Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Epilogue... or Prologue?

All of Helen's kids together for the last time, c2002
Sandy, Jerry, Carol, Ted, Dianne

So what has become of the major players in the narrative drama that has been unfolding for the last several months?

I never knew the version of this story as would have been told by Eldon DeWayne Miller, the first husband of Helen Timmons (see Hoosier Daddy?: Helen, Part III: Eldon Miller). When the lives of several families collided on that cool November evening of 1982, I was merely fifteen years old. Although mature enough to tackle this research dilemma, I lacked the life experience to realize that everyone has a story to tell. And everyone's version of that story differs based upon their viewpoint and their perspective. I have over the years wondered what Eldon Miller would have said about his first wife. Helen spoke little of him, and although her comments were not venomous nor ugly, they were not overly friendly, and he was nonetheless a man she was glad to be rid of. Eldon took his two boys immediately after his divorce in 1946 and moved to Monrovia, California, where he was a salesman and field representative for the Auto Club of Southern California. He married a second time in 1949, but that marriage too failed. He took a third wife in 1955, and later moved to Portland, Oregon, to partake in the business venture started by his sons. Had I wanted to know Eldon's story, I would have never had the chance to ask. The unborn child that factored into Eldon's divorce in 1946 had returned ten months after his death. Eldon DeWayne Miller died in Portland, Oregon, on 17 January 1982, at the age of sixty-five. Since he seemed to use his children as pawns for revenge against Helen, I have always wondered why he did not use the knowledge of Carol's birth and adoption as a verbal weapon against her. It surprises me that his sons who maintained close contact with him throughout his life never knew of her existence.

As mentioned in recent chapters, Helen Marie (Timmons) Miller Strukel, died in Elkhart, Indiana, on Christmas Eve, 1987, at the age of seventy after a prolonged struggle with breast cancer. Even though she had only entered the lives of my mother and myself five years earlier, she left her mark. She was a determined, yet comical and kind woman. She became "Grandma Helen" quickly and easily.

Raymond Ezio "Ray" DePrato (see Hoosier Daddy?: Grandpa) died at his home in Osceola, Indiana, on 8 January 1990, at the age of seventy-seven. He was the grandpa I grew up with, and he was the man who desperately wanted to be a father when Carol Sue Miller became his adopted daughter in 1946. I could add many memories to those I have written before, but any grandchild who has lost their beloved grandparents understands that those special memories will remain indelibly etched in one's heart and head. If I were to start reminiscing now, I'd likely never stop.

Charles John "Bars" Strukel (see Hoosier Daddy?: Helen, Part VII: Another Strukel) became Helen's brother-in-law upon her marriage to Frank Strukel in 1947. But in their senior years, he became her companion and housemate. Bars took care of her and watched over her and protected her, especially in her final days. He lived at the Elkhart home on Jay Dee Street when Carol and Helen reunited, and he was present on that emotional November evening. A diabetic, he was often unwell, and his devotion to Helen during her illness is all the more impressive knowing how sick he was becoming. He was hospitalized several times in 1992, and his health declined rapidly. His legs became gangrenous, and he fought the doctors who told him amputation was his only option. I did not see Grandma Helen in her final days, because I was urged not to do so. I did not see my grandfather in his final days, because I was too afraid to see him ill. As a consequence I was left with the guilt of not saying good-bye, and appearing callous and uncaring for not visiting him during my Christmas break from college. I tried to make amends for that by visiting Bars as often as I could. I remember sitting in his hospital room filled with the stench of his rotting legs while he drifted in and out of consciousness, wondering how much misery one man could take. On one visit, he awoke to see me, smiled, and said "Hi Mike" and held my hand. He slipped back into unconsciousness while we sat in that position for quite sometime thereafter. He died in Elkhart on 24 May 1992 at the age of seventy-two. He was buried in St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Cemetery with his parents and most of his siblings. Most of them... but not Frank Strukel, whose burial there was blocked by the church for having married a divorced woman.

After Rosie Arreda (Dobyns) DePrato (see Hoosier Daddy?: Grandma, Part I) lost her husband of fifty years, she never was quite the same. She became more sedentary, and she never really adjusted to the everyday chores, tasks, and responsibilities that Raymond had taken care of during his life. When I procured a loan for my first new car in 1990, I asked her to cosign for me. I was informed  by the bank that she did not exist. Like most women of her era and those before her, she was an extension of her husband, and generated few records in her own name. I was given the loan on the credit rating of her deceased husband. A mass in her abdomen led her to exploratory surgery in 1994. I was there when she was taken into surgery, and I was there in the waiting room when the surgeon informed the family she was filled with cancer and there was nothing that could be done for her. On hindsight, I must have been just blind to the seriousness of the situation, as I remember my grandmother chiding me while being wheeled into surgery because I was misbehaving and goofing off with my brothers. She awakened on a respirator and was confused as to the reasons why, as she had signed paperwork to avoid such things. The hospital staff explained that there was a fine line between what constitutes "post-operative care" and what was deemed "support of life."

Remember, by 1994 I had received my doctorate, and I was working full-time as a small-animal veterinarian. I was well-versed in medical procedures. Yet as we all stood around my grandmother in her hospital room in Mishawaka, Indiana, to turn off her ventilator, I have no idea what I expected to happen. I am sure I didn't expect her to get up and walk out the door, but when her sister Eunice looked down at her and said, "It's okay. You can go to Raymond now," I was flabbergasted. What the hell did she mean by THAT? And with that, my grandmother looked at us all, held our hands, closed her eyes, and died. It took barely a few minutes. She was gone at the age of seventy-eight, and on 14 June 1994, the last of the four people whose lives intersected with the birth of a baby girl in 1946 was gone.

Jerry, Dianne, Ted, and Carol, c2007

Of Helen's five children, the boys remained in Oregon, while the girls remained in Indiana, for several years after the 1982 reunion.

Of the girls, Dianne and Carol quickly became the sisters both had wanted as children, and their ties remained strong. Sandra (Miller) Canen, the eldest sister, was a working mother with a young daughter that came late into her married life, and she was less available to forge strong ties to her new sister. But as time passed, her daughter grew up, and she retired in 2003. Sandy made time with her sisters and renewed the familial connections that had been put on the back burner. Sadly, this time of reconnection was cut short. Stricken with lung cancer, Sandy died on 16 September 2006 at the age of sixty-four. She lived to see her daughter, Michelle, marry three years before. Michelle currently lives with her husband in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

The eldest son, Jerry Duane Miller, sold the marine in Portland, Oregon, he had managed with his father and his brother after the death of his wife, Nell, in 2005. With two adopted children of their own, Nell had made reference that her mother-in-law had told her many years before about giving up a child for adoption. It was apparently not an outright confession, but more of a cryptic statement, so it was not a surprise for her when Carol resurfaced in 1982. Jerry remarried, and he and his second wife Arla moved from Portland to Tigard, Oregon. He was diagnosed with cancer shortly after his seventy-fifth birthday and died soon thereafter on 18 October 2013.

When Ted William Miller met his new sister in 1982, he was five years past the divorce of his second wife. Shortly thereafter he married his third wife, Darlene, and sold his interest in the marine he managed with his brother. Ted and Darlene moved to Sedalia, Missouri, where they currently live  and manage a small farm.

Dianne Lynn (Strukel) Moore resides in Elkhart, Indiana, with her husband of forty-eight years. She is the grandmother of six, and being the baby at sixty-four, she is preparing to retire.

Carol Sue (DePrato) Lacopo Crumet was divorced from her husband in the spring of 1983 following her reunion with her birth family. She was kept busy working and raising three boys for six years thereafter, but remarried in 1989 to a widower, Thomas E. Crumet. They began their married life in Niles, Michigan, but soon thereafter built a new home in rural Edwardsburg-Niles, Michigan, just north of the Indiana-Michigan state line. Moving to a smaller home in Granger, Indiana, afforded them more time to travel and see the country, particularly the southwest which they both loved. Tom was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the fall of 2012 and died shortly after his seventieth birthday on 23 May 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. Adjusting to being alone for the first time in her life, Carol receives tremendous joy nagging me to write more frequently for this blog.

If you have been reading from the beginning, you have taken the journey with me as I have relayed the story of Helen Timmons and her husbands, Eldon Miller and Frank Strukel. You have learned of the daughter Carol born "too soon," given up by her parents during a time of struggle and turmoil. And you have become acquainted with Raymond DePrato and his wife Rita Dobyns who took Carol into their lives to raise as their own.

These are the facts I have gathered regarding my mother and her two sets of parents. These are the facts I have painstakingly documented over the past thirty-two years as a dedicated genealogist.

But in the words of William Faulkner, "facts and truth really don't have much to do with each other."

Because the story is wrong.


  1. You enjoy torturing us, don't you? I'm reading along - actually had tears in my eyes a few times - and then I get to the end. And I grit my teeth and think, "NO, he did not just do that AGAIN." Every time I get suckered in....reading along. And then you throw me off a cliff. I can just HEAR you laughing maniacally as you hit "publish."

    I really am enjoying this story - with all the twists and turns. This one especially when you talk about various sides of a story. It's always interesting to me to hear my mom and her two brothers talk - how often they have 3, sometime almost totally, different versions of the same event in their lives.

    So thanks for starting my morning off with some tears followed by a few curse words.

  2. I hope the next episode is coming soon - like tomorrow!

  3. Excellent update...surprising ending....looking forward to more (?).

  4. Really!?! I was so happy to see a new post. Settled in to read it before bed. Now I'll never fall asleep.