Sisters, 1992

A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit,
a golden thread to the meaning of life.
—Isadora James

Happy Sister’s Day!

Yes, today is Sister’s Day. And today, I say thanks for three gifts from God—my sisters.

The quote above says it all. Yet, sisterhood is easily one of the most complex of human relationships. Playmates, rivals, best friends, critics, compatriots in crime—it’s a bond forced upon siblings yet one we cherish throughout our lives. Small wonder the Mars gender rolls its eyes and fears the hormonal Venus side of the family.

Ruth, my grandmother, and her sister Charlotte, shared this love-hate relationship. Friends as long as they lived, they exchanged weekly long-distance phone calls, love and support. And, like all sisters, they sometimes were each other’s greatest antagonists.

“When I was 12-years old, I had a half-sister Charlotte,” says Ruth in her 1990 video, of the daughter born to her mother Emma and her step-father Rudolph Arendt. Emma married Rudolph in 1918, a year after her first husband died.

“She was quite a crybaby,” Ruth laughs of Charlotte. “My mother used to go to choir practice on Wednesday nights and my brother Carl and I had to take care of Charlotte.

“We had a (high?) Victrola that played one record and you had to wind it each time. Carl would play the Victrola and I would walk with Charlotte. And then I would take care of the Victrola and Carl would walk with her.”

And because, later in life, Charlotte passed along stories of Ruth’s side of the family, it’s only fitting that Ruth did the same of Charlotte’s. In the video, Ruth shares a few interesting tidbits of the Arendt family in the midst of Chicago’s prohibition days.

“My step-dad’s younger brother, Ed Arendt—he got into the bootlegging business. Once Uncle Carl (Ruth’s brother), well, he was young and I don’t know if he was married or not. Eddy Arndt had him deliver some home brew and he (Carl) got caught.

“Well, I guess he was going to offer the policeman some money, maybe he had a $20, and they said ‘oh, you’re just small stuff, we don’t want you,’ and they let him go.”

According to Ruth, her mother was very upset that Eddy Arndt involved Carl in his dirty work. (Eddy Arendt—doesn’t the name alone sound gangster-ish?) Anyway, it seems his visits caused conflicts.

“Eddy used to come to the house and he’d bring his pals,” tells Ruth in the video. “Grandpa Arendt (Ruth’s step-father) worked in the stockyards and he used to bring our butter and meat home. This was on a Saturday that Eddy came over and brought a friend. When they were gone, some butter was missing. They had taken it.”

Butter-schmutter. Apparently, Eddy was dealing with more than dairy delights.

“Eddy Arendt—he was pretty much in the gang, I guess,” tells Ruth. “Because he was shot and killed on his sister’s front porch. They drove by in a car and shot him.

“At his wake, this fella came and they (the Arendts) felt he had something to do with it. Eddy’s four brothers stood around the casket and just kept watching him because they were afraid he might do something.”

I ask Ruth how old she was when these things happened.

“Oh, I don’t think I was married then,” she answers. “I might have been 18, or something like that.”

And Charlotte would have been six.

Sisters Judith and Carol, September 1943

Unfortunately, I haven’t found any pictures of Ruth and Charlotte in their younger days. However, here we have Ruth’s daughters, Carol and Judith, as flower girls in Charlotte’s wedding. These hats certainly vie for attention in the Easter Bonnet posting, don’t you think?

Carol and Judith

Matching dresses are a rite of passage for sisters. I wonder if someone made them—isn’t the smocking beautiful?

Two Generations of Sisters, 1990

Many decades later, on a hot summer day in Wisconsin: sisters Carol and Judith standing behind their mother Ruth (left) and her sister Charlotte.

Judith's daughters: Ruth and Rachel

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Purses and Impressions

June 3, 2010


Aren’t the impressions we have of things as kids funny? And later, when we learn how off we were, isn’t that funny too?

For example, when my son was little he thought his great-uncle Ken was Watertown’s claim-to-fame astronaut Dan Brandenstein. He thought this because Uncle Ken had emphysema and toted a portable oxygen tank.

Or, when I was little, I often heard my grandmother Ruth speak of her brother Carl and his wife Maybelle. Because Carl and Maybelle lived in Chicago, I never remember meeting them. But being a young, impressionable Michigan girl, I assumed Maybelle was Mabel, from Black Label Beer commercials.

(By the way, this week, would have been Carl’s birthday. He was born June 6, 1906.)

Perhaps my most profound, yet disappointing, misconception was of my grandmother’s sister Charlotte. Before I can ever remember meeting her, Aunt Charlotte sent my sisters and me glamorous gifts such as party dresses, umbrellas and little white gloves. She also regularly attended the Ice Capades and afterwards would send us the program filled with pictures of beautiful skaters wearing flowing taffeta gowns.

Now, I wasn’t much of a girly-girl back then so the flowing gowns weren’t that important. But I did have this sense of Aunt Charlotte being an Ice Capade. When I finally got to meet her, I remember feeling greatly disappointed because she was just like every other old lady. I may have even thrown a temper tantrum about it, which supposedly was common for me at the time.

In retrospect, when I first met Aunt Charlotte, she couldn’t have been old at all. She was was born May 21, 1921, and was twelve years younger than my grandmother.

Unlike Carl, who was never part of our lives, Aunt Charlotte involved herself very much with the younger generations. She had no children of her own, but she had money and time to spend. She adorned us with the most impractical and delightful fluff. That’s where the previously mentioned little white purses come in, also the purse pictured above.

In Aunt Charlotte’s view, the little white purse was as much a needed fashion item as the little black dress. I could easily supply a boutique had I saved all the purses she sent during my childhood and young adult years (before she gave up on my sense of style). Obviously, my disregard for their value was another of my off impressions.

How about you?

Do you still have your purses?

What funny ideas did you have as a kid?

I had always thought this was a picture of Carl Hooge (Ruth’s brother). However, now that I know more of history and dates, I’m not so sure. This looks like a military uniform, doesn’t it? Yet his age doesn’t coincide for either World War I or II.

Ruth also had an uncle named Carl Hornburg. Perhaps it’s him?

This picture was taken during the “Charlotte-is-not-an-Ice Capade” visit, circa early 1960s.

Seated from l-r, Charlotte (Arendt) Matz Prischman, Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt (Charlotte and Ruth’s mother) and Ruth (Hooge) Larson (my grandmother).