Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Cup Runneth Over

Polk's Elkhart (Elkhart County, Ind.) City Directory, 1967, page 393.

Frank L. Strukel? Helen Marie Miller? It was all too good to be true! And there it was just staring up from the pages of the newspaper. Armed with this new information, the pieces fell into place quickly and easily. The Krueger notes were all but garbage now, and the first thing I checked were those Strukel phone book entries I had jotted down at my grandparents' house. Unfortunately, there was no Frank among them. Had they moved away? Would we need to add another leg to this research endeavor to find their present whereabouts?

But luckily Frank L. Strukel did exist in the Elkhart city directories I had previously poured over unsuccessfully looking for Kruegers and Millers. There they were: Frank L. and Helen M. Strukel at 1418 Perkins Avenue in Elkhart in 1948. Seeing the names in black and white made them suddenly real. Each directory we pulled off the shelf and opened to find the proper entry was like a little bolt of electricity. And as we were able to move forward in time, it brought the reality of their existence closer and closer.

Each volume adds a little bit of detail. In 1950, Frank is a factory worker still living at the Perkins Street address. In 1953, he is a foundry worker living at 716 West Garfield Avenue in Elkhart with his wife Helen, but this time a Rose, widow of John Strukel, lives there too. Is this my mother's grandmother? In 1955 and 1957, Frank is a factory worker, and he and Helen are living at 670½ Strong Avenue in Elkhart. In 1958, they are at 419 East Jackson Boulevard. By 1959 they settle in at an address on North Sixth Street, where Frank does factory work for Adams & Westlake Company, a manufacturing business that produces transportation-related products. They finally quit moving.

In 1965, the daughter they never knew is living only seven miles west of them. She graduates from high school. The following year, still at the Sixth Street address, the daughter they never knew gets married. That same year, a grandson is born. In 1967, still on Sixth Street, another grandson is born. All of this happens unbeknownst to them.

And in 1968, they are gone.

It isn't until 1974 that Helen M. Strukel reappears in the Elkhart city directories, this time with no husband, living on Jay Dee Street and working as a clerk at Long's Lock Shop in downtown Elkhart. This remains unchanged up to the most current city directory we checked.

As I am frantically jotting this information down, I stop, look at my mother with mouth agape, "Oh my God, if Helen is working today, she is six blocks away from us!" It still does not seem real. After so desperately wanting information, it is now all coming too quickly to comprehend.

But what happened to Frank? Did Helen divorce again? If so, Frank Strukel was nowhere to be found in Elkhart after 1967. And where were they for those missing seven years before 1974? I think of about a dozen different scenarios, but right now I know that the person who holds those answers is only a stone's throw away!

But now I need to look backward in time. Gone now were the jottings and notes on the Marie Millers and Dorothy Millers of Elkhart County, Indiana. I was now on the hunt for a Helen Miller, and there was only one candidate for a Helen Miller who was married and present before 1946, and conspicuously absent thereafter. She was the wife of Eldon D. Miller. Was this the first husband Helen had divorced before marrying Frank Strukel? And was this the father of the four-year-old girl, Sandy, that my mother had dreamt about all these years? Being adopted, my mother longed to know the story behind her birth and the circumstances that led to her adoption. But being an only child, she always wished for the older sister she knew existed, but whom she never got to play with, share secrets with, pester and nag and fight with.

The mood in the library was that of exuberance and excitement and disbelief, and as my mother and I chattered away about the ramifications of this sudden wave of information, I realized that the afternoon was coming to a close. And if we wanted to know more about Helen's husbands, we needed to get our butts in the car and make the twenty minute drive to the courthouse in Goshen before they closed! We were going to be cutting it close, but with the adrenalin coursing through my body, I probably could have run there faster anyway. And I didn't care if we were going to make it there at 4:59 p.m., I was going to race through those doors to get the information I wanted and needed. This day was not going to end without more answers to long-held questions!

We made it in time, and the first record I wanted to find was a possible divorce proceedings for Eldon D. and Helen M. Miller. Was this the right woman? Was this my mother's birthmother? After spurting out the condensed version of our plight, the county clerk found an entry for exactly what I had hoped for, and left the room to get the file from storage. As she returned, she herself was engrossed in the packet of loose documents.

"Oh my, this is interesting reading!" she said, smiling as she handed us the papers.

It was. It was very interesting reading.

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