Every family has stories that may or may not be true. Dad often told a story about pulling his toy wagon full of sheet music for the woman who accompanied the silent movies at the Broadway theater.
We all dismissed that as his version of walking 12 miles to school in waist-deep snow (uphill both ways.)
Eventually, Mother sent me the obit of the woman who HAD played music at the silent movies. I guess he wasn’t just funnin’ us with his tale.
Dad and the basement boat
I don’t ever recall Dad mention the boat he built in the basement at Themis Street before discovering he couldn’t get it through the door. That strikes me as a story no man would tell on himself.
I was never able to determine if the tale was true, and all the folks I could ask are no long with us.
Then, I ran across a couple of Missourian classified ads from 1944. The one at the top of the page was to sell a new, 12-foot row boat; table top model radio, $25; electric jig saw, $10; and one 4 and one 6 cylinder magneto.
Maybe he HAD gotten the boat out of the basement, and maybe that’s why he was also able to sell the jig saw.
Bicycles for sale
About the same time, he was trying to sell two pre-war bicycles, like new. (And the boat.)
Mother with bikes
Decades later, she still talked about how their legs cramped up from the 36-mile ride.
The first year I started serious biking, I did the 72-mile round trip in their memory. I had quite a bit of long-distance cycling under my saddle by then – including at least one 100-mile day, so I fared better than they did.
Another bike photo
Here’s Dad on a bike. Mother’s dad, Roy Welch, is looking through the screen door in the background.
I think that Advance ride dampened their enthusiasm for long two-wheeled expeditions.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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
It’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
I 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
The 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.
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.
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.
This 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
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.