Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Day Ends

Long's Lock Shop, 114 West Sycamore, Elkhart, IN
Google Street View, 2014

A day that had begun in empty-handed frustration was drawing to an exhilarating close. I cannot speak for my mother, as I am sure this flood of new information had deeper meaning for her, and I do not mean to downplay the emotional significance of the entire day, but I remember feeling one thing over all others. Satisfaction. Of course I realized this would open an entirely brand new chapter in the lives of everyone involved, but I had done it. I had found them. I had set out to locate my mother's birthparents, and I had mostly succeeded. We had not yet located the present whereabouts of her father, but we knew where her mother worked and lived, and she certainly would fill in those details once we contacted her.

Of course, in my simplistic fifteen-year-old mind I figured the next thing to do after leaving the courthouse in Goshen would be to just find this Helen Strukel and get right to it! I did not give much thought to the delicate nature of the situation. I figured it would be entirely appropriate to walk into Helen's place of employment:

"Hello, are you Helen Strukel? Yes? Fine, good. I'm your grandson. This is your daughter Carol. I believe you last saw each other in the dawning days of 1947. May I ask you a few questions?"

For some odd, quirky reason, my mother found this approach wholly unacceptable.

But we did undertake a little snooping that afternoon. We tried to find Long's Lock Shop in downtown Elkhart, Indiana, where we knew Helen had worked for well over a decade and appeared to still be working at present. We never found it. To this day, I cannot tell you why we were totally unable to locate a simple address. Perhaps it is because downtown Elkhart is cut in two by a river? Perhaps it is because this was 1982, and all we had handy was a crappy map hastily torn from the front of the phone book located in the foyer of the Elkhart Public Library? Perhaps because we were so overwhelmed with the discoveries of the day we were lucky to have found our way to the car and back? I have no idea, but we circled blocks and got confused with one-way streets going the way we did not want to go, and we never found Long's Lock Shop. And really, it is ridiculously easy to find.

It is likely a good thing we were unable to locate the lock shop. I was determined to see this woman. Did my mother look like her? What did she sound like? How did she walk? What were her mannerisms? If I went into the lock shop just looking to get a key made, would she be nice? Would she be curt and temperamental? Had we found the shop, I am sure my mother would have begged and pleaded with me not to go inside. I am almost certain I would have ignored her. It would have taken hysterical wailing and insane, wild thrashing to have persuaded me otherwise, but if you do not know my mother, she can easily do both if the occasion requires it. 

All that was left after a day of discovery was to go home. But we had one more stop to make. We had determined where Helen Strukel lived from the city directories at the library, but a quick look into my notes from my October interview with my grandparents showed that I had her name already written down. I experienced a little shiver thinking that unknowingly I had written the name of my grandmother more than a month before. Among the six Strukel phone book entries in Elkhart was:
H.M. Strukel, 55496 Jay Dee
A nine mile straight-line shot from our present home in Mishawaka, Indiana, to Helen's home in Elkhart, Indiana, via US20 was all that separated mother from daughter for the previous fifteen years. And it was the last stop on our roller coaster ride of a day. 

Jay Dee Street is a small lane that juts north off US Highway 20, and when we turned off the highway, we were sure that Helen lived in a warehouse. But a very industrial looking highway evolved quickly into a quaint row of modest homes on both sides of the street. Helen's was the first house on our right, and we slowly crept up to the mailbox on the street and stopped. 

55496 Jay Dee Street (now renumbered 526), Elkhart, Indiana
This present-day image from Google Maps is not far removed
from its appearance in 1982.

On the mailbox was the lettering "H.M. Strukel." Our car was parked so closely to it that I could touch it through the passenger's side window, which I did. It was with an odd sense of awe and reverence in which I did it, because unlike the earlier urge to run into the lock shop and get the ball rolling, the thought of racing up and knocking on the door was the furthest from my mind. Feeling the cold metal of the mailbox under my fingers bearing the name of the woman who gave my mother away thirty-five years before suddenly made everything solid and hard and cold and real. This reunification, if it were to happen, was going to have to be done correctly.

And so with one long final gaze at this tiny white unassuming home in the last remnants of daylight, we turned and left. I do not remember the events of the day beyond this visit to the house. I do not recall poring over notes and details and discussing the day's finds with my mother. It is more likely that we both got home, collapsed from exhaustion, and spent the remainder of the evening in our own thoughts. But now my mother knew the names and identities of her parents, and she had the address and phone number for her birthmother. The next step was entirely out of my control. It was entirely up to my mother.

And she did nothing.

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