Now that colder weather is approaching, Granny Hannah has left her familiar rocking chair perch on her Streets of Old Milwaukee porch for the warmth of her parlor.
And, really, it’s perfect timing because Granny loves the holiday season and is happiest close to her beautifully decorated Christmas tree and near her beloved kitty, who likes to sleep curled up on a nearby chair.
Granny’s neighborhood, the Streets of Old Milwaukee, is closed today while neighbors spiff up their blocks for the holidays. When it reopens, it’ll be full of holiday cheer. And it’ll be the perfect time to download the new MPM app, in which Granny talks about she and her family celebrate the season.
Though most can’t go in to see Granny these days – her house is under quarantine because her granddaughter is battling a bout of the measles – Hannah invited me in to see the tree and to talk about the holidays. Don’t worry, Health Department, I didn’t go upstairs, where the child is making a rapid recovery.
OnMilwaukee: Good afternoon, Granny, thanks to inviting us in. Can you tell us a bit about the "Streets of Old Milwaukee" holiday makeover?
Granny Hannah: Myself and my grandchildren have decorated my own home with all the traditions I enjoy so much. A beautiful tree, ornaments – some handmade and some from the general store – and my favorite songbooks, just in case anyone comes by caroling! The grandchildren put their stockings up on the mantle, complete with bells on the toes!
The neighborhood is ready for the season, too. Watts has its usual beautiful display, and the print shop has the latest and most fashionable greeting cards. I must remember to pick up a few for myself. And of course, Mr. Chapman is ready for every mother and father in Milwaukee to rush in looking for toys to make their children’s holiday. Likewise, Mr. Kuhm is probably looking forward to doing a lot of business this holiday season, too, as well he should. His selection of holiday decorations is second to none!
I hear there are a lot of fun holiday events are going on at MPM this year. I imagine you’ll be taking part.
We’ll start celebrating the holiday season on Saturday, Nov. 19, and have another big celebration on Friday, Nov. 25. We’ll also look back to some traditions from Europe on Friday, Dec. 2 and 3. Finally, we’ll be enjoying a breakfast with Santa on Sunday, Dec. 18. My goodness, I’m getting tired just thinking about all this celebrating I have to do!
What are some of your favorite decorations in your neighborhood right now?
Oh my, it’s almost hard to pick. Certainly, I am fond of my handmade ornaments and what grandmother’s heart wouldn’t get a little softer thinking of decorations her own grandchildren put up? But still, those new red poinsettias from Mexico make such a lovely splash of live color during the holiday season. The ones at Watts are positively bursting with life!
Do your have a favorite holiday tradition?
I simply love decorating the tree. I have such fond memories of harvesting it from the woods as a little girl. I must say it’s a relief to know I can simply pick one up from North Side Lumber; I can’t imagine I’m in any shape to help chop a tree down! (Laughs)
Are there any holiday traditions that maybe you don’t celebrate yourself but that you’ve learned about from other Streets residents that you really enjoy?
I’ve enjoyed learning about the menorah. Such a powerful story to go along with the tradition, and I love anything that brings families and communities together. I also think the Danish tradition of feeding the "Friendly Beasts" is a lovely way to remember both the Nativity and to show a little extra appreciation for some of God’s creatures.
Do our holiday traditions today seem different from the ones you participate in?
Oh my, yes. Good heavens, I’d rather spend the day in the saloon than go to your 21st century stores on Black Friday. But still, when we all get down to what’s really important, our holidays don’t really seem that different.
Today, neighbors engage in friendly competition when it comes to decorating for the holidays. Is there any competition between your neighbors?
Well, mine is certainly the best decorated residence and I’m certain the neighbors would agree with me on that. I will say, however, that among the neighborhood children Chapman’s is quite popular, and I can’t say I blame them. It doesn’t take much for me to remember my own childhood and suddenly I almost want to stand there with my nose pressed against the window as if I was a young girl again.
I’m always at amazed at how modern you are, Granny, being on Twitter and all. Now you’re even in an app, right?
I wanted to bring visitors on a tour of my neighborhood because I always have such fun around the holidays, and I’ve watched the holiday traditions here grow and change over the years. I know how much Milwaukee enjoys visiting my neighborhood, and who better to point out the holiday sights and sounds but your old @MPMGranny!
How did @MPMSnake take the news that you have an app and he doesn’t?
Oh, that @MPMSnake. (Laughs) He did take it rather hard. I was so gracious and even offered to share some of my tips and tricks with him for getting an app, but oddly enough he didn’t seem very interested in my advice. Ah well.
OK, Granny, I need your help. I have to make a holiday wish list, but I feel like I have everything I need already. What’s something you think I should ask for?
I think most young men would enjoy the pocket watch from Mr. Kuhm’s store. Such a handsome look and dependable design. And of course, anyone would enjoy a gift that allows them to come visit me as often as they want! I love visitors, so I’ll let you in on a little secret: a Milwaukee Public Museum membership will let you visit me as often as you want! So give us both a present for the holidays and join today!
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.