Friday, January 8, 2016

Uncle Bill

Uncle Bill Oesterlein was a stoic German engineer, working for years at Allis Chalmers, having escaped the terror of the Nazis.  He married Elsa Frank, a cousin of ours in Milwaukee. They lived near the city, but owned a gingerbread cottage in the woods of Mequon. In fact their property has the tallest stand of White Pine in Southeastern Wisconsin. Here the wind loudly whispers through the pines perched on the tall bluff overlooking a stream that leads down ravines to Lake Michigan.

On weekends our family would go to visit and I would explore the forests, ravines, pebbled beaches and crashing waves along Lake Michigan below the cottage. It was always an adventure in the beauty of creation. Fox and pileated woodpeckers scooted and flew through the trees. The typewriter-like tapping of sapsuckers filled the air.

I would watch Uncle Bill split logs for his wood stove on a fall late morning as the sun flickered patterns on the fallen bright autumn leaves on the forest floor. He piled them high along his yellow painted wood shed between the sawhorses laden with fallen pine needles and cones.

Inside Elsa was stoking the fire and preparing cookies and pretzels to go with the cold bottle of German wine that Uncle Bill would always open for my Dad.  They would talk of old family stories about the war in the screened-in porch while the wind and the sun moved around us.  I usually had a couple of “Girlie Cakes,” what Uncle Bill called the old style Girl Scout sugar cookies. They were the best ever.

After our visit, we would head up Zedler lane back to Port Road and the old Kuiper’s Cheese House on the corner of Highland.  Here grilled cheese sandwiches never tasted better and the juke box played whatever tunes the many patrons had selected, like The Yellow Rose of Texas.  The restaurant in now the Highland House, but they sure don’t have any stinky aged Brick cheese.

I know my father and his older brothers Art and Bob had made the visit to Uncle Bill’s often. Below is a photo of my father in his Army uniform after his return from WWII at the cottage. It must have been 1945 and sometime shortly after my father’s long rehabilitation from grave wounds suffered at Monte Cassino, Italy in 1944. I’m not sure of Uncle Bill, but Aunt Elsa died in 1987 at 103 in a sanitarium.
  The property still exists. However, Sandy McCallum, my former English teacher, who bought the land, raised the cottage. He kept the wood shed and the wind still whispers through the high pine trees. The sun flickers on the forest floor. And God is in His heaven.

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