Week 24 Challenge: Father’s Day

This seems like a good time to collect some early memories about my husband, James Edward Weise, father to our three children,  grandfather to 6 and great-grandfather to 5. Jim died at age 78 after a long battle with cancer. He was born in 1935 in Chicago, Illinois to Alice Isabelle Leckie Weise and Otto Edward Weise. 

Alice and Otto were a May-December marriage when they married in 1933. She was 26 and he was 47. He was a department head in an insurance company and Alice was a bookkeeper in an insurance company….probably the same place. Otto was a widower with a 12-year-old son, Robert. They lived in a nice brick bungalow on Warwick Ave. on the northwest side of Chicago. In 1937 Alice gave birth to a second son, Richard. 

Jim and Rich were really handsome little boys and were probably a handful for Alice. The  1940 census shows her as not working with 3 boys at home with Otto listed as office manager at the insurance company, Associated Agencies,  making an annual salary of $2400 which was above the median income for the time.

The earliest story I know about Jim is that when he was 8 years old he had the job of delivering the aprons his mother had made to her clients in downtown Chicago. (She was an excellent seamstress.) He took the bus (CTA?) and made the deliveries possibly to people at the insurance company. Alice told me he was a very responsible boy. Good thing he was because, as Jim told me,  he took over being “the man of the house” at age 12. 

Somewhere in the 1940’s Otto became an alcoholic (or maybe it happened earlier). The memories that Jim shared with me of his earlier years were not very happy ones. He recalled being sent to the neighborhood tavern and helping his father home through the alley. Otto was grumpy and stubborn. He insisted they continue to use an old wood burning water heater. Jim (a teenager) decided that a gas fired one would be so much better, convinced his mother to buy one and then installed it himself…at age 12…a born engineer. Jim said he did not recall ever having a meaningful conversation with his father. Otto was not physically abusive to his family but the mental abuse from an alcoholic father surely had an impact on his sons and on their emotional health.

I’m sure there was some happiness in there somewhere because there was an extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins and a grandparent or two mostly on Alice’s side of the family. Many of the family lived in Maywood, Illinois and some lived near Kankakee. Jim recalled birthday parties or picnics with family members and spoke kindly about his cousins John, Bob and Peggy who were the children of Alice’s sister Bethia. Jim looked up to John and Bob considering them male mentors.

Jim was raised in a parochial grade school, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.  He told me he was “Peck’s Bad Boy” who took great delight in driving his teachers crazy. Upon graduation he declared he had no use for religion being forced down his throat and was going to Stuyvesant High School where he said he did pretty well although he got mediocre grades in chemistry. However his chem teacher took a liking to him and recommended that he pursue Chemical Engineering. His best friend in high school and on into college was Ken Bischoff who was one of his groomsmen at our wedding. Jim joined the track team and was an accomplished runner, winning medals for the 400 yard dash I think. His interests were science, math and history. He told me he really wanted to be an archeologist but the chem teacher said he’d make more money as a chemical engineer. 

Somewhere during these teenage years Otto lost his job and Alice took a clerical/ administrative position at Harris Bank in downtown Chicago. She became the breadwinner. I don’t think Otto worked again. I also don’t know how Jim managed, financially, to graduate from Illinois Institute of Technology. I know that he always had a job from probably 12 years old and on. He was a paperboy for two newspapers and worked in an ice cream shop so partly he worked his way through college. He never mentioned scholarships but did talk about saving his earnings. He took the bus or the train to IIT for four years of college and graduated around 1951 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. His best friends from college, Ken and Joyce (who later married Ken) and Clem White all attended our wedding in 1959.

Upon graduation from IIT Jim was courted by a couple of oil refining and pharmaceutical companies. He selected Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago, about 40 miles from his home on Warwick. He commuted on the North Shore line to work for many months. As an engineer in a pharmaceutical company he was considered to be in a critical industry so he took advantage of a military program where he signed up for active duty in the army for 6 months and then 8 years of inactive reserve. During his active duty he qualified as a “sharp shooter” and he would have gone off to serve if called on but he had little chance of that after marriage and babies coming along.

Jim was assigned to the engineering development program at Abbott so he worked long, changing hours as he learned about all the areas of the company. During that program he met up with Anne Nehls who became an important part of his life…his mother-in-law!  And that will be another story!

Jim worked for Abbott for 19 years, then left for a good opportunity at McGaw Labs in California where he worked for 19 years and was then laid off during a downsizing. He was a loyal, dependable, hard working employee who never hesitated to express his opinion (which sometimes got him into trouble). While he didn’t have a passion for his job (it was not a career) he was proud to be an engineer. He said while others could talk about and plan things, engineers had to go out and actually use their hands to make things work. 

Two things were of utmost importance to Jim. First and foremost, Family….me, our kids and the family of spouses and grandkids that came along over the years.  He might not have expressed that love so much in words but he sure did in his actions. He was always there for us. Second was Freedom. He picked up a line from a Star Trek episode…”Freedom is our worship word.”  His values and opinions were measured against that concept. 

I have 54 years of family and marriage anecdotes but when I think about Jim I can see that these early years, for better and worse, made him the man I knew. I only wish he’d been able to share more with me. 

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