6 Signs You’ve Got a Classic Wisconsin Grandma

6 Signs Your Grandma is a Classic Wisconsin Grandma

Wisconsin grandmothers are some of the best in the world. They can be sweet as sugar and tough as nails at the same time. They know how to make amazing meals and always have a story to tell or some “expert advice” to give.

Hopefully, you’ve been blessed with a grandma as amazing as mine.

Grandma Lemmen (pictured above) is one of my best friends. The so -called secrets she tells me are “just between you, me and the fencepost.” That means she’ll be telling just about everyone else. But I know I can trust her to keep my secrets safe.

As a kid, when Mom told my sisters and I that we were going to Grandmas – we were always excited. I loved hanging out with Gram & Gramps, especially because their conversations were super entertaining and always made me laugh.

One memorable Christmas when I was a teenager, I told my grandma all I wanted was for her to stop smoking. After 40 long years of being a smoker – she quit – cold-turkey. It was one of the best Christmas presents ever. Plus – the cookies she sent home didn’t taste like smoke anymore!

I always look forward to our phone chats and a visit to grandma’s house, with my boys, is a regular thing. My grandma has been through a heck of a lot of challenges in her life, making her one of the strongest people I know. She’s smart, strong-willed and stubborn. And the best part of all is – she’s a Classic Wisconsin Grandma, born and raised.

But my Grandma isn’t the only one who you’d call a Classic Wisconsin Grandma. Throughout my years living in Wisconsin, I’ve discovered similarities between many of our grandmas.

Here are six signs your grandma is a Classic Wisconsin Grandma too.

1. If her drink of choice is a Brandy Old Fashioned

When Grandma goes out to dinner and has a drink she’ll almost always order a Brandy Old Fashioned, one of America’s oldest drinks and the unofficial cocktail of Wisconsin.

You’ll probably find that people outside of the state aren’t even sure what it is or especially how to order one. The Fox Valley Foodie does a great job of explaining this in his articleThe Brandy Old Fashioned – Epitomizing Wisconsin’s Love Affair With Brandy

“Elsewhere in the world, when you order an Old Fashioned you will get a completely different drink.  The classic Wisconsin Old Fashioned is uniquely ours. “

Here’s the four different types of Brandy Old Fashioneds and what’s in them:

Sour – Sour Mix, Squirt or 50/50

Sweet – 7up or Sprite

Press – Seltzer & Lemon Lime Soda

Soda – Seltzer

Alcoholic drinks are a once in a while thing for my grandma, but her main drink is black coffee. My grandma has always been a coffee lover – black coffee that is – and definitely not decaf. She tells me that decaf actually keeps her awake at night and regular is what helps her sleep. Maybe that’s when you know you’ve had way too much.

2. If she goes out to eat at the local Supper Club

What is a Supper Club anyway? Maybe it’s the club for people who call dinnertime supper? But anyone can go. So, why is it called a club in the first place?

Well, they were traditionally viewed as a casual and relaxed destination where people spend the whole evening drinking cocktails and enjoying nightclub-style entertainment after they eat. I don’t mean nightclubs like we know them today. I mean big band music and lounge singers.

The very first supperclub was established in Beverly Hills, California. However…the man who started it was a Wisconsin native from Milwaukee. Supper Clubs became popular all over the country in the 1930s and 1940s. But nowadays you’ll only find them in the Upper Midwest.

The only difference between then and now is they’ve become mainly restaurants rather than an all-night entertainment destination. Either way, Classic Wisconsin Grandmas often go out to the local Supper Clubs for Friday night fish fry including perch with potato and coleslaw.

Any other night of the week you might find your grandma at a Supper Club ordering broasted chicken, prime rib or steak. After dinner, she’ll pay only with cash or check. In fact, I’m not even sure she owns a credit card. She always reminds me, “If you don’t have the money, you can’t buy it.”

A few Supper Clubs to check out are The Rite Place in Bellevue, Wally’s Spot in East Green Bay and Rock Falls in Dyckesville.

Eve’s Supper Club in Allouez and the Out-O-Town Club in Kaukauna are both popular. You can also check out The Legacy Club, Red Ox Supper Club and Dick and Joan’s Supper Club – all in the Appleton area.

3. If she despises round-a-bouts

My grandma absolutely hates round-a-bouts. She doesn’t understand how they work, she’s scared to drive through them and the fact that they keep constructing more and more of them “really burns her up.”

She has written plenty of letters to city bigwigs to share her two-cents on the matter. Grandma doesn’t even like to drive as it is. She definitely won’t go anywhere in bad weather, and rarely after dark.

But when she does drive she takes the back roads in her Buick, which is “the only car anybody should drive.”

4. If she’s an Early Bird at B-I-N-G-O!

I’ve joined grandma at Bingo a few times and she always kicks my butt! She goes crazy-fast with the dobber and plays at least a dozen cards at one time. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my 2-pack.

If it’s not Early Bird Bingo, you’ll catch her on a gambling bus trip, playing the penny slots or betting numbers on the Milwaukee Brewers or Green Bay Packers games.

She’s hard-core and pays very close attention! I’m just not sure if she’d rather see the home-team win, or if she’d prefer to hit her numbers and win some cash.

5. If she has strong old-timer Wisconsin dialect

My grandpa used the word “warsh” for wash, and I thought he just really couldn’t pronounce the word correctly. But then I started hearing other older folks saying it the same way!  There are other places in the U.S. that you’ll hear it pronounced this way, but after doing a bit of research, I found that it is part of the old Midwestern dialect.

Grandma always refers to her couch as “the davenport”. I think it’s funny when she uses words like this when talking to my 3-year old who has no idea what she means! Davenports were actually a popular brand of sofas – way back when – and they were manufactured by a company in Massachusetts called A. H. Davenport Company. So, Davenport is to sofa/couch as Kleenex is to tissue. The word is used especially by elders in the Midwest who were born before World War II.

Gram calls lunch “dinner” and dinner “supper” which has always confused me. Using the word supper to refer to the evening meal is definitely a generational term, but may also be regional. From the middle ages to the 18th century, most families ate their main or largest meal in the middle of the day and called that dinner. Then they ate light supper in the evening.

This example isn’t really about Wisconsin dialect, but I always thought it was funny how – during Brett Favre’s years with the Green Bay Packers – my husband’s grandma would shout “Come on, Bart!”

I guess you know she’s a true example of a Classic Wisconsin Grandma when she mistakenly and repeatedly mixes up Brett Favre with Bart Starr. Grandma Jo went to the Ice Bowl and has lots of memories from the Packers’ original “Glory Years.”

6. If Catholic church on Saturday is an absolute must

My grandmother is a well-rounded person. She has her moments of venting about how terrible the world is today, and she does swear a lot. But she says her prayers every night, and she will never miss a Saturday afternoon mass – no matter where she is!

I will always remember the time Gram and Gramps took their motor-home to visit me at college.

It just so happened that this was the weekend I had my car parked on a street where they were doing construction and had signs warning that cars would be towed after a certain date. Well, I’ve never really been great at reading signs, and I was one of the lucky few that got my car towed away.

We didn’t find this out until right before church started on Saturday. Since Gramps drove the motor-home I offered to drive us to church and walking out to where my car had been parked we discovered I would need 210 dollars to pick it up from the tow yard!

Grandma didn’t care about my car at that point since church was about to start and she wasn’t going to miss it if her life depended on it. So, we took the motor-home to church that day and my sweet grandparents ended up paying for my car which I will always be grateful for.

What Makes Your Grandma a Classic?

There you have it – six signs your grandma is a Classic Wisconsin Grandma. Can you relate? Are there other characteristics you can think of that I didn’t mention?

Leave a comment to let us know!

Comments

  1. Lindsay says:

    This made me laugh – I too have a grandmother that has a “davenport”, has supper on the table in the evening (unless they go out for fish fry!) and the strong dialect…and probably many other similarities! Tell Grandma Lemmen hi!

    • So glad it got a laugh outta ya! Thanks for reading the post, Linds ; ) Congratulations – your Grandma is a Classic Wisconsin Grandma too. In regards to her strong Wisconsin dialect, can you think of anything I missed? Say hi to your Grandma as well!

  2. What a great article! I think you nailed many of the things that define a classic Wisconsin grandma! Thanks for taking the time to write this article, I think it will be a treasure to our family in the years ahead.

  3. Gee willikers. I was born after WWII but, yes, after supper I sit on the davenport. Supper has to be the evening meal. Otherwise you would go to the Dinnerclub!
    All this time I didn’t know that I am classic. Thanks

  4. Barb Merten says:

    Wisconsin grandmas think its their duty to teach the grand kids how to play poker, and later, Sheepshead. Plus you were so good at those games you almost always won.

    • That’s so true, Barb! My grandpa especially liked checkers, quarters and 31 – too. Ah, the memories! Thanks for reading and leaving us a comment.

    • I have a Gin Rummy kind of Grandma, but she broke me in with Crazy 8s. Checkers too – and she never let me win because she said “How else was I going to get any better?”

    • In my town we had Norwegians and the town over was Germans. After meeting my German husband I found the Norwegians play canasta, kings in the corner, wear trousers, have dinner and supper, we have sofas and couches. My husbands family played sheepshead, knows nothing about kings in the corner, wear pants, have davenports. We have lutafisk and blood dumplings and liver and onions and my husbands family has blood sausage. I could keep on all day. We have Church services and Sunday School, they have masses and CCD class.

      • That’s cool Lisa. My Wisconsin grandma taught me to play King’s Corners. And yep – she was Norwegian and proud of it. But I didn’t know it was a Norwegian thing until you mentioned it. Thanks for sharing!

  5. GREAT article Ashley! Had to share on FB. You hit the nail on the head w/ our Wi. Gmas! Made me kinda miss mine! Will have to make a trip SOON to see them! They always make my day! 🙂

  6. deb/john says:

    Ashley,Thanks for such a great story,john and I loved it this will be in our family forever
    hope you can make grandma a copy.keep up the good work !!

  7. These are hilarious! The bingo number actually had me rollin, so so true.

  8. My Dad drank his brandy old fashioneds with water. He once ordered one in Chicago and the bartender immediately asked him if he was from Wisconsin. My Dad would’ve been a grandpa if he were alive today. Both of my parents used the word davenport and supper. Such great memories!

  9. Thats so hilarious……this is my mom to a tee

  10. My grandma’s davenport is sitting in her french room.

  11. My mom called a sofa a davenport while we were growing up. I still do once in a while. I sure get strange looks. Lol

  12. My grandma listen to the police scanner while sitting on her davenport. That qualified as “evening plans”.

  13. My southern California friends asked me, just today, what my favorite mixed drink was and I answered ‘A brandy old-fashioned sweet ‘ They’d never heard of it – how timely your article is! I also grew up sitting on a davenport and drinking from a bubbler. My parents always went out for fish frys on Fridays and to church. I remember lots of sit down restaurants were called supper clubs. I love this page- lots of great memories!! By the way, I love my trips back to the Fox River Valley and the Lox Club in Combined Locks is a great Supper club – fabulous food and terrific old-fashioneds.

  14. Does your Grandma play sheepshead? Dialect???? How about pronouncing 33 as turdytree! I used to find that terribly amusing as a child; now I just miss her. Oh! And let’s not forget Spam and cheese sandwiches!!! 🙂

  15. My grandma turned 100 this year. She still lives on her WI farm. She calls her davenport a davenport, because it actually IS is davenport!! Her sayings include classic phrases like, “you have to eat a bushel if dirt before you die” and her stories about going to school include walking through several feet of snow having to carry one of the neighbor boys because he was a “lazy cripple”(not that he was handicapped, just spoiled).

  16. Also, a TRUE Wisconsin grandma is going to be a gardener and canner! Pickles, and everything else that one could grow would be frozen or canned every summer.

  17. I am a Wisconsin grandma. I sit on my davenport and fold the warsh. After supper I go to the zink to warsh the dishes unless it’s Friday, than we to the fish fry..My grandchildren think I’m hilarious and I love it!

  18. How about “quitcherbellyakin” or “boy howdee, don’t ya no!”

  19. Jill Raisleger says:

    My Grandma loved to watch her ” stories”, which was her soap operas! She surely had a davenport and lots of canned foods from her garden stored in the front room!

  20. Jill Raisleger says:

    Oh and she always said, “quit monkeying around (“aroaned”). Love that one!

    • Yep!! Heard that one a million times. And “stop farting around.”

    • Ours was “Quit horsing “aroand”! What are ye, born in a barn?” Jeez, this post cracked me up! I miss my Grandma, whose drink of choice was a ” “brewski”, a Leini’s, if ya have it!” No Brandy Old Fashioned for Mary Jane!

  21. My grandma always had quaint little phrases like “Oh dear, bread and beer, if it wasn’t for my mother I wouldn’t be here.” and “What time is it?” “Half past kissing time, time to kiss again.” I think Wisconsin grandma’s just are who they are no matter what and that’s what makes them awesome.

  22. When Grandma says “yoos betcha!”

    • Also do your grandmas call pants slacks? Everywhere I’ve been in life people looked at me crazy when I used that term from my Wisconsin childhood…even just across the river in Minnesota!

  23. I have lived in Missouri for the last 15 years and as soon as I open up my mouth, people ask “where are you from- Wisconsin?”. I still order a brandy old fashioned when we go out to eat.No one has ever heard of it. I have to talk them through it each time.

  24. My Norwegian grandma says, “Uff da”, has a ‘north room’ and plays a mean game of euchre, and loves her sip of brandy!

  25. Rochelle Eissenstat says:

    She would have a large repertory of Hotdishes, especially for Church Suppers!
    She eats a schneck not a danish.

    • Barbara Erceg says:

      A schneck! I almost forgot that word… My Dad says schneck instead of danish or sweet roll. I always thought he made that word up, but I guess not. Good Wisconsin memories!

  26. Going out to get the paper with bare feet when it’s snowing, making popcorn balls for the trick or treaters,

  27. I love the first one..living in MO now I can’t wait to get back to WI to visit my family and have a GOOD OLD FASHION..mine is made with 7up and extra bitters.. I wonder if the person who wrote this is a relative ..my mom’s maiden name was Lemmen

  28. Sydney Davis says:

    And yes don’t ya know it’s all true and I still call the family to supper and I sill love my old fashions Wisconsin style and we still sit on a couch and drink from a bubbler. Sure is great!!!!!! Oh by the way that scanner saved our butt many a time . Didn’t do anything bad just being kids. Down south now 23 years now and when people come visit the number one thing they say , Your from Wisconsin aren’t you ! Yes I am you don’t ya know

  29. Susan Radloff says:

    Monday was Laundry day, Tuesday Ironing, etc. Our grandmothers actually did what it said on those embroidered “Weekday” dishtowels!

  30. Our grannie always used the word, “dasn’t”. Sometimes it meant you should not (or dare not) do something. Other times, she meant it sarcastically, as I dasn’t do something because someone will get mad!

  31. My husband is from the Lakeshore (Manitowoc county) and his grandma says “and so” after everything. His dad also adds an ‘s’ after you, when he is talking about multiple people (as in “I miss yous”). Grandma also puts butter on everything. LOL Loved this list, fits our Grandma’s to a T!

  32. yes, my grandma did the “warsh”…had dinner at lunch and supper in the evening. Played many games, but mostly 500. We thought supper clubs were very upscale. Played lots of scrabble. They made everything from scratch and lived off the land. They would roll over now seeing how we pay so much for “organic”. Wonderful times

  33. How about:
    When you were naughty and you got a “licken”
    My mom warshed the wallds and drove to Arsh karsh aka: Oshkosh
    We ate ripping good cookies aka: Ripon good cookies.
    We drank old fashionds made with brandy on special occasions (we were just kids) and got a glass of wine at the supper table.
    Jeans were overalls and weren’t acceptable for church.

  34. One of the best things I remember about my German Grandma from Wisconsin was that she always had to put out snacks to “nosh” on. Usually cheese and sausage. And pickles and olives too.
    And of course we had the Davenport in the front room. In Milwaukee, we said “i’n n it” not “isn’t it”. Or hey? Eh? When I moved to Illinois everyone told me “Hay is for horses”. Bay-g and sore-y for sorry were also noticed by the flatlanders. I think I forgot about “C’mere once.” Maybe I’ll say” Come here for a minute” now. Lol.

    • I know someone who says BAT-tree instead of battery. (That drives me crazy!)

      And how bout this one? Instead of telling our friend that “I’m going to go to the store”, or “I’m GUNNA go to the store”, in Wisconsin we say “I’m GOYNA go to the store. Wanna come with?”

      Geez. For cripe sakes.

  35. My grandma’s a coffee drinker (also black and never decaf), it’s my grandpa who’s gotta have the Brandy Old Fashion.

    I’ve never even heard of a ‘supper club’ (I live in Berlin so that might be why), but she does do the “breakfast, dinner, and supper”. She’s a firm believer in home-cooked meals, but breakfast every Sunday is always at the same place, and Friday night is always fish fry.

    She’s got a bad ankle-and recently started having troubles with her hip-so driving is something she does only if absolutely necessary and I don’t think she’s had much roundabout experience.

    As for Bingo she plays pinochle every Tuesday with “the girls”, her and my grandpa sometimes go out to a casino with friends, and they have game nights every Tuesday and Thursday when they’re in Texas (they’re Winter Texans).

    There’s a ‘lazy Susan’ (I don’t actually know what the general term for it is; it looks like a normal cabinet door put if you pull the handle you find it’s actually a three tiered circular rotating…thing) in her kitchen, an ‘afghan’ (crocheted blanket) stored in the ‘sofa’ (I always call it a couch), a ‘billfold’ (wallet) in her purse, and she will always say if she likes my ‘blouse’ (I say shirt)

    My grandparents are Lutheran, so church every *Sunday* is a must.

    I’m a sophomore in high school and both my grandparents were born in the mid-to-late-40s. I have one great grandma still alive, she just celebrated her 89th birthday, so I’ll ask my mom if I have a Classic Wisconsin Great Grandma 🙂

    Question to any and all: How do you pronounce ‘grandma’?

    I say it like ‘gramma’.

  36. My great-aunts never referred to someone as being “fat” or “overweight”. They were simply “fleshy” They never swore, either. Their exclamation was ” Oh, Ginger!” (Not sure if ginger was a who or what). 😉

  37. I am a wi grandma. Tried to call them sofas then couches but still call them davenports. It took me quite a while to discover the name changed. How about a chest of drawers…got a lot of ribbing for that one. I miss nightclubs where you would dress up…so fun. Rum and coke was my drink of choice back in the day. Loved to go dancing at the teenage bars. I enjoyed your post.

  38. Not only does my grandma have a davenport, she as puts her feet up on the hassock. And would tell us, when we were doing something wrong, that we “dasn’t” do that. My grandpa would just have a little “snort” of alcohol after dinner and when someone would make him mad, he would say that they “priggled him off”. So many great memories of growing up and going out to their farm every weekend!

  39. How about the gramma ‘ s who call soda “pop”. And their old black rotary phone & wringer washers?

  40. Denise. Joers says:

    Loved the comments, I remember a coupe phrases that cracked me up ….nincompoop (spelling)?? And numbskull. But they were said with love.

  41. I didn’t have a WI grandma. but had lots of exposure to ’em. Now living in the south and it makes me laugh when I hear someone use those expressions, I have also exposed my southern grandchildren to those cultural roots, we have had great fun on our trips to Wisc.

    • I was looking for old sayings, when I came upon this. I’m from Iowa, so I think it’s a Midwest Grandma thing. I had a grandma like yours. I miss her very much. I wish I would have asked her more questions and got something memorable of hers. She use to say “davenport”, “Zink” for sink, “warsh rag or warsher”, tell me to “wash your gourd” (not sure on spelling….but it means head), called us kids “dingaling or dingleheads” and “sketti” instead of spaghetti. She played Solitaire all the time and we played 90 cents (like rummy, but with wild cards and you couldn’t pick up the whole deck). We use to sit outside every night and just listen to the crickets and tree frogs. When I was younger, us grandkids would go camping in the camper on weekends and when we showered, we wore “thongs” now called flip-flops. Oh and we always ate Dinner at 2pm and had a light snack for Supper….like leftovers or a treat of some sort. Thanks…..that was fun!!

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