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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Happy Birthday!

Today would have been my maternal grandfather's 92nd birthday.

George Anton Green was born near Elk Mound, in northwestern Wisconsin on April 19th, 1923, the youngest child of Anton Edward (1888-1975) & Margaret Mary (Michelbook) Green (1892-1958). He joined his older brother, Vernon Nicholas Green (1918-2002). There was a daughter born between Vernon and my grandfather, Katherine (1921-1922), but, unfortunately, she died in infancy.

He grew up on a farm a couple miles outside of the small town of Elk Mound. The family survived the depression as other families in the area did at that time. He went to school, played basketball, and graduated from Elk Mound High School in 1941.

He married Muriel Irene Hawkinson sometime in 1942. She was just 18 and he was 19. The story I had been told regarding his marriage to Muriel was that she said she was pregnant and it was 1942 and they were Catholic. You got married. So, they got married.

Well........turns out that Muriel wasn't pregnant at that time.

Based on everything I had heard, his marriage with Muriel did not go well. It could be said that my great-grandmother may have had something to do with that. She didn't like anyone either of her sons took up with. It was no secret that she didn't care for Muriel or Idell, my great-uncle Vernon's first wife and the one I referred to as my great-aunt, though I met the woman maybe a handful of times before she died. I imagine she did an internal happy dance when my grandfather decided to divorce Muriel....except they were Catholic and you just didn't do that........but it happened anyway.

When I was a child, I was told that Muriel, again, said that she was pregnant, probably as a last-ditch effort to save the marriage. They divorced in 1945. As my grandfather lay in the nursing home, trying to ward off his impending death, he and I talked about Muriel and his divorce. He was surprised I retained that information for so long. I learned about his first marriage when I was a small child, though I did not learn her name until after his death. I told him what I knew regarding his first marriage. Basically, they got married because she was pregnant, but she wasn't; they got divorced because the marriage was not going well and she, again, said she was pregnant. They got divorced anyway. I asked him if Muriel really was pregnant when they divorced and he said, "I never knew."

Soon after the divorce, on May 8, 1945, my grandfather enlisted in the army. The war had been going on for more than five years, and was in the process of ending, though that was not known when he enlisted. The bombs had not been dropped on Japan at that point.

My grandfather always said he learned to peel spuds in the army. Turns out he went through basic training twice. That's probably why he knew how to peel potatoes. He also could not touch his toes, which really irked his commanding officers. He could get about mid-way down his shins and his body refused to go any further.

He didn't talk much about his time in the army. I do know that he spent time in Japan. All he ever really said about it was that he had been there twice. The first time, it was a beautiful country. The second time, not so much. I take that to mean he was there before we bombed them and after we bombed them. Someday, I'll transcribe the letters he wrote to my grandmother from his time in the army.

I'm not entirely sure when he met my grandmother but I do know that it was either soon after his divorce or while he was home on leave because he was honorably discharged from the army in November of 1946 and I have a pile of letters from him to her, all from his time in the army. I know that they were introduced as a result of a double-roller-skating-date with his friend, Gilbert Zank, and his girlfriend, Margaret. Gil and Margaret were also married, their daughters and my mother were friends, their granddaughters and I were friends, and they were like another set of grandparents for me.

George married Agnes Lucille Johnston on December 21, 1946 in St. Paul, Minnesota. My grandfather, having been kicked out of the Catholic church for the divorce, could not be married in a Catholic church. My grandmother, being Lutheran and marrying someone Catholic, could not be married in her Lutheran church. So, they went to Minnesota to get the winter.

On May 25, 1947, my mother, Shirley Ann Green was born. Yes, yes, do the math...grandma was pregnant with my mom when they got married. I was told that my mother was born two months early but I'm not sure that's true. I think my grandmother just hid the pregnancy very well. My grandparents and another friend were on a fishing trip (which they had been cleared to go do) when my grandmother went into labor. The nearest hospital was in Menomonie, Wisconsin, which is where my mother was born. But they were moved to Eau Claire soon after because that's where all my grandmother's doctors were....or something. And this was back in the days before interstate highways.

They continued to live in Eau Claire, Wisconsin until 1951 when an old army friend of my grandfather's said, "hey, I've found you a job down here; move." They packed up and moved to Stoughton in 1951.

Unfortunately, the move was not easy. Stoughton was a finicky town in the early 1950s. It has deep Norwegian roots and my grandparents were not Norwegian. My grandfather's family consisted mainly of Germanic roots and my grandmother's family were of Swedish, Scottish, and Irish decent. The old timers in town used to speak to my grandfather in Norwegian as a sign of disrespect. He would not only understand them, but he would reply in English. His parents spoke German at home and the base of both German and Norwegian is Germanic. The format is the same in both languages and a lot of the words have similar root words and sounds. He had to really listen to them but he could do it.

They lived in several rented houses near downtown before they bought their first house on the corner of West South Street and Van Buren. The house is still there and is currently owned by the parents of a girl I went to high school with. I was in that house several times in my youth.

Throughout his time in southern Wisconsin, he worked up the ranks at Wolff-Kubly, eventually becoming a buyer for them. He had started in the garden department. He quit in the mid-1970s and decided to open up his own business in Stoughton. He used his contacts and knowledge of how to buy and opened up The Stationery House. It was an office supply and Norwegian giftware shop across from the post office in downtown Stoughton. He also was on the school board, was a member of the American Legion, the Jaycee's, and a bunch of other committees and clubs.

They built their second house, on Jackson Street, in the mid-1970s. They lived there until 1992, when my mother bought it from them. In 1992, they had built their third house, further west on West South Street than their first house.

In 1993, he and Agnes were King & Queen of Syttende Mai in Stoughton.

After that, it was just a downhill ride. My grandfather never retired. The store was in operation until after his death (guess which loving only granddaughter got stuck with that task?).

To be honest, if he hadn't broken his hip in 2006, he would probably still be alive today.

There's so much more to his story.

One tidbit........when he was dying in the nursing home and I asked him about whether Muriel was pregnant when they got divorced and he said he didn't know.


Muriel was pregnant. The baby was his. And you can be damn sure he knew about it. My grandmother knew about it. Her family knew about it. My great-uncle knew about it....seems everyone knew about it except my mother and I.

My uncle, Michel David (Green) Tylee was born in 1945. I know very little about him. I do know that sometime in the 1960s, probably right after he graduated from high school in 1962 or '63, he drove down to Stoughton with the intention of meeting his biological father. Apparently he had the car parked across the street but couldn't go to the door. He drove all that way and never made it to the door.

Unfortunately, he died in 1993. My mother had never met him and, although she suspected his existence, never knew for sure. She died in 2001.

But, he had children and I have been in contact with one of them.

So, happy birthday, grandpa. Sorry I'm letting all your secrets out!

George Anton Green is either the one on the left or in the middle of the front row (c. 1930)

Me and my grandfather, c. 1990

I have so many more photos......just nothing scanned in yet :(


  1. It's amazing house much you know about your family history. I am sadly lacking in that department.

  2. wow, he lived a really full life! and such interesting stories, it's wonderful that you know so much about him. Stories like that are treasures.