Thursday, April 24, 2014

Helen, Part III: Eldon Miller

610 East Jefferson Street, Goshen, Indiana, in 2013
Previously the Serv-U-Well Grocery in the 1930s and 1940s

As much as I know about Frank Louis Strukel, Helen's second husband, I know equally as little about Eldon DeWayne Miller, her first. Although he played an important role in the life of my grandmother, I asked few questions about him. After all, he was not my grandfather. But to balance out the equation, Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller Strukel was not exactly awash with warm reminisces and funny anecdotes of the man either.

Eldon DeWayne Miller was nine days short of a year older than Helen. Born on 21 February 1916, he appears to have come from the same humble beginnings as she did. He was the youngest son of Chauncey D. Miller by his second wife, Jennie Miller. Chauncey's first wife, Phoebe Louella Musselman, had died at the age of twenty-nine of typhoid fever, leaving him a little girl, Gleta. But by his second wife, he had two girls and two boys, Eldon being the youngest. His father was just short of forty-five years old at his birth; his mother was thirty-eight.

Like William and Addie (Nowels) Timmons, Chauncey and Jennie (Miller) Miller were tenant farmers. At the beginning of March, 1911, they had moved onto the Elisha D. Irwin farm in Benton Township, Elkhart County, Indiana. The farm was situated directly on the Lincoln Highway (current US 33) as it left Benton, Indiana, and headed southeast toward Ligonier. Even today, this stretch of highway is punctuated by a rare farmhouse and long, vast stretches of flat farmland and ubiquitous cornfields. Life on the farm for Eldon probably involved the same day-to-day work and routine that was seen on any Midwestern farm at the beginning of the twentieth century. The only remarkable news reported about Chauncey Miller during his stay here was that a roaming pack of dogs maimed and killed his sheep in March 1915. Just two weeks before Eldon was born, his father sold at public auction his three horses, four head of cattle, sheep, sows, chickens, farming implements, hay, and corn. Much like the Timmons, the Millers made do with the resources they had and rented various farms in Benton Township in the 1920s and the 1930s.

According the the 1940 census, Eldon Miller had completed four years of high school, but no record of him graduating from the schools of Elkhart County exists. He likely attended the high school in Millersburg, which served the students of Benton and Clinton Township. His parents moved into the city of Goshen in the 1930s, so it is possible that he may have finished his schooling at the Goshen High School, but again no record exists of him there either.

How Eldon Miller and Helen Timmons met is a mystery to me. I never thought to ask my grandmother, and she never volunteered the information. Nobody living today has apparently heard the story either. Although they lived in adjoining townships of Elkhart County, they could have just as easily been a world apart. Whereas the town hubs that served the Timmons family in Jackson Township were Milford to the south and New Paris to the north; the towns that the Millers likely visited were Benton and Millersburg. If either families wanted to go to the "big city," they would go to Goshen, the county seat. The Timmons would go north on what is today Indiana 15, while the Millers would go northwest on present-day US33. They would have rarely, if ever, crossed paths.

Perhaps in the year after her high school graduation, Helen had run into Eldon at a social gathering in Goshen. Or perhaps Eldon had gone to the big parade and fair in neighboring New Paris in 1936 when they were celebrating their centennial. Certainly, Helen would have been in attendance. But however they met, Helen caught his eye, and he began to court her.

Certainly, nineteen-year-old Helen was flattered by the attention, and she likely acquiesced to his invitations initially, but Helen still had a school-girl crush left over on a local boy from her high school. And as an eligible, attractive young women, she wanted to keep her options open. Eldon was an interesting young man, but she was certainly not head-over-heels for him.

But whatever sort of charm that Eldon possessed that lacked effect on Helen, it worked wonders on her parents, especially Addie. Eldon certainly possessed no wealth or family prestige to make the Timmons consider him a particularly advantageous match for their daughter. He and his family had only moved to Goshen a few years before, and he was working as a grocery clerk. His father, Chauncey, although living in town, was still worked out as a farm laborer. Perhaps Eldon talked a big talk about owning his own business one day, or perhaps in the midst of the Depression, William and Addie Timmons just sought any sort of financial stability and a quick match for their youngest child, but whatever their reasoning they saw future son-in-law potential in Eldon Miller.

Addie was likely the first to see the waning affections in Helen's attitude toward Eldon, and when questioned, her daughter probably confided in her mother that she had no interest in marrying Eldon Miller. Her mother's response was firm, and it was not to be questioned.

"You will marry Eldon Miller, or you will marry no one!"

And so, for reasons that have never been explained to me, Eldon and Helen drove sixty miles south of Goshen to Huntington, Indiana, and took out a license to marry on 30 March 1937. They immediately sought out the services of Rev. W. Henry McLean, the pastor of the First Methodist Church in town, and were married that same day.

And just like that, Helen Marie Timmons became Helen Marie Miller. The twenty-year-old bride set about making her new home on Cottage Avenue in Goshen, Indiana. Her husband continued working as clerk at the Serv-U-Well Grocery at 610 East Jefferson Street, just three blocks to the east. Helen tried to be happy in this new chapter of her life. Being a wife and mother was what she wanted, and she was embarking on that journey. But doubts remained, and the lingering resentment of being railroaded into this situation nagged at her subconscious. Eldon was eager to marry her, and her parents adored him. Perhaps she was just worrying needlessly. How bad could it possibly be?

She was soon to find out.

No comments:

Post a Comment