The Bahr Story – now for the rest of the Gary Bahr story, life and times by Gary Bahr.
Now the birth of Gary Bahr took place in this way. He was born in a manger to the proud parents Rosalie Jane and Kenneth Russell Bahr at the Mercy Hospital in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on June 16, 1943. A bassinet served as a manger. There was a bright star in the East that pointed the way for wise men or women to the spot to visit the newborn child – three wise men found their way: my Grandpa Krieser, the Doctor and eventually my Dad – who I have to give some sort of credit for my life at this point. None of them brought gold or anything of value.
My mom lost a baby named Gene about a year before my birth. Don’t know or remember the details. Probably didn’t know.
I think my Dad’s first visit was when he returned from the war and made his way to my Grandpa and Grandma’s home in Oshkosh on Eastman Avenue. I finally got to meet him. He was a handsome dude, tall, blond, well tanned and quite intelligent – like father, like son they always say. Except, I was dark-haired like my Mom.
EATING A SQUARE MEAL.
I was in my highchair when Dad – I use the word lightly – insisted I eat a square meal. I did not know what the hell he was talking about. I was maybe 2 years old. I blamed my mom and grandparents for not teaching me to eat a square meal.
CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT
I did not do the square meal thing just right and my punishment from Dad on his first visit was to kneel with bare knees on a wooden grate in the dining room used for heating purposes. I thought my Mom and Grandparents should join me for not teaching me the square meal deal – my sense of justice was emerging.
Kneeling on the grate hurt like heck and I never forgave this Dad for this cruel and unusual punishment. My brothers apparently had bottle caps to also kneel on. I escaped that torture, probably for a lack of bottle caps.
THE LITTLE PRINCE
Prior to Dad’s introduction I had always been treated well by my Mom, Grandmother and Grandfather. I deserved fine treatment as I was the best child and would have been spoiled had I not developed an early sense of just plain gratitude so that I would not take advantage of their kindnesses. I also knew early that being kind and considerate to my elders paid great dividends.
MY TAKING ON DAD
I must have been two years old and sleeping in a crib due to the lack of a real bed for me in my grandparents home. While in the crib, I heard my Dad and Mom arguing downstairs. I climbed out of the crib and went down and confronted my Dad. Shaking my arm at him, I said, “You leave my Mom alone”. My Mom convinced me I would be better off back in bed.
GRANDPA TAKES ON DAD
The next morning my Grandpa took me aside and said that my Dad would not be around his house anymore. Being very young, I was not sure what he meant. But, I did not see my Dad around that house ever again. Good thing, or I might have had to beat him up. I can talk tough now.
Grandpa had gotten a restraining order against my dad and had not killed him or buried him in the Garden.
THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE AND A LITTLE RED COWBOY
For Christmas one year I got a little white horse and red cowboy. I was able to climb every mountain andride thru every canyon on the couch and chairs, take on robbers and Indians just like Roy Rodgers and Gene Autry.
One year I got a cardboard box shaped and sewed together with yarn to form a barn. Farming became part of my makeup and someday I would have my own farm. My Dad or Stepfather did not give me a farm.
A year later or so, I was standing under an eavestrough when I felt chilled and my legs felt weak. I went in the house and was told to lay on the couch. Doctor Kuhn came to check it out. Polio was the diagnosis. I thought I would be another Franklin Roosevelt.
My grandma would take me for treatments of exercise. Nurses massaged my legs and exercised my legs and all I wanted was to ride the stationary bike nearby in the rehab section. Before I knew it I was lucky and back to normal. One leg was declared shorter than the other, but I have never noticed. Although it may contribute to my back problems.
MY FIRST BIKE, TRICYCLE
For my next birthday I got a tricycle from my Grandpa and Grandma. I thought I was old enough for a real bike, but this would do and I was free to pedal around the home block. I think the bike tricycle was a used one – no mater, it worked.
NOT MUCH MONEY
My Mom worked at JC Penneys in Oshkosh. I am certain that my Dad paid no child support or very little. If it was not for my Grandparents, we could not have made it.
My family was my grandparents, my Mom and two brothers – Ken and Wayne. My brothers were 2 to 4 years older than I. Our Dad had visitations from time to time. I went rarely to see him as think I did not want to go as I saw him as mean.
My real Dad was an alcoholic. Some claimed due to his military experiences. Others claimed he had a problem before service. I did not understand the problem either way, but had not forgot that his punishment for me not eating a square meal was to kneel on the floor grate with bare knees.
AT DAD’S PLACE
I remember my Dad had a very small place in Neenah or Menasha or Appleton, Wisconsin and on Christmas eve he had oyster soup. It was terrible stuff. I never wanted to go there after that because I had to eat it. I would dream of my Mom’s dinners or my Grandma’s dinners. I do not ever remember receiving anything from my Dad like a gift or a dollar or some good advice. I do remember he would always say to me, “Gary, I want to ask you something later”. I never new what as he never did ask until about 40 years later when he wanted a gallon of wine.
MY FIRST SCHOOL
I was off to school at age five. It was about six blocks south from my Grandma’s house and about the same distance from the Sunset Dairy – home of ice cream. In kindergarden I had to go to special classes for speech. I stuttered. I was told it was due to me being left handed and everyone made me use my right hand. It probably made me a thinker instead of a great orator.
A NEW DAD
My Dad and Mom divorced. Mom got custody. She would except a job with a carpenter, named Ellward Wolff, as his housekeeper. I thought I would be a carpenter’s son like Jesus. He had two kids, Ward and Judy. I also hard brothers Ken and Wayne. There were five of us.
WHAT THE HECK?
One day I saw my Mom’s slippers under Ellward’s bed in his bedroom. I thought that was odd. Did not really understand the significance of this at age 7, but thought it odd her slippers would be in his room.
MOM MARRIED A WOLFF?
It may be why I became part wolf. It was my 7th birthday and my present would be a new step-father. He seemed kinder than my real dad although not very loving. He never took us fishing, never gave us a hug, but he did take us to the outdoor theater. Big improvement over my real Dad who offered no love or entertainment.
Ellward owned a small farm consisting of a few acres of mostly marshland and a house and barn on Bowen Street in Oshkosh. There was room enough to start some chickens and turkeys. That he did. Before he took up being a carpenter he had some chickens at his dad’s farm and had hoped to buy the farm from his dad. His dad sold his farm out from under Ellward. Ellward would work hard to get his own farm. Here on Bowen street he had his beginnings as a farmer along Lake Winnebago.
BOWEN STREET, OSHKOSH
The house was very livable. I was in a room upstairs. There was a back porch.
RAIN OR SHINER
One day I was on the back porch watching the rain. My new Step-Dad was eating breakfast by himself. I said to him that it was raining. He got up and slapped me across the face. What the heck! I ran up to my room and would not come down to eat. I suppose I expected an apology and would starve myself until I got one.
My mom tried to explain that he did not hear me and thought I said something else… I guess. I never learned what he thought I said and thought maybe my Mom had made a mistake to put those slippers under his bed.
I got hungry and ended my hunger strike by morning. But had missed two meals. I have not made that mistake again. I never got an apology from my step-dad.
And, I never gave stepdad a weather report again. I learn fast.
A NEW GRADE SCHOOL
At age 7 I was off to a new school west of my new home. I remember having to walk too far in cold weather. My mom made me wear big buckled boots. Must have been my stepdad’s. Anyhow, I would take them off and leave them by the railroad tracks to save dying from embarrassment. I think it was called Harrison Grade School. Last I knew it was a shoe warehouse.
My stepdad must have seen a labor supply in his new 3 new kids. I at 7 hauled water to the chickens by glass gallon water jugs – one in each hand and then 2 in each hand to save a few trips. A water hose would have been nice. Soon we started 12 turkeys – the beginning toward 100,000 turkeys a year in the early 1960’s.
THE MOVE TO A BIGGER FARM ON JACKSON DRIVE
In a couple years new Dad bought a 40 acre farm on Jackson Drive in Oshkosh. I went from farm helper to Vice President in charge of Operations by age 10 – in my mind. Somehow I felt I was in command and took my duties seriously. I felt it was my duty to make this farm work. Thus I had no time for girls – I had work to do. Stupid me. I would waste four or more years to work. Stupid, yes.
My stepfather went part time carpenter and part time farmer. Then would quit being a carpenter. I would help with carpenter projects, a sunroom on the house, siding the barn, building turkey pens, and more. Wolf raised a couple thousand chickens – laying hens and a hundred or more turkeys.
A NEW GRADE SCHOOL
I think it was called Sunset Grade School. Mrs. Ott was swinging next to me when I called this girl stupid. I am sure she just wanted me, and I was stupid again. Anyway, Mrs. Ott lost it and made me write 100 times, “I will not call anyone stupid.” I learned fast. But, she had to take me home and I avoided the bus trip.
GATHERING EGGS AND DANDLELINE WINE
I would gather eggs and haul them from the barn to the house basement where I would sand the eggs to take the dirt off and tray them into egg cases. Sometimes my Grandma Krieser would help me sand the eggs.
One day I had gathered eggs and was cleaning them when I got thirsty. It was a hot day and the Dandelion wine my Mother had made looked pretty good. I drank some. Then leaving the house to gather more eggs I decided I needed something cold and found some chocolate ice cream. I was about half way between the house and the barn when my stomach started to burn. I went into the nearby feed shed and laid on the bags of feed. I thought I was going to die there. Not long after the burning stomach mellowed and I lived. To this day, some 60 years later, I have never had dandelion wine and chocolate ice cream together.
THE OLD MILK HOUSE AND COW TANK
At Thanksgiving and Christmas we would dress these turkeys in a small milk house with a cement water tank for cooling the dressed turkeys and an automatic feather picker with rubber fingers circulating on a drum to remove the turkey feathers. You dipped the turkey in hot water before putting it on the picker. Before the picker was finally grounded it would set me on my ass now and then from electric shock. At 12 I could cut the neck and legs off and gut a turkey in a minute. My grandma timed me. She was there as my best helper. She worked at the Sunny View Sanatorium in Oshkosh as chief cook for 36 years because “the patients liked her soup.”
In her spare time – from 1PM to 4PM – she would come to help on the farm. She was a great worker. Taught me to work all the time like she did. Turkey dressing time was in cold weather and I complained of being cold. She said, “Put some brandy in your Pepsi” and I was hooked for sixty years. 60 years of addiction all because of my Grandmother.
Brandy and Pepsi was a life saver. Not only did it make me feel warmer inside, it also kept me cancer free and hearth healthy for 5 decades. In the early 21st century I would quit drinking Pepsi and Brandy to save calories, and I will be damned if I did not get cancer and heart disease.
SAVING BROTHER GREG
Greg is half Krieser and half Wolff – technically my half brother; but I love him like a brother. He sucked his thumb longer than some so when he fell into a pool of turkey manure at about age 3 I pulled him out and used the occasion to go bananas over his dipping his thumb in turkey shit. I told him he could never suck his thumb again. It worked. Not only did I save him from a terrible death – drowning in turkey poop – but saved him from sucking his thumb until he was 12, 20 or 3o. Just kidding.
I TAUGHT MY BROTHER ALL HE KNOWS…
We shared a bedroom as kids and it was interesting to watch his thumb head for his mouth and then pull back – even in his sleep. Guess it would have hurt no one to let him suck his thumb a year or so longer. I learned some cruelty from my Dad.
Greg will claim I pulled his hair and left lumps on his head and then explained that with lumps on his head he should not ever fall asleep as he may not wake up. Some people believe some of the things I say. He would doze off after the tonight show.
But I credit myself with raising him to be a hard worker and more.
SIDING THE BARN
We had a big barn on the farm. Stepdad made it into two floors of chickens plus a loft. I fed the chickens and the rats. Rats loved the set-up.The chickens lived on slatted floors and the rats lived under the chickens and came up on the slats to eat out of the chicken feeders.
One day when gathering eggs in this floor nest a cocky rooster flew up into my face. It hurt. For revenge I caught him and cut his spurs off. The rooster lost a lot of blood and I feared it would die. It lived, but never flew up into my face again.
THE RATS WON
I had a small Ruger western revolver to shoot rats. I was shoveling manure in the winter with gloves on and ready to shoot a rat, when my glove was too big for the trigger guard and I shot myself in the leg instead. I tell my grandkids I was shot by Indians coming from the North, the South, the East and West… My son Todd likes to get the story going.
MY SECOND HOSPITAL STAY
Dr. Kuhrn made a long cut to remove the bullet. Said it moved. I was watching the operation and apparently moved to much so they put me to sleep. When I woke up in a room I got up and walked down to a TV area. The nurses finally missed me and came to order me back in bed.
ROOSEVELT JOUNIOR HIGH
I had to go back to school – 9th grade and face the music. I limped like Chester on Gunsmoke. My friend, Bernard Gonzales said I should have wore the holster on my head – meaning I should have shot myself in the head.
Well with my leg dragging, I girl named Phyllis caught me. She was attractive and smart – something I learned to look for in a girl. I was kind of a dumb boyfriend – thought I had to run the farm rather than chase a girl. Add it to my list of mistakes. Come summer, I worked hard on the farm. Guess I waited for her to call me. Add another mistake.
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Hey, I’ll be back… I have a couple other projects to finish.