My World of Parkinsonian Delights

A Glimpse Into the Past

My sister, Becki, posted this photo on her Facebook page yesterday.

Becki said she got it from Mom, and it was apparently published some years ago in the Clinton Herald — back when it was an actual newspaper.  This was taken in 1914 in my Grandfather’s back yard on the north end of Clinton, Iowa — back when it was a town unto itself, Lyons, Iowa.

A portion of Lyons, Iowa -- 1868

The map is from an 1868 lithograph of Lyons.  The red circle is where the house was.  The big church on the right in St. Irenaeus, where we all worshipped when we were kids.  We have good reason to believe that Grandpa purchased the property from Elijah Buell, the fellow who basically founded the city.  And it looks like a bunch of good friends posing with some good beer — and either a child or a midget.  (I showed the picture to my stepson, T.J.  He said, “There’s proof that, even way back then, there was nothing to do in Clinton, Iowa.”

Can you guess which of these guys is my grandfather?

Johann C. Schmalfeldt (1880-1945)

That’s him, 5th from the left.  This was taken, I believe, before he married my grandmother.  It was 14 years before my father was born.

That fellow, second from the right?  That’s my grandpa’s half brother, Fred Gerhardt.  My Uncle Freddie.  Notice one thing about him?  He has no eyes.

I never knew my grandpa.  He died in 1945, 10 years before I was born.  I knew and loved my Uncle Fred.  He was a great old guy who lived about 6 blocks north of where this photo was taken.  When we were kids and we’d visit Granny, sometimes we’d all stroll up to Uncle Fred’s house to pass the afternoon.  There was no running water in his house.  He had a pump and an outhouse in his yard.  He killed himself with a rifle shot to the chest in the late 70s.

This part of the story is fictionalized in my book, “Hunky Dunk.”

If the ancestral Klempers were poor farmers, they were friggin’ “Old MacDonald” compared to Grandpa Johan.  He couldn’t grow grass!  Now, whether or not he was actually booted off the farm or decided by himself to move to the city depends on which version of the story you believe – the story about how he either accidentally or on purpose blinded his brother Friedrich.

If you believe the “nice Grandpa” story, then you believe that he was just cutting shoelaces out of a strap of leather when Uncle Friedrich came up behind him to see what he was doing and caught the blade of Grandpa’s buck knife in the left eye.  In the “bad Grandpa” story, he just jabs the blade in his brother’s eye because he didn’t like the way Friedrich was looking at him.  Well, they didn’t have the Blue Cross or those HMOs back then, so the family just sort of let the eye take care of itself – which was admittedly a bad idea since the stabbed eye started to smell bad and the infection spread from the bad eye to the good eye and both eventually had to come out.

And here’s a side note.  Don’t go feeling too bad about Uncle Friedrich.  For one thing, he outlived Grandpa by about thirty years.  And he had a pretty good life for a blind guy.  The government bought him a nice little house up the road on Garfield Street with an outhouse and a water pump in the front yard.  And Friedrich learned how to make do.  I remember sitting on his side porch with him, watching him pick off mud ducks on the nearby lagoon with a .22 rifle.  Honest to God!  He could sight them in by sound alone and pick ‘em off with a single shot!  He lived to a ripe old age until one day he shot himself through the heart with that same .22 rifle.  Grandma Genny said it was an accident.  He was cleaning the rifle and it went off.  But Jake and me, we think he just got tired of waking up every day.

The actual story is that Fred and Grandpa John were playing bows and arrows or something, and a stick went into Fred’s eye.  The part about the family just sorta taking a “wait and see” attitude and the infection spreading to both eyes is true.  And he could, honest to God, pick off mud ducks with a single shot just by honing in on their quacking.

But back to my Grandpa.  Here’s how that house looks now.

That’s my sister-in-law, Kerri, doing something on the front porch.  That one story portion you see on the left… that was the whole house when my Grandpa bought it.  When he married Granny, he added on the two-story brick structure on the right.

Granny lived there until she died in 1988.  Then my brother Jack and his wife took possession.  Jack died in 2008, so now Kerri is the keeper of the old family homestead.  Long may it stay in the Schmalfeldt family!

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