Picnics and Togetherness

April 15, 2010

This Saturday is a big day here in Madison, Wisconsin—the Dane County Farmers Market opens for its summer season on the Capitol Square. And then, come June 30, Concerts on the Square begins its season.

The market and concerts are both cultural traditions that bring Madisonians in hoards to the lawns of the State Capitol. They shop, they eat, they drink, they listen to music, they kick back and play with their kids. It’s a great communing of families and friends, all who enjoy getting out and spending time together.

So, what does this Madison togetherness have to do with my grandmother Ruth?

Well, not a whole lot.

Except that it reminds me of two books I’m currently reading. They’re about Chicago’s history and they both mention the German people’s love of community.

According to “City of the Century,” by Donald L. Miller, Germans were Chicago’s largest ethnic group during the 19th century. Between 1840 and World War I, they comprised 25 percent of the city’s population. They lived together on the North Side, the Northwest Side, and in industrial areas along branches of the Chicago River.

“Rich and poor, Catholic and Lutheran, Bavarian and Prussian, Germans lived together in these virtually self-sufficient urban villages, where German was the language of common discourse,” writes Miller. “Germans seemed to do everything together, and on warm-weather Sundays they would gather in festive beer gardens within the German colony or march together, hundreds and sometimes thousands of them, to picnic grounds on the edge of the city.” (1)

Recently, I pulled out an old VCR tape we made back in 1990. On it, I’m interviewing Ruth and with only a few questions to prompt her, she does a fascinating recollection of events throughout her life. Coincidentally, she talks about picnics she had as a child with her Hornburg cousins.

“We used to go on truck picnics,” says Ruth. “We used to put benches on either side of the truck and away we’d go. My Uncle Ed, the undertaker, he had a baseball team called the Hornburg Colts. All my cousins were in it. We girl cousins used to go and root for them. We used to have a lot of fun that way.”

Ruth also talks about the church picnics they had. By that time, she had moved with her parents and brother to the south side of Chicago. But they still came back to Holy Cross, the church where she was baptized, for its picnics.

“Holy Cross Church was in the old neighborhood,” says Ruth. “They had a school and my cousins all went there. Whenever they had their picnic, they called it the Holy Cross School picnic, and they would march from the school to the train. They had a band. They all got on the train and drove out of Chicago to a grove, and they used to have big picnics. They used to have beer and they’d have, well, a swinging ball like bowling, only you swing the one big ball and hit the pins.”

“My one aunt, she was real good at it,” remembers Ruth.

I ask which aunt this was.

“That was my Aunt Minnie Hornburg, Uncle Eddie’s wife,” she answers.

Then she goes on into a familiar litany of family relations…about her other Aunt Minnie, from her mother’s side, whose first husband died and she married Minnie Hornburg’s brother Bill, so a brother and a sister married a brother and a sister, and they’re both named Minnie…you can tell by my “oh-h-h” in the background that I’m totally lost.


You’ve gotta remember there were twelve kids on the Hornburg side. Just think of all those Germans picnicking, drinking beer and swinging the bowling ball. That must have been some train ride back into the city.

Ruth Hooge, age 17

My video photgraphy skills were pretty bad back in 1990. Poor Ruth, I sat her in the shade but with the sun in the background she looks like a talking silhouette. This shot is the best it’s gonna get.

I’m planning to transfer the VCR tape to my computer. I can then insert clips into the blog and/or burn CDs—let me know if you’re interested in one.

(1) Miller, Donald L., “City of the Century,” Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1996, pg. 468-469.


4 Responses to “Picnics and Togetherness”

  1. Terri Says:

    I would love to have a CD of your conversations with Grandma. Gotta hear that voice again!!

  2. adunate Says:

    Her voice is what you’re going to have to settle for through most of the video. Our camera was from the pre-previewing era and I didn’t realize how poorly focused it was until later. Bummer.

  3. Curt Bovee Says:

    Hi, Did you graduate from West High in 1961 ?

    If not, your site is great anyway. Thanks.

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