Monday, May 19, 2014

Frank and Helen

Frank and Helen Strukel on a trip to Colorado, 
shortly after their marriage in 1947.

Nobody seems to know the circumstances behind Frank and Helen's first meeting. No stories exist as to first dates, chance encounters, or initial impressions. Most who would have been privy to such details are gone. Those who knew them after their marriage do not recall a particular story behind such meeting. The children Helen raised never asked. After finding her and reuniting in 1982, I did not ask, nor did my mother.

The only thing Helen ever said regarding meeting Frank was this: "Eldon said nobody would ever want me or love me. Frank did."

At the beginning of 1946, Frank Strukel had resumed work at the Northern Indiana Brass Company, having been recently honorably discharged from the United States Army in November of 1945. Living at home with his parents on Garfield Avenue, the twenty-three-year-old was young in years, but aged by the experiences of war.

Helen (Timmons) Miller was twenty-nine years old, and an unhappy housewife, living on Gladstone Avenue in Elkhart. She was raising three children by her husband Eldon Miller: Jerry, 7; Ted, 5; and Sandy, 3.

It is nearly impossible to guess how Frank and Helen crossed paths. In post-war Elkhart, it is quite likely that Frank walked the the two-and-a-quarter mile distance to work every day. It would be an easy trek, taking about 45 minutes to get to his factory job, the bulk of it being a easterly walk on Middlebury Street. If the weather permitted, it could even be a pleasant stroll, crossing over the Elkhart River and walking between scenic Grace Lawn Cemetery to the north and Studebaker Park to the south.

Had Helen and Frank run into each other innocently during one of these daily trips? The Miller household was situated just two blocks north of Middlebury Street, and just less than a half-mile from the NIBCO facilities. Could their lives have collided and their futures changed so dramatically by a single chance encounter on the street? Regardless, the ten-minute walk between Frank's work and Helen's home likely allowed for ample time for them to meet on lunch breaks and before and after his shift.

And frankly, the topic was not circumvented so many years later because it was a taboo subject, or because it was an uncomfortable situation to talk about. Yes, Helen, was a married woman when she met Frank Strukel and fell for the young, dark-haired, soldier. But upon reminiscing about her life, she hesitated not in the slightest to describe how worthless and ugly Eldon made her feel, and how Frank brought happiness and value to her life. Quite simply, nobody asked for the details.

It is not known how and when Eldon Miller found out about his wife's indiscretions, or really how much he cared. He expected his wife to remain his controllable possession and to raise his children while he sought pleasure and entertainment elsewhere, so perhaps he was blind to the changes in Helen's behavior in early 1946. But by the beginning of July, one thing was becoming more noticeable.

Helen was pregnant.

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