June 23, 2024

Katherine VilleMonte

Kate VilleMonte was my father’s maternal grandmother


Kate VilleMonte
(9/5/1890 – 3/7/1965)
By George Schultz

Grandma Ville Monte was my best buddy! She “spoiled the hell” out of me – quoth my mother. It was an accurate assessment. Whenever I needed (or wanted) practically anything, I always put the arm on Grandma. Successfully, in an overwhelming number of incidents! Mark McGwire should’ve hit as many home runs – as I did with Grandma.

From as long back as I can remember, she and my grandfather – Paul Leo Ville Monte – lived in a little three-room “Dog House”, at 9380 Burnette, in Detroit. The house had no bathtub or shower. My grandparents would take “sponge baths” in a huge, circular, galvanized-metal tub – or journey out to my parents’ home or that of my Uncle Paul and Aunt Genevieve, and partake of their facilities. More often than not, it was the “sponge”.

The “Dog House” was spectacularly nondescript – except for the fact that it featured a huge front porch, which spanned the entire front (the length-wise measurement) of the house.

Grandpa screened the porch in – and put a studio couch and a glider out there (along with his favorite rocking chair). In the summer – when it was safe to do such things – they slept out there. I’ve spent many nights on the glider. The house was built at the back of a large lot – giving it the appearance of an immense front lawn. The fact that there were no other houses – on the entire block – situated at the rear of their lot, permitted a constant breeze, in those non-air conditioning days. The place was literally a “heaven” for me.

I’m sure that Choody and Popnik didn’t appreciate it, but any time I’d had a disagreement with my parents, I could – virtually always – count on Grandma going to bat for me. It didn’t always work out – but, she was a true and trusted ally. My best buddy.

My grandparents had the nicest cottage, at Runyon Lake – 52 miles northwest of Detroit. The weekends I spent out there are among the most cherished days in my life. The first few years of the wonderful memories I have of the cottage, and the lake, encompass years when the cottage had no inside plumbing. The very-earliest memories are of the place having no electricity. Mattered not! I loved the cottage! And the lake! Loved it – whenever they’d take me out, which, thankfully, was often. I think that probably some of the saddest times, in my young life, were when Grandma would pack up on Sunday afternoon – and Grandpa would drive us back to Detroit. Always a terrible come-down!

When – in 1945 or 1946 – we moved from the little house on Penrod, to the “Haunted House” on Prairie, the only redeeming feature of that move was the fact that we were living about a block away from the “Dog House”. I probably spent as many waking hours there as I did at home. Grandma and I walked to 9:15 AM Mass, at Saint Cecilia’s every Sunday morning. Then, she’d fix a sumptuous breakfast for us, when we’d get back to the “Dog House”. (Every now and then, Grandpa would surprise us – and fix breakfast. Have it ready for us, when we got back from Church. Either way, it was nice.)

No one was funnier – or more charming – than Grandma, when she’d had a “snootful”! Two or three times a year, Grandpa would bring home a gallon jug of “Dago Red” wine and – inveterate Rummy-players that they were – they’d play cards for the wine. The winner got to down “the stakes” – a small glass of wine in the center of the card table.

All things being equal, Grandpa was the better card-player. But, after he’d won four or five straight hands, he’d be a little bit “in the bag” – and thrown off his game. Grandma, then, would reel off a few wins. Didn’t take long for “parity” to overtake the game.

It was on those occasions when Grandma would get a little “preachy” – usually handing me a quarter or two in the process. I, of course, would thank her profusely – and that would be the kickoff!

“Duane,” she’d say, “if you can’t do somethin’ nice for someone, then what’s the sense of livin’? I always say to Grandpa, ‘Grandpa’, I always say, ‘life’s so short … and if you can’t do somethin’ nice for someone, then what’s the sense of livin’?” She’d repeat the sermon – countless times! It was funny – but, it was also very touching!

In 1948 – when we moved from “The Big Barn”, on Prairie, to the nifty apartment in Highland Park, I was going with a girl named Pat Smith – whom I’d called “Patbagle Rasputinsmithnik” (lifted from the L’il Abner comic strip – you’d have to have been there.) Pat and I would indulge in a rip-snorting date every Friday night – a trip to the movies (at 35-cents per each). If one of us was posh, we’d hit the malt shop – saying hello to Ozzie Nelson – and down a Coke. If it had been a helluva week – we’d wind up eating hamburgers. (She wasn’t Catholic – and I was a sinner. Didn’t happen that often.)

In those days, they’d had a curfew in Detroit. I could not, legally, be on the streets after midnight. So, rather than traipsing (illegally) back to Highland Park, I’d spend Friday nights – and most of Saturday – at the “Dog House”. It was great!

While I was in the Navy, I never failed to spend a significant amount of my leave time at the ”Dog House”. Grandma made the world’s finest chicken noodle soup – and the best apple pie I’d ever “et”! And, whenever her “conquering hero” showed up, she’d whomp up a cauldron of soup – along with a pie, about the size of a manhole cover!

During my civilian days, in Highland Park, I’d gotten to know Joe Gentile and Ralph Binge – the two morning personalities on WJBK radio. (Mainly because, I’d skip 2nd and 3rd hours, at school, and hitchhike downtown to the station and catch the last hour of their 7:00 AM-till-10:00 AM romp.) It was from Joe and Ralph (Ralph, essentially) that I’d stolen my mother’s nickname – “Choody”.

Their show was little more than three hours of commercials. But, everyone in Detroit loved it. Loved them. They’d been on the air for over 20-years. On one Saturday, when I was home on leave, I journeyed down to the station to renew acquaintances.

I’d spent that Friday night at Grandma’s. (Grandpa Ville Monte had passed away – a young man – in 1946.) Of course, my best buddy had filled me with chicken soup and apple pie. I was, after all, her “conquering hero”!

I’d told Joe and Ralph, at the station, where I’d been the night before – and of the soup and pie. They made a commercial out of them. Joe announced that “Our friend, Duane Schultz … the sailor … is home on leave. He spent the night … last night … at his Grandmother Ville Monte’s … eating her wonderful chicken soup and scrumptious apple pie.”

Ralph chimed in: “Yes,” he said. “And what goes better with Mrs. Ville Monte’s chicken soup and apple pie than Tastee Bread?” And, off they went into the commercial. It was the show’s last “bit” – about five minutes before sign-off.

I called Grandma, from the station, right after the show – and she was in tears! She was so moved – over the fact that Gentile and Binge had done such a thing! And all of Detroit had heard it! It doesn’t get any better than that! It was something she never forgot. Years later, she’d still bring it up at family get-togethers.

Alas, when I was in the Navy, she sold the “Dog House” – in 1952, I think. (Any of you who’ve read my novel, Returning, will know that she’d sold it to “Trudy Hayworth”. Actually, I have no idea to whom she’d actually sold it.)

I remember being in Norfolk, and reading my mother’s letter – that finally they’d gotten her to sell “that stupid house”! I knew – immediately – that it was a wrong move! Despite the fact that the neighborhood had transformed into a spawning ground for gangsters – the main reason I was glad to get out of “The Barn” on Prairie – Grandma loved that house! It was part of her! She didn’t sell that house! It was an amputation!

She spent the rest of her life living with Uncle Paul, with my mother and – mostly – with my Aunt Juanita. And she was reasonably happy – denks God. But, in her more reflective moments, she’d confide in me, “Duane, I never should’ve sold the ‘Dog House’! Now I don’t have anything that belongs to me. Now I live in someone else’s house!” It would, I’m certain, eat at her – for the rest of her life!

Carmen and I, and our then-six kids, were living in San Antonio, when she passed away.

My mother found her, when she’d come home from someplace. It was a Sunday. She’d tried to explain to me – many times – what it was that proved Grandma’s undoing. To this day, I have no idea what Choody had said to me about it – no matter how many times she’d told me. I guess I couldn’t assimilate anything that serious! Anything so awful – happening to my best buddy. I’ll go to my grave believing that she’d have survived more than those 75 years – had she been able to remain in her “Dog House”.

I miss ya, Ol’ Buddy!