Learning More about My Dad

Dad was born April 17, 1917, which would have made him 104 this year had he not died at 60 in 1977. I found some old letters in his files recently that have helped fill in some blanks and also confirmed stuff I had heard (or misheard) over the years.

I did a blog post in 2010 where I used a post out of his scrapbook to show me and a check he had received for what sounds like the first job he and his new partner, James Kirkwood, did in Ellington.

1949 letter to his brother, Paul Steinhoff

Here’s the three-page letter he wrote to his younger brother, Paul, on Oct. 3, 1949. You can click on any image to make it larger, then use the left and right arrow keys to move around.

I’ll pull out excerpts from it, and add comments.

Paul, Dad and Their Father

Paul – LV – Louis Steinhoff c 1934

This was in Dad’s high school scrapbook, so it must have been taken in the early 1930s. Paul is on the left, Dad is in the middle, and Louis Steinhoff, their father, is on the right. This may be the only photo I’ve seen of him.

It’s hard to read, but, based on other photos on the scrapbook, it was taken at 116 North Middle Street. That would have made it possible for him to be close enough to the Broadway theater to have used his toy wagon to carry music for the woman piano player to play in the silent movies. We always thought that to be a family legend until we saw an obit for the woman in the past decade or so.

Mexican Vacation

The folks wanted to take a trip so we, along with Mary Lee’s Dad and Mother took off to the south. We spent 3 weeks with everybody having a good time. Kenny finally had to give up his bottle in Mexico where we couldn’t get any milk. That was one good thing the trip did or he might have been on the bottle yet.

In February I took in a partner by the name of James Kirkwood. Kirkwood was an engineer for the Highway Dept. for 20 years, having a very good background.

Mother Had to Run Her Dad’s Store

We moved the trailer to Ellington and was there until July 14, except that Mary Lee had to come home in the late part of May and stay at Advance. Mr. Welch had a serious heart attack and was forced to stay at home in bed for three months. He is just now being able to do a little work at the store. Mary Lee had to take care of the business during this time. I moved the trailer to Charleston, but batched it during this time.

Steinhoff & Kirkwood Built Rt. W from Cape to Fruitland

On July 29th we were successful bidders on Route W in Cape Girardeau county. This job begins on Perry Ave. outside of Cape Girardeau city limits and runs to Fruitland, Mo. It’s a rather large job but are doing well, and except for weather conditions we should finish sometime this month or the first of next.

Our Trailer Was On a Now-Gone Hill behind Colonial Restaurant

We have moved the trailer to Cape and have parked it on Hyway 61 near the Colonial Restaurant in a private-owned yard. Kenny likes it back at Cape and has several playmates. Kirkwood has one boy 6 months older than Kenny and one girl that is just beginning to go to school.

Kenny is quite a big lad now and talks a blue streak all the time and is plenty heavy for his age. He has a tricycle and rides all the time. He is crazy about books and I do believe that he has well over 100 of them at the trailer and at his grandmother’s.

1949 Cardinals vs Cubs

There is one thing he will be able to say when he grows up, and that will be that he saw a National League baseball game as soon as his daddy. We went to St. Louis a week ago Sunday and saw the Cardinals play the Chicago Cubs. He finally went to sleep before the game was completed. We spent the morning at the zoo taking in the Monkey show.

Ice cream and a life of crime

He goes to the stores here at Advance and gets his own ice cream cones and soda by himself and he really thinks he is doing something.

Mary Welch Steinhoff 1921 – 2015

Mother in her wedding / funeral dress – June 15. 2015

I was in Tulsa recovering from my niece’s wedding when my cell photo rang at 7:10 a.m.

The call was brief and to the point: “This is the Lutheran Home. Your mother died this morning at 7 o’clock. She was fine when we checked on her throughout the night, but she was dead when we went to dress her for breakfast.”

Mary Steinhoff meets Finn 06-16-2015
Mary meets Finn 06-16-2015

What made the call a particular surprise was that she had rallied in the last month: her appetite had come back, she was gaining weight, her physical therapy was moving along, she was the patient the staff enjoyed hanging out with because she would joke and tease them.

When my sons and grandsons came through town, she regaled them with stories I had never heard before. (Not every mother has stolen a dump truck. Or, specified that a suitor write her letters only in a specific color of ink that wasn’t available locally.) When I spoke to her at 8 p.m. Sunday night to tell her that I was going to be stuck in Tulsa for another day because of car trouble, her voice was strong.

Maybe she had been holding on until she saw her family one last time. She didn’t make it to Tulsa for the wedding, but she DID get to have a Facetime session with the bride and groom right after the ceremony.

I spent the next hour notifying family, close friends and neighbors. I managed to get through the process with only a few tissues – the room must have been dusty – and a few fishbones stuck in my throat.

It’s going to be the little things

Ken Steinhoff Baby Book Hopalong CassidyIt’s going to be the little things that hit me.

On the way back to Cape, we passed through a bunch of towns – Mountain View, Ellsinore, Poplar Bluff – whose names I could remember because Dad had pulled our house trailer with its folding white picket fence to them so we could live near his jobs. I know there are more of them, but it hit me hard that I have nobody left who can fill in the blanks.

Dad died in 1977

Kentucky Lake Slides 25I had always wanted to sit down with Dad and a map of the region to have him fill in all the roads, bridges, sewer lines, airfields and dams he had built. Who would expect a man 60 to keel over and be dead while building a sandbox for your kid? That’s another hole in my life.

This afternoon, while editing this piece, the nap magnet snatched me up. While I was setting my alarm for a 22-minute nap, I saw two alarms I can delete. One of them was for 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. That was to remind me to turn on the Wheel of Fortune. Once Mother got strong enough mentally and physically that she didn’t need me to be literally holding her hand all the time, she’d say, “Why don’t you take a nap until this is over?” She didn’t have to ask me twice.

I will never watch The Wheel again so long as I live.

The Sunday Night 7:30 call

Telephone similar to ones in kitchen and basementThe other alarm is going to be harder to delete. For most of my adult life, no matter where I was, I called Cape at 7:30 on Sunday evenings to check in. Steinhoffs don’t talk long. Rarely did our conversations stretch more than 10 minutes. Dad was always interested in what stories I was covering and what was going on with my job. It took a long time for me to get past wanting to share those things with him. I still wish I could give him a ring for advice from time to time.

Mother’s conversations would generally be about the weather, what her friends were doing, the price of gas, what was going on with the other family members. She also was a person who didn’t say “Good bye.” When she was done talking, she was done, and you’d be listening to dial tone. It was a trait that was passed on to me. My guys would say, “You’d better say it fast, and you’d better not sound like the call is wrapping up, or the next thing you’ll hear is a click.”

Maybe I’ll leave that one around for awhile. I won’t set it, but it’ll always be there.

Funeral instructions

MLS Card 06-03-2015 Several years ago, Mother told Wife Lila what she wanted to happen when she was gone. She wanted no church service, no sad music (specifically banning Amazing Grace, one of my favorites), no big hoopla, she wanted a bunch of balloons released at the graveside, and she wanted to wear her favorite dress.

We’re going to gather at Ford and Sons Funeral Home on Mount Auburn Road from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, June 24. Since nearly all of her peers have already moved on to gossip and quibble from perches on clouds, we don’t expect a lot of people to show up. We’re having an informal service – no ministers, no funeral director, and no set program. We may just sit around sharing memories and stories.

After I posted the news on Facebook Monday, I received an unbelievable flood of comments from many of you who recalled stories I had almost forgotten. I sense that Mary Welch Steinhoff was the mother everybody wished they had. She claimed that she didn’t like perfect strangers coming up to her in stores asking, “Aren’t you Ken’s Mom?” but she really loved the attention.

Formal obit

Here’s the formal information from the obit I wrote:

Mary Lee Welch Steinhoff, 93, of 1618 Kingsway Drive, died Monday, June 22, at the Lutheran Home. She was born Oct. 17, 1921, in Stoddard County, the daughter of Roy and Elsie Adkins Welch.
She and L.V. Steinhoff were married Jan. 7, 1942. He died in 1977. A brother, Kenneth Welch, died in 1935.
She is survived by three sons: Kenneth L. Steinhoff (Lila), West Palm Beach, Fla.; David L. Steinhoff (Diane), Tulsa, OK.; Mark L. Steinhoff (Robin), St. Louis. She had four grandchildren: Matthew (Sarah) and Adam (Carly), Florida; Kimberly Tisdale (Casey), Austin, TX, and Amy Hawkins (Ian), Dallas, TX.
She had four great-grandsons: Malcolm, Graham, Elliot and Finn Steinhoff of Florida, and three great-granddaughters: Brynn, Taylor and Emery Tisdale of Austin, TX.
Mary Steinhoff was a housewife, but she has become well known for the tales told about her in her son’s blog.
Visitation and an informal service will be held from noon until 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 24, at Ford and Sons Funeral Home on Mount Auburn Road. She will be buried in New Lorimier Cemetery next to L.V. Steinhoff.

 Holy cow! That’s a lot of posts

I can understand why my readers feel like they know Mother. Here’s a partial list of the posts I’ve done on her. They are arranged by date.

Mother and Elvis near Dothan 04-04-2011

My Flirtation with Crime

Charlie's Cut-Rate-Store c 1970sThis is Charlie’s Cut-Rate-Store in Advance, more commonly known to townsfolk as Charlie’s Drug Store.

The building with the barber pole is where my grandfather, Roy E. Welch, had his liquor store. Dad had a small office between the barber shop and the liquor store. I’m sure Mother had something to do with seeing the town’s teenagers had a hangout in the basement. I mentioned that I still have some wooden “funeral home” chairs from there that I use today.

Crime spree was short-lived

Prather Building Advance c 1974_34

Once day when I was about four or five, I sauntered down to Charlie’s for an ice cream cone.

The ice cream was probably still dripping off my chin when Charlie paid my grandfather a visit. He handed over a counter check filled with my crayon scribbles that I had used for payment.

My excuse was that I had seen customers scribble on the checks, then Grandfather would hand over a bottle of whiskey. I figured if it worked for booze, then it should be OK for ice cream cones, too.

My grandfather made restitution and Charlie agreed not to call the town constable to haul me off to whatever passed as a hoosegow in Advance in those days.

I came by my lawlessness naturally. Check out Mother’s escapade with slot machines when she was barely a teenager. It’s at the bottom of the page.

Matt’s Savings Bonds

Savings Bonds given to Matt Steinhoff when he was a babyWife Lila has been doing some major reshuffling of her office since she retired in November. Part of it is moving all the DedicatedIT  business records and stuff to Son Adam, her co-owner’scare. One of the things she’s finding is that your kids may move out, but some of their stuff lingers behind “so it doesn’t get lost.”

One of the things that lingered was a envelope with two U.S. Savings Bonds and the gift envelopes they and other bonds had lived in. Dad and Mother gave Son Matt bonds when he was a baby, and Mother made some out in memory of her parents – my grandparents, Roy and Elsie Welch.

“For when you are a big boy”

Savings Bonds given to Matt Steinhoff when he was a babyThis one was for his first birthday. “From Pa Pa and Grandmother: Matt, this is for something you need when you are a big boy. Love forever.

For his 4th Christmas

Savings Bonds given to Matt Steinhoff when he was a babyMother wrote “My dear little boy, this coming year will be a special time for you! I know this paper means very little to you today, but in a few years it could become something very good to have – Have a wonderful day! I’ll be thinking of you this Xmas day. Love Gran.

 $25 DID grow over the years

Matt sent this note:

Savings Bonds given to Matt Steinhoff when he was a babyThe back of the envelope shows when the bond was purchased and the amount for which it was exchanged. I’m pretty sure every bond was $25 face value and each was purchased for $18.75. Those bonds were
redeemed in December 1998.

The two remaining bonds are worth…

October 1975…  $133.15
December 1975… $134.75

Both stopped earning interest in 2005. You can calculate their value here…

I would have sworn those bonds paid for part of my Stidham house furniture but, given the 1998 date, those bonds probably paid for my Kirkman apartment furniture… which is still in use in my Camellia house 14 years later. So, many thanks to Pa Pa and Gran.”

 

Three generations of furnishings

Lila, Mark and Lila Steinhoff Christmas 1973

We’re going to use the proceeds of those last two bonds to open a savings account for Malcolm. I’m sure he’ll need to furnish an apartment in a few years and it seems only fitting that his great-grandparents buy him a sofa since they bought me and you both a sofa.
Three generations of furniture from those two, right? Didn’t they buy your original fold-out sofa?

He was right. When Lila and I got married, the only things we had in our living room were some concrete block and board bookcases and a twin bed mattress Lila had covered with corduroy, plus a few cushions, that served as a couch.

The first time Dad and Mother came for a visit and had to sleep on the floor on the “couch,” he pressed $300 in my hand and said, “Before we come back, make sure you have a hide-a-bed sofa for us to sleep on.”

Here Lila, Brother Mark and Dad sitting on the sofa in our first house in West Palm Beach. The Cape Steinhoffs had come down to Florida for Christmas.