Monday, August 20, 2007

Flashback: The 20-Member-Plus Roeser Family and How They Grew.


[Fifty years of politics and married life written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].

Thus far I’ve recorded only the births of our four children…saving the details til now (with even additional info at a future time). Not until now. What follows is an update along with a photograph taken several years ago before the births of a grandchild making them a total of 13. Some of the young women in the family have dreaded our formal picture-taking because it almost always means that one or another of them get pregnant which makes the photo obsolete. As this one is.

As earlier recorded, our first child, Thomas F., Jr. was born on September 13, 1960, at St. Mary’s hospital Rochester (affiliated with the Mayo Clinic) while I was working for Congressman Al Quie and part-timing for Walter Judd. We were living in Faribault, a town about fifty miles away at the time and the town was astounded and a little bit dismayed that we determined to have our baby born in Rochester. Some of the townspeople were miffed and grumbled that to the big, out-of-town Chicago people, their little hospital at Faribault wasn’t good enough. They were right. We were new at this business, had a number of friends at Mayor (not a few doctors were enlisted in the Quie campaign) and resolved to make the drive to St. Mary’s for the birth. The first baby takes a little while and we made it, me driving hurriedly and Lillian with birth pangs. Thomas was born with no complications and in a short time while he lay in his mothers arms, he was on the campaign trail in a reelection drive for Al Quie. It was a 14-car caravan traversing from town to town in the 1st district while I was on the loud speaker thundering “Meet and Greet! See and Hear! Al Quie, your Congressman who will be in your town in exactly 10 minutes in the town square!”

Tom was transported to and fro, from Faribault after the successful reelection to Chicago to be with our parents (his grandparents) and then to Washington, D. C. where we lived in the Glass Manor apartments in scenically unaesthetic suburban Maryland, a dull, soulless series of blocks composed of sameness—dull apartment buildings with the obligatory small front yard with white benches. Glass Manor looked for all the world like the cheerless industrial villages outside London. When we went back to Faribault for the summers we lived in a trailer court with a little house set in back near the woods, near a field of soybeans. Lovely, actually. But after a few trips in a car with a crying baby and a bottle-warmer hitched to the cigarette lighter in the 1957 Chevrolet, we decided we had to get more permanent lodgings. Also, Quie was a rather abstruse employer who applied status in the House of Representatives man-boy hierarchy fulsomely…although my other employer, Rep. Walter Judd was a smashingly nice guy who gave me an education just by talking with me after work. But I had to move on.

A job offer came from the newly-elected Republican governor of Minnesota, Elmer L. Andersen who was elected in 1960 and we moved permanently to St. Paul. Andersen was a warm-hearted, witty and irreverently social boss with whom it was fun to work every day.

Our second, Mary Catherine, was born in St. Paul, on December 29, 1961 while I was working as press secretary to the governor. She was born at Midway hospital, St. Paul. We lived in the Randolph Heights area of the city. We lived on Juliet avenue and rented half of a duplex. We had the greatest landlords in the world—a Jewish couple, Jack and Pearl Prawer, firm union Democrats in a solidly Democratic union town. They regarded my working for a Republican governor as a quaint thing—almost as if I had been making my living as a juggler. . He was a truck driver; she was a stay-at-home-Mom.

The election of 1962 where my boss had to run for reelection was, as I had related earlier, decided by 91 votes out of a total of 1, 650,000 cast and triggered the longest recount in the history of the United States. The election wasn’t decided with finality until March 25, 1963 when we had to turn the keys of the governor’s office over to his former lieutenant governor. I then took a job similar to one I had had before as director of communications for the Minnesota Republican Party. Lillian was pregnant with our third when all this happened. I remember well the “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Washington monument which my boss, the Republican state chairman, attended. Our third child was born in an interesting way.

Thanksgiving 1963 came and Lillian was in no condition for us to go to Chicago for the festive dinner with our folks so we stayed there. It was a kind of a bummer for us because we had never been separated from our parents on a national holiday (in previous years at least, my parents had come to spend Thanksgivings with us). Lonely on a cold, chilly Thanksgiving, Lillian felt she couldn’t cook the festive meal so we determined to go out to have dinner at the Lexington Restaurant in St. Paul. I was in a bad mood.

I was 35, having run the press for a governor who lost by a handful of votes, bumping into people who said, “gee, if we knew it would have been that close we would have voted!” As it was we decided to stay home.” Imagine! Losing by 91 votes and meeting at least 200 who said the very same thing. I was earning an okay salary at that time but we still didn’t have a house and the nature of the political game was—and still is—such that no firm plans could really be made. Some of my classmates were lined up in corporate jobs, getting benefits, living in the suburbs, getting on the commuter trains…and here we were living in a few rooms in a flat in St. Paul. To make matters worse we got to the Lexington restaurant at about 3 p.m. when the Thanksgiving crowd had gone, the waiters were lounging around and the room was practically empty—a rather cheerless set up, although it is a very good restaurant and I’ve eaten there many times since to good satisfaction. But I was in a particularly foul mood thinking of what I was sure of my bleak prospects.

We ordered the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries and all that goes with.

“No cranberries,” said the waiter. “We’re out. broccoli?”

I said an explective. We’ve always had cranberries.

Lillian said: Oh grow up.

The mashed potatoes seemed—maybe they weren’t but seemed—cold. The turkey on the plate looked up at us, legs distended with a very ordinary look. Outside a Minnesota Fall was closing in, darkness was coming early. The silent clack and clatter of our forks. We were exhausted; Lillian was huge with child. Then the two kids—Tommy age 2 and Mary, almost 1—started wailing. They would not be comforted. We were frazzled and quarreled.

I said this is a hell of a way to spend Thanksgiving. I don’t think I want to eat.

She said: well, it’s been your choice all along, Big Boy. We’re here because of your career!

I said: Oh, put it all on me, huh?

She: Why not, do you think I would have chosen to come to this god-forsaken place on my own?

I: well what do you want me to do, quit my job?

She: Did I say that? You always bring yourself up in every conversation. Can you believe that some things in this world are not about you? That’s the only child in you!

I: I know what you mean! You want me to quit?

She: No, I want you to shut up!

With that the wailing from the kids (I am sure babies have an instinct when parents are fighting to seize the moment, to capitalize on the internecine battle and take command).

I: Oh kids, shut up!

She: You be still! They’re only babies! Ohohohohohohoh!

I: What?

She: I’m feeling labor pains. We must go.

The waiter: Shall I bring the check?

We raced to Midway hospital where Mary was born. I dropped her off, a cop on duty watched the kids. They had magically stopped crying.

Then I took her to the Emergency Room. When she was whisked away, I returned to the car with the cop.

“They’re such well behaved babies!” he said.

I took the two babies back to our house where our landlords Jack and Pearl baby sat them and I wheeled back to Midway. By then she was in the process of delivery. In those days the father was not allowed to witness the delivery. But sometime in the middle of the night on November 29, Michael Joseph Roeser was born—a tiny bundle who needed a haircut and who cuddled lovingly in his Mother’s arms.

I got home at about 3 a.m. The other two kids were asleep and I was asleep in a minute. Memorable Thanksgiving. I called both of our parents first thing in the morning.

Father of three. Now I have to get a better job.

The better job came but not for almost a year. The Goldwater drive was on and of course…contrarian as I was…I was on the other side—not the liberal side but on the side of a man I felt was more thoughtfully conservative, Walter Judd. With three kids in the house and I working on an abortive campaign to shut off Goldwater’s drive in Minnesota (although Goldwater was well on the way to the nomination), my Father called up from Chicago and said that he had come across a newspaper advertisement—a blind ad that advertised for a “corporate public affairs manager.” I told them that any company that would put a blind ad in a paper was probably a loser but he remonstrated with me to answer it. He mailed it in and, taking my own sweet time about it, I wrote to MH-106 c/o The Tribune.

I batted it out on my typewriter one night after work, saying that I had newspaper experience, extensive political experience but admitted no corporate experience. Signed it. Addressed the envelope. Folded it. Sealed it. Ran it through the meter at the office (cheapskate that I was). Dropped it in slot to the building’s mail chute and thought about it no more.

Months passed. My boss, the Minnesota state chairman, Bob Forsythe (a marvelous fellow, warm, witty and highly astute) and I, planned a coup for the Goldwater forces at our convention wherein we would take a majority of the delegates. The Goldwater people came to Minnesota to superintend their victory. Barry had just won the climactic California primary over Rockefeller and was the uncrowned nominee. His forces just swept by Minnesota to pick up the frosting on the cake. He wasn’t in Minnesota’ he was too big to come to this state where he was assured of victory anyhow. He sent one of his staffers, Richard Kleindienst of Arizona to come and scoop up the delegates for him.

But the Goldwaterites were defeated by us. Lots of good it did. Our delegates went for Judd, an elderly ex-congressman. At the end of the session where we trounced them, Bob Forsythe and I were in the hotel suite, chortling over our victory when there was a bump on the door and Kleindienst came in (later to become attorney general under Nixon and to run into trouble in Watergate). I have related this earlier. He said we won fair and square. Then he said, “both of you better get ready to get out of this business because once Barry gets the nomination and I am the deputy campaign manager, I will see that both of you are gone—that’s the way it is in politics as you understand. `Bye!”

Forsythe wasn’t worried. As he told me, “what can he do to me? I’m a lawyer! I’ll sign up with a law firm.”

I said: “Well, my liege, I am not.”

He said, “aw don’t worry. We’ll find something for you to do.”

I said: “yeah, that’s the story of my life.”

Just then a secretary knocked on the door and said, “Mr. Roeser, a man from Chicago has been trying to get hold of you all day. Here’s his name and number.”

I took it. It meant nothing to me. It said “Bayne Freeland, The Quaker Oats Company” and gave the number. I folded it and put it in my shirt.

I went home, had dinner, played with the kids, went to bed and midway through the next morning, I remembered the slip. I called the number wondering why the oatmeal company would be calling me.

“Well,” said Freeland, “you’re a tough guy to get. We have your letter here at The Quaker Oats Company and want to talk to you!”

I didn’t just play dumb. I was. Letter? A letter I wrote?

“Yes. We are MH-106 and you wrote to us two months ago. We’ve interviewed many people for this public affairs spot and are interested in you? Are you still interested in us?”

Was I? Was I EVER!

Hired by Quaker and reporting to people to whom it was largely a joy to associate (Freeland, Bob Thurston and the then CEO, Bob Stuart which more than made up for 15 years with General Patton, although he did make me vice president) and moving the family to Chicago in 1964 and enjoying it, I still hadn’t learned my lesson. When (as I have related earlier) the Nixon administration called me to become assistant to the secretary of commerce I took the job, remembering, thank God, to ask that I be considered by Quaker again in the future. I went to Washington. Lillian was pregnant with our fourth. All the heebie jeebies occurred with the Nixonians; with the secretary of commerce, a compulsive order-following man who could easily dump everyone overboard to become Nixon’s next secretary of the treasury and Nixon himself, a complex, somewhat evil man whose lasting contribution was that he renewed relations with China—corrupt but nevertheless a patriot. And the nature of the job changed; what was once to be a great effort was to be downgraded to appease the Southern Strategy ruled by Strom Thurmond to whom Nixon owed his nomination over Ronald Reagan—a strategyu with which I was unsympathetic. So I was fired. Justifiably from their point of view.

The day I was fired I caught a plane to come back to Chicago to attend the birth of our fourth. It was at Resurrection hospital, Chicago, October 9, 1969 and her name was—and is---Jeanne Marie. Then holding her in my arms with our three kids—Tommy, 9, Mary Catherine 7, Michael Joseph 6—I praised God for being so lucky…and each day I have echoed the same prayer. Even though when I held Jeanne Marie I was 41, with four kids and fired by the secretary of commerce acting for the president of the United States.


The photo accompanying this article was taken several years ago. The people in the picture are

Sitting on floor (left to right): Isabel Antic (Jeanne’s No. 2 child); MacTavish J. Puppy, Esq. our Bichon; Bridget Magnor (Mary’s No. 6 child); Anne Marie (Mary’s No. 5 child); Patrick (Mary’s No. 4 child).

Sitting on chairs: (left to right): Madeline (Jeanne’s No. 1 child); our daughter Jeanne (holding Genevieve, her No. 3 child); Kaitlyn Roeser (Mike’s No. 1 child); Lillian Roeser, (let her husband elucidate) my great love, the wisest, toughest-minded woman I know who keeps me thinking and laughing at myself and tries to keep me humble; superb care-provider, counselor who has the right knack to bring the egotist I am down to earth; me; Catherine (Mary’s No. 3 child); our daughter, Mary who is holding Eileen (her No 7 child).

Standing: (left to right) Dion Antic, Jeanne’s husband; Michael Roeser, our son holding Joseph, their No. 2 child; Candace Roeser, Michael’s wife; Thomas F., Jr. (our son); Thomas Magnor (Mary’s No. 1 child); Thomas Magnor, Sr., Mary’s husband; Elizabeth (Mary’s No. 2 child). Not born yet, John (Mary’s No. 8th child).


Succeeding chapters will feature each individual child of ours in maddening detail but for now here’s a glimpse.

Tom, Jr. is 46, single, a state of Illinois employee but (let his father elucidate) in his private hours a painter and portraitist of extraordinary skill who exhibits widely; Mary is 45, mother of eight, (and let her father elucidate) home-school expert, superb tennis player and church leader in Brookfield, Wis. a suburb of Milwaukee; Michael J. is, married, father of two and an insurance executive (and let his father elucidate) involved deeply as a volunteer in Working Bikes which is a charitable enterprise that repairs and supplies bicycles to people of developing nations; Jeanne 37, is mother of three and (let her father elucidate) owner of two Chicago restaurants (“Toast”) which have been highly reviewed. More to come on them and their families. And also something about MacTavish J. Puppy who lived to one day shy of 16 years—a record of a sort for Bichons, dying July 16, 2007.

1 comment:

  1. The Roesers are one handsome family!

    Great portrait.