Did you know: the Houseman family

By Richard Karns

Special to the Herald Review

During the interview for the article I wanted to write about the Houseman family, I was given a copy of an article written by Violet Johnson in 1985 for the Cadillac News which covered much of the information I had written down.

I really don't know a lot about the plagiarism laws, but I don't want there to be any questions about what I have written is my work. So what to do? In talking with Rex and Alberta, there are some interesting facts that were not in the article that I would like to tell you about, and some of my own experiences at the Houseman's store. Box Rex and Alberta were very gracious  and gave an insight to what life was like growing up in his family.

Rennie was born in Grand Rapids in 1900, and his early life wasn't easy. After his mother and three siblings died of tuberculosis, and his father died a year later, he spent time growing up in Falmouth. Rex's mother, Lula May Pratt, was born in Ashton in 1901. Rennie and Lula were married in 1924 and had seven children — Fritz, Jennie Lou, Wave, Myrtle, Lavada, Keith and Rex. I will, from this point on, refer to Rennie and Lula as Mr. and Mrs. Houseman. That was the only way I ever addressed them, and somehow it doesn't seem right to do otherwise now.

Mr. Houseman was injured while working at the Styles Lumber Yard in Grand Rapids. A sliver of wood enterred his left eye, leaving him blind in that eye. After the injury, it became difficult for him to do some of the technical work he had been doing, so he tried several different ventures.

Mr. and Mrs. Houseman were determined to succeed in making a living and providing for their family. They bought a farm near LeRoy, but after several devastating events, one being the loss of their entire crop by an unexpected frost in July, they moved to Reed City in 1927. Mr. Houseman had kept his hand in the produce business off and on, so after moving to Reed City they decided to open a grocery store.

The Housemans bought a house at 331 E. Todd St. in Reed City and made the front living room into a grocery store. Almost from the beginning, the store was open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and was open for 38 years. Listening to Rex, it was pretty clear that the store was truly a family business and each of their children was expected to do his or her part.

The meat and some of the other produce was bought from local farmers, then would be processed and packaged at the store. Rex shared that plucking chickens and processing other meats before school, at lunch time and after school was part of an everyday routine. Rex said he hated going to school smelling like chicken feathers.

Packaging their own meat was no longer permitted when the food handling laws were changed.

Mr. Houseman had surgery for throat cancer in 1966 and ended up with a tracheotomy. This however, didn't stop him from doing his work or communicating with his customers like he always had. Mrs. Houseman died in 1968 after having a stroke several years earlier.

I told Rex that often my folks would go to his dad's store to get pickled bologna and sausages. Their pickled bologna was the best in town. Rex said he couldn't tell how many links of bologna he had poked holes into so the brine would get into the meat. The store always had the most wonderful smells coming from their kitchen. If you weren't hungry before entering the store, you may well be afterwards. Rex said that his mother was a good cook and liked to bake.

When I would go into the store, I was always fascinated with a large fish Mr. Houseman kept in a 50-gallon tank. Rex said it was an Oscar Fish, so they called him Oscar and fed him ground beef. I remember Mr. Houseman telling us not to put our fingers in the tank. Rex said, "Oscar would grab onto your finger if you did. I guess he felt anything in the tank was something to eat."

I have such fond memories of Mr. and Mrs. Houseman, and their store, and our boys do, too. We would go for car rides quite often for gas that was so much cheaper in the '70s. We always ended up at Houseman's for ice cream.