A writer recalls the street life and families of Milwaukee’s South Side in this memoir.
Luckmann (Northwest Passage, 2018, etc.) lived most of his early years within the boundaries of Milwaukee’s South Side “German-Polish ghetto.” The book opens with a beautiful portrait of city life in the 1930s and ’40s, as remembered through a child’s eyes. The author describes the “fleeting passage” of the trolley car with its “ghostly passengers,” men dressed in “suits and ties and fedora hats,” women with a “full pompadour hair style,” and the variety of three-story brick establishments spread along 16th Street, like “the famous Heller’s Hat Shop and Haberdashery.” Luckmann recounts some unfortunate childhood mishaps, such as falling on the 22nd Street Hill in winter and finding his hands frozen to the sidewalk, and suffering a broken leg after being struck by a car while crossing Greenfield Avenue. The author also offers detailed portraits of those living close by, like Mrs. Frass, the “rich fragrances and aromas” of whose cooking seem to waft tantalizingly from the page. As the evocative memoir develops, Luckmann’s focus shifts to domestic politics, recalling such events as his father’s ejection from the family home by his own wife. In the midst of a heated argument, his father yells ruefully: “Ed’s the cause of this, isn’t he? We were all right till he came!”—laying the blame at the feet of her new beau. This is the work of an acutely observant, perspicacious writer who captures the hubbub of South Side street life and the volatility of family dynamics existing behind closed doors with equal vigor. The author’s one minor shortcoming is a tendency toward grandiloquence, which can prove wearisome: “One motive for these recollections is to snare in words as best I can these fleeing moments preserving them, perhaps, for just a bit longer while our home star still casts its light and livable warmth on our pale blue dot lost in the dark cosmic night.” Still, illustrated with family photographs throughout, this book remains a captivating read and a valuable document for anyone wishing to visit the streets and households of Milwaukee’s old South Side.
Vivid, emotive writing that opens a doorway to a bygone era.