Thursday, May 7, 2015

Grandfather Died 80 Years Ago

Eighty years ago today, my dad's father died. This photo is of South Fifth Street in my hometown, Vandalia, Illinois. Either in front of that barber shop, or in front of the feed store, he collapsed and died of a cerebral hemorrhage ("apoplexy," as the obituary calls it). The newspaper reported that the location was the store, but my dad, who was with him at the time, says it was in front of the barber shop. (The large hotel on the left, now the First National Bank, is the only building in the picture that remains today.) Not quite 60, I missed meeting him.

My dad used to say, "Everyone knew Dad, and liked him." His name was Andrew Christian Strobel, born in nearby Ramsey, IL and a farmer north of Vandalia. "Christian" was the first name of his maternal grandfather, a German immigrant. Andy spelled the family name Strobel or Stroble. Fatefully, the second spelling was the one used on my father's birth certificate, giving me a surname slightly different from all my other relatives. Dad pointed out his own birth location, a long ago farm house on the north side of the creek just north of Vandalia along what's now U.S. 51, east of the road, on property now part of the Vandalia Correctional Center. I wrote about the Strobel family at this site, which has genealogical links and another picture of Andy.

Throughout my growing-up years, this colorized photo hung in my childhood home. A cousin, Hazel Jones, restored the old photo of Andy. The picture became my primary visual memory of my paternal grandfather, for which I'm grateful. I think the photo gave my father comfort.

Mom's father also died before I was born, so I felt a certain empty place in my childhood: the two men could have been my "buddies" to do things with, but their lives and mine did not overlap. Andy in particular seemed "under erasure," as Derrida would put it, because this photo (mildly creepy, through no fault of Hazel's, yet also warm) was Andy's ongoing presence but it also signified his absence.

Somehow this didn't make me feel melancholy; it just was the way things were. Every child has to learn for the first time an obvious fact: that the world existed before he or she was alive. The picture was a way that I, a small child, learned of family before me---and of former years of the hometown which has always been such a strong part of my sense of identity.

Nevertheless, I think of childhood activities, like fishing for crawdads in the stream, that we missed doing together. What would he have taught me about life?

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