Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date March 2, 2022
Gentle readers, it was the fall of 1927. Calvin Coolidge was the president; Pius XI was the pope. American dancer, Isadora Duncan, had recently died in a freak strangulation accident on a road in Nice, France. Babe Ruth had already hit the 400th homerun of his career and was soon to hit his 60th homerun of that season, a record that would stand until 1961. Prohibition was the law of the land, and the long arm of the law was about to descend on Sharp Corner Saloon in Augusta. And Grandma Parks delivered a baby boy in an Augusta Bottom farmhouse owned and occupied by Edmund H. and Mary Frances (Aholt) Struckhoff. The boy was to be named Aloys.
Alright, now that I’ve got this story up and running, allow me to rewind far enough to splice in a layer of trivia. The Struckhoff farm in the bottoms was somewhere east of Michael Bauermeister’s studio in the old Nona General Store, but west of the Kuchem home, now occupied by our friendly and efficient librarian, Lisa Tucker, and her husband.
Sharp Corner Saloon was in the beautiful brick pile at Locust and Lower Street across from Lisa Carmon’s beautiful brick structure, otherwise known as Stone Ledge Antiques. If you’ve ever read English novelist, Thomas Hardy, you know that pile is not a derogatory term. And I assume the sharp corner thing is self-explanatory. Leslie and Jeff Bina are the owners of the Sharp Corner Saloon building. Jeff and Leslie have 3 children: Josh, Jacob and Josie. Leslie is a first cousin to Natasha Berkel, secretary of the Augusta Chamber of Commerce.
According to ancestry.com, “In 1880 there were 36 Struckhoff families living in Missouri. This was about 86% of all the recorded Struckhoff's in the USA. Missouri had the highest population of Struckhoff families in 1880.” The name Struckhoff can be divided and defined thus: struck = bush or brush, hoff = farm.
And the name Aloys is the equivalent of Aloysius, Louis, Ludvig, Luigi, and many European variations. It means famous warrior according to thinkbabynames.com.
And…my faithful readers…I’m sorry to tell you that Grandma Parks is a mythical character that never really existed… Okay, just kidding…but nobody seems to know her first name and find-a-grave doesn’t know where she’s buried. Everyone agrees she was a midwife. In Cracker Barrel Country, Volume I, article 8.22, Bill Schiermeier says that on the “corner of Main and Public is the remains of Herman Damann’s General Store. Jim Anderson, a Spanish American War Veteran, once lived here, and still later the stone, brick and frame dwelling became the residence of Robert and Mrs. Parks. Mrs. Parks was Augusta’s busy midwife.”
Anita Mallinckrodt, in her book, Augusta’s Harmony, simply calls her Mrs. also.
Wait…Janet Fuhr just texted me to say that Mrs. Parks had a son named Bob who married a woman named Olga. Bob Parks was a train depot agent at the Augusta MKT station. Grandma Parks is starting to sound a little more real.
And now two local families have come forth to say her name was Rosa. Alas, I can’t help but wondering if they’re confusing her name with the famous Rosa Parks of the 1955-56 bus strike in Montgomery, Alabama. I guess I’ll be haunting the local cemeteries soon to see if her remains lie in our rich local soil. BTW Benny Moseley tells me he had an accident on his tricycle and got patched up by Mrs. Parks. Rest assured I’ll be interviewing Benny one of these days. He’s getting to be more useful than the internet.
Okay, today is Sunday, 2/27/2022, and while Volodymyr Zelenskyy is bravely standing up to that mudak Putin, I’ve been scouring the graveyards. Now I must eat humble pie, because, thanks to Cathy and Benny Moseley, I found Rosa J. Parks at the IC Catholic cemetery. (Why don’t they just call it Struckhoff Cemetery?) I’m including a photo of the monument she shares with her husband, Robert. I’m satisfied that Grandma Parks was a real person.
Now, back to my interview with Aloys. This story is a mashup of three phone calls, 2/17/22, 2/19,22 and 2/23/22. Our conversations were big fun, as Aloys and I shared many good laughs. (((As always, anything in parentheses is my wording.)))
Paul: Have you ever been interviewed before, Aloys?
Aloys: Well…I think I have…I don’t know really what for, but I’m sure at my age (94), I’ve had interviews already.
P: Your mother was an Aholt. Did she come from the Augusta area?
A: No, they came from Washington.
P: Was your dad always a farmer?
A: Yes, but he was born and raised on the other side of the river too.
P: Tell me about your sisters and brothers. Who’s the oldest child?
A: I have a sister named Mercedes (Hopen). Then it’s me. Then Mary (Feldmann). My brother, Paul. Ruthie (Heman). Then Helen (Reiling). Richard. Then John. But I had a brother between me and Mary that died at 6 months. That was the first brother named John. But the last boy, they named John again.
P: May I ask what the first John died of?
A: I think it was pneumonia. The river was out, and he must have got sick moving away from the river…it was raining or something. Paul…I don’t know…I was there, but I was too young to remember something like that.
P: Did you grow up in the bottoms?
A: Sure did, until we moved out in 1945. But at that time, I was starting to be going out working different places. Most of my life was right around those bottoms until I got married. All of us kids were born in the bottoms, I’m pretty sure.
P: In one of our video interviews, your sister, Ruth (Heman) said that eventually the family moved to higher ground.
A: We first moved to a property close to…do you know where Franz Mayer lives? We were out of the floodplain, but you still couldn’t get out of there in a flood because the roads were all blocked. We lived there maybe a year or two, and then dad bought property, a farm, over here on 94.
P: I recall there was an Ambrose Struckhoff who lived nearby on the Bottom Road (where Nate and Erin Hartung live). Any relation?
A: Not really. Well…Ambrose’s dad and my dad were 2nd cousins, I believe. But we used the road, right there, by where Ambrose lived and went back in there about a quarter of a mile. That’s where we lived for a couple years after we moved out of the bottoms.
P: In a previous conversation you indicated that you grew up somewhat isolated there in the floodplain. Did you notice much difference between a town kid and a farm kid?
A: Let’s see, how can I answer that? Well…in Augusta, they were all strangers to us. In the bottoms we knew all our neighbors, and I went to grade school at Immaculate Conception. And high school…I never went to. So, I didn’t really know a lot of people around Augusta. But we did our shopping in Augusta…went to the grocery stores…we brought our eggs to Augusta, and our baking chickens (chickens that are through laying for the year). They sold well. Most of the time it went to Knoernschild’s store.
P: Did you like going to Augusta?
A: I didn’t mind it. Hell, it was something different, just about like taking a vacation, I guess.
P: Did you sell your excess cream too? And did you have a separator?
A: We did sell cream and we had a hand-cranked separator. Most of it went to Washington; there was a creamery there…the Washington Creamery. They came around and picked up our cream once a week.
P: What were some of your chores at home?
A: Did a little milking and I fed the horses and mules most the time…and the hogs too. It wasn’t like a farm of today for the hogs. They were in dirt all the time. And mules were what we had mostly for working. We had 6 mules and maybe 2 horses at a time. We didn’t work many horses in the bottoms…it was mostly mules…it seemed like they could take the heat better. When we were kids, and I’m saying 13…12…it was our Sunday sport…the boys that went to our school…we’d get together and go horseback riding. That was the big thing on Sunday afternoon, if the weather permitted. I don’t think we went over 2 miles, mostly roaming around the bottoms.
P: Did you ever have races?
A: Well, we thought we were racing.
P: Did you have to walk to school at IC?
A: We walked about 3 miles. I’m not saying all the time, but we did have to walk a lot. I was the 2nd oldest, so I was kind of a pack leader. From 3rd grade until I graduated, I took a horse and buggy to school to haul 3 or 4 of the other kids. My 2 younger brothers, Rich and John, got to take the bus, but they still had to walk a mile out of the bottoms to meet the bus on the road. In case of rain, we had a Model A Ford that could get us out of the bottoms. They rode pretty high up. It was so muddy down there that they put that old Ford in the tracks, and I can still hear my dad saying, “We don’t have to steer this thing ‘til we get to higher ground.” It would just stay in that rut.
P: Did they feed you at the school?
A: No, we had to pack our lunches.
P: Did they have nuns there at IC?
A: We had three of them here at one time…when I was in grade school…I don’t remember the name of the order of nuns.
P: I think you told me earlier that you used to take the ferry to Washington before the bridge across the river was built. I recall you were hauling hay to Frankling County.
A: I remember going over with my dad, the neighbor, and the neighbor’s son, hauling alfalfa hay to my uncle’s. I think dad traded that hay for things my uncle had, and we didn’t. That was a 2-wagon ferry. It could hold 2 loaded wagons and 4 horses.
P: Was it exciting to you?
A: Oh, bigtime exciting. We would travel the bottom road, and cross what is now Hwy. 47 and go to a landing at Charette Creek. Then we crossed the river to the downtown Washington landing.
Gentle readers, I found this on the Washington Historical Society’s website: “The local ferry ceased operation with the bridge’s opening. Harry Schaefer, who previously operated the ferry, became a toll collector.” The bridge opened in April 1936.
P: What was your first paying job?
A: Well, you don’t get paid when you work for your dad. You’re lucky you’ve got a place to live. So…I guess it was the Augusta Garage for Pete Kemner. I worked there a year or two, and I didn’t get much pay…I think I was paying off dad’s bills that he had there from having a car down in the bottoms. I was probably 14 or 15.
P: Do you consider yourself handy with tools and machinery?
A: Well, at one time I did. I worked on the railroad for a little bit…helped service the rails. I worked there for two years, I guess. Mr. Bratton was the section hand. We had to look at rails every day in a certain territory. One morning we’d go up to Marthasville, and the next day we’d go down as far as Matson and Defiance. Our duty was to take care of our rails…make sure nothing was wrong. My job was taking out the ties when they had to be replaced. We rode on hand cars that we pumped.
After the railroad, I guess I got to be 16, and I started driving a truck in Washington for Fischer Trucking Company. I was going to St. Louis, and picking up freight down there, or meat, or whatever we had to haul. That went on for a while, and then I moved out in 1951. I went with a couple of my buddies to Kansas to work in the wheat fields. But there was such a big flood, we didn’t even get out in the fields. So, I worked for a road contractor in Topeka, Kansas. And after that I did more truck driving for…maybe 6, 7 or 8 years.
P: Did you ever pick up hitch hikers?
A: Not in my life. I don’t believe I ever picked up one.
P: Did you ever get lost driving in STL?
A: Well, I don’t know if I was actually lost. There were a lot of times I didn’t know where I was. You had 3 roads to get out on the route. But I was kinda scared.
After driving I went to work for McDonnell Douglas…for one year…one winter…and I hated that job so bad…you didn’t know if it was raining, snowing or nothing, all day. Then I went into construction, into drywall with some friends. I stayed in that for a long time. I taped drywall for about 11 years. And then I went into carpenter work for my bread and butter. I had to go to St. Charles every morning. That’s where our bosses were, and then we’d get the orders from there before we had to go to work. That’s what I did until I retired 25 years ago.
Gentle readers, I like the word, retired. Retirement gives me time to reflect on my life in southwestern SCC and allows time to write these stories. Thus, ends part one. Besides Grandma Parks’ tomb, I have a photo of Aloys in grade school. There’s also a family photo of Aloys’ mom, dad, and siblings. (Left to right are Ruth, Helen, Mary, Mercedes, John, Richard, Aloys and Paul. Frances and Edmund Struckhoff in front.) And just for grins, some vintage license plates circa Aloys’ youth. And to top it off, I have included a recent photo of Aloys in his kitchen visiting with Craig Mallinckrodt, son of recently interviewed, Ellen Mallinckrodt.
In the next episode we talk about Rita, baseball, dancing, hunting, threshing, floods and more.
Stay tuned, stay in touch…and stay curious.
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