Nature

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”—Albert Einstein

When my grandfather, Christoph Meintzer (Storms), was born in the Riverwoods, in 1888, his parents’ Lake County, Illinois (Vernon Township), farm house was situated on a road (lane?) angling northwest just north of the intersection of Deerfield and Saunders Roads. The last census (1910) when the family lived there did not show a street name or address, as I’m sure all the nearby properties were farms. It is now named Riverwoods Road.

In the late 1970s or early 1980s, my mom drove me past Christoph’s childhood home—visible from the road. It was easy enough to find, despite Mom not knowing the road name or house address, because she remembered it being just down the road from the Orphans of the Storm animal shelter. That shelter opened in 1928, and she remembered it when her father would drive them to his old house.

I now regret not turning into the driveway or pulling over to snap a photograph, because it appears the house has since then been torn down and replaced by a newer home. I have only two photographs with the house faintly in the background. Extended cousins, if you have a better photo of Christian & Sophia’s house, I’d be delighted to have a copy!

When my grandfather was growing up, there were woods in front (south) of the house. Presumably he played there after chores were done, and honed his hunting skills when he was older, adding squirrels or other game to the family’s table. The Des Plaines River was two miles away, providing an excellent fishing spot. One way or another, most aspects of his life were tied to nature.

How do I “know” any of this, since he died when I was eight? Trust me, I recall no conversations with him about those topics! Yet he left a trail of seemingly random bread crumbs that help paint a picture of him, if we pay attention.

His love of fishing was legendary, and I have numerous photos of him holding a stringer of fish. According to Uncle Gail’s information when I was researching the postcard from Arkansas (So Far Away), his dad sometimes traveled to Arkansas to fish!

Christoph Meintzer (right), his son, Gail, and the catch of the day. My dad snapped this photo, taken between 1957 and 1964, somewhere near Green Bay. Minnie died in the summer of 1958, so if Gail is correct in remembering her coming along to visit that trip, then it must have been 1957. If he’s mistaken about her presence, then the wider range in the quote below is possible.

When I emailed my uncle about this photo, he replied,

. . . 1957 and it was during the time we lived in that place that your Mother & Dad came up with your family and my Dad [Christoph] & Mother [Minnie] and the three of us went fishing. My Dad didn’t want to fish in the small lake I took them to, so your Dad [Bob] got out of the car, made 1 cast and caught a 3 or 4 pound Bass, and my Dad almost broke his leg trying to get out of the car to start fishing. Most of the fish on the stringers were Bull Heads. We spent a couple of hours cleaning them when we got home and then ate them. I would recall the year was between 1957 and 1960.

Christoph also hunted in his younger days. That definitely gets you out in nature! At least one postcard to Minnie while they were courting mentioned his plans to go hunting the next Sunday. A later postcard from Minnie’s sister-in-law, Caroline, mentioned her husband, Jake (Christoph’s brother) was going hunting on Sunday, and did Christ (short “i”, remember?) want to go along? My mom never mentioned having fresh game meat while growing up, so perhaps as the north suburbs of Chicago became more populated, hunting was less successful? Or maybe Forest Preserves and incorporating towns effectively “outlawed” hunting.

I imagine by now you’re wondering why there’s a photo of mushrooms at the top. Well, it turns out Christoph liked hunting mushrooms, too! He took my mom and her brother with him when they were kids, back to the woods across the street from his parents’ former farmhouse. She remembered the animal shelter, so could always find her way back, even 50 years later. The siblings ran around and had an adventure, while their dad searched for mushrooms.  

Mom didn’t remember what kind of mushrooms he looked for, and the kids never got to taste them. He always told them it was because there were mushrooms that were safe to eat, and ones that weren’t, but he didn’t want to risk them accidentally getting sick. She said he cooked them with a silver dime that was somehow supposed to indicate whether or not they were safe.

It’s a totally bogus method, and does not work. I’m being intentionally vague about the supposed technique, so you are not tempted by it. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! My opinion is that he simply wanted the mushrooms for himself, and “possibly not being safe” was a convenient way to justify the kids not getting any!

If I would have asked my grandpa if Nature was important to him, or influenced his life, I’d wager he’d have given me a funny look. He’d have wondered what on earth I was talking about! Yet nature wove itself through his life, perhaps without his noticing. That same thread continued on through later generations, manifesting in one way or another: fishing, camping, golfing, marathoning, gardening. None of his descendants use their “outdoors gene” (is there such a thing?) the same way, but it regularly shows up in our lives.

#52Ancestors

2 thoughts on “Nature”

  1. An lovely post I enjoyed reading. Fishing, mushroom hunting and cooking …. long lost skills in the days of “ready meals”! I have similar tales of my grandad in the 1950s but sadly no photos, all lost in some floods in England in 1967!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. The mushrooming would have been in the 1920s and 30s. With the house being gone, and not really knowing the street address it had, I couldn’t quite place it the last time I tried to find it. The land on the south side of the road has all been developed since then, though farther west, as you get closer to the Des Plaines River, there’s a large Forest Preserve. I’m sure that was part of the woods Grandpa was familiar with. So sad about the photos you lost!

      Liked by 1 person

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