoor plumbing. It wasn't exactly a social rennaissance for me though. My mother had gone to teachers' college, so I was a little
My beloved step-grandfather, Bill Stutzman, worked as a barn painter at a farm down the road. We had chickens and an occasional heifer in the orchard, but lacked the romance of a working farm. This experience gave me some solid midwestern values, but also left me socially retarded because I had no peer interaction until I was nearly seven years old. There were a couple kids, Rodney and Duddy,
BILL & ME
NOBODY IN HERE BUT US CHICKENS
wise ass who was prone to showing off with words like prestidigitator, and I was generally more interested in what the eighth graders were doing than my Jack and Jill primer. My biggest disappointment was that there was no homework in the first grade. Two more personality traits were developed at this time. My mother had closely monitored my candy intake, so when I first encountered unlimited candy at a Halloween party (perhaps the same one where my little proudly demonstrated his dungarees with the new-fangled zipper fly to everyone) my addictive personality instantly blossomed, and I gorged myself on candy until I threw up. The other kids banished me to the far corner in the bed of the pickup truck on the ride home. The other trait is my aversion to wearing a lot of clothes. In the brutal Wisconsin winters children are bundled
My natural grandfather, Peter Snyder, was reputed to be a gangster who was wiped out in Minneapolis. I have always been amazed by the picture of him with my grandmother, Leona. They look like Bonnie and Clyde in this shot, but in any subsequent pictures of her that I have seen she is already morphing into a grandmother.
up like astronauts in many-zippered snowsuits and one afternoon after
school I headed to the outhouse to respond to the call of nature but was unable to get all my zippers and snaps undone in time. I pissed myself and started out on the
mile trek back home. One of the kids' dads came by in a pickup truck with a bunch of kids in the back and offered me a ride. I was much tooembarassed to accept and said,
"No thanks, I feel like walking tonight." To this day the fewer clothes I have on the more comfortable I am.
Mom was an unhappy lady and tended to spread it around. When her mom's marriage to the gangster went bad she was brought up by her Aunt Edith. She hated her curly hair, didn't fit in well at school, taught for a moment and then became a fifties housekeeper and mother. She didn't seem to have much vocation for any of this, always threatened to write a book but never wrote a page. She suffered from depression and had shock treatments that she claimed she drove herself to.
Dad was a good guy. I don't have a clue what his interior life was like because he wasn't very communicative. His side of the family, which would gather for funerals, was like a bunch of potatoes and I've never been able fathom how they got across an ocean. Both my kids have a sweet quality that certainly comes from him. The one thing I do know about him is that he was frustrated. One day my brother found him sitting in his basement workshop next to a running table saw so he didn't have to listen to my mother.
My brother Jon is three years younger than me and has had a very different life. He didn't do as well in school as I did, but was better adjusted socially and more athletic. My only foray into sports was tennis and it killed me that he could consistantly beat me. He lived at home until he got married and then moved three blocks away. He worked in the same mill that my father did, eventually becoming a millwright. He probably hasn't been out of Wisconsin a half a dozen times but he has a really nice, close family.
Wisconsin is like Canada without the healthcare. The people are nice, if a bit xenophobic, and the winters are fucking brutal. When I was a really little kid I just wanted to wear eye hook boots and bib overalls like the grownups, but that didn't last long. When I got a little older I wanted to be a cowboy but figured you had to be from Texas or Wyoming. When I hit my teens, I wanted to be sophistocated but figured you had to be from New York City. Of course when I actually got mature I realized this was bullshit and cowboys and sophistocates come from all over, but I've never had the cozy relationship with the state that a lot of badgers do. I found the rolling countryside, the cows and barns, totally boring, way too Thomas Hart Benton. The only thing that turned me on in the landscape was the billboards. This made me think in high school that I should probably be a commercial artist, and I tried to emulate the ubiquitous resist drawings of Bob Peak, my first art hero.
ESCAPE TO THE TWIN CITIES
No, not Minneapolis-St. Paul. In time for third grade we moved from my grandparents' home in the country to Neenah positioned where the Fox River empties into Lake Winnebago (with enough qualifiers, the second largest fresh water lake in the States) inbetween Appleton and Oshkosh. The river splits as it enters the lake creating an island, called "The Island" which is shared by Neenah and its twin city and football rival, Menasha. I remember the population as being about 20,000 and according to Wikipedia it was only 25,501 in 2010. Hardly a metropolis, but still a major change from Skeleton Bridge School and I found myself in the uneviable position of having a female teacher trying to teach me, with little success, how to hit a base ball. I lived in Neenah until I went to college, and a strange little town it was. I always characterized it as a suburb with nothing to be a suburb to. The head offices of several international paper companies were based there and there were lots of mill workers there but there were also big homes on the lake and
Jimmy Kimberly (as in Kimberly-Clark) raced Ferraris. The photo appeared in the local rag highlighting hats made in my third grade class for an Easter Parade of Hats. This photo has always cracked me up because of how delighted the kid on the left, now a retired banker, is with two inchs of something.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
After a brief brush with the cub scouts I ended up being a Boys' Brigader through high school. The Boys Brigade is a fairly popular organization in Europe and the Caribbean, but there was only one chapter in the United States....in Neenah, Wisconsin. It was sort of a paramilitary youth group, "combining drill and fun activities with Christian values". We marched, fired rifles and had a summer camp on an island in the Chain-O-Lakes that had been owned by Ester Williams. Years later when I got drafted and found myself in basic training I had a strange sense of deja vu. I
figured out that the camp was run by guys who were nostalgic for their days in the military. There were a variety of activities including this little production which was billed as a "medicine show". After a high school reunion I didn't attend years back some old photos were posted on the internet and I was surprised to see myself in drag. Somehow I managed to get the lead in this little extravaganza as you can see in the picture on the left. This was a bit of miscasting because, as you can see from the photo on the right, there were other Brigaders with a lot more "talent" than I had. A trip to Wikipedia informed me that there were other chapters in the U.S. (we never heard from them), but the Fox Valley is cited and it is now coed so these Shakespearian productions are no longer necessary. I'm sure it's not the same though.
© 2013 by Jerry Art Erdmann