The father of written history was Herodotus. When the author Ryszard Kapuscinski wrote his definitive work Travels with Herodotus, he said:
“Everyone colors after his fashion, brews up his own melange of reminiscences. Therefore, getting through to the past itself, the past as it really was, is impossible. What are available to us are only various versions, more or less credible, one another of them suiting us better at any given time. The past does not exist. There are only infinite renderings of it.”
July 1965 was the best of times, the worst of times. I loved every second I could be in Flanders Music. I hated, for the first time in my life, to be personally touched by death. Buddy Holly was a far off concept, my grandpa was someone I could touch, smell, see whenever I wanted to. And in an instant I couldn’t do any of those things ever again.
That baby, born in the same century as the Civil War, lived his life and was now gone. For the first time I experienced that some lives were long and some lives were not so long.
My grandfather, the father of my mother, was the kindest, most gentle, most beloved man I had ever met. He had lost his hearing while working at Hoover Ball and Bearing in Ann Arbor. So I always knew him to wear one of those old types of hearing aids. The kind when you wanted to check the battery you would put your hand by your ear and the thing would make a loud whistle sound. But you always knew he was listening and that he cared.
He was of german descent, Carl Rossbach. His people immigrated to South Dakota because it reminded them of the part of Germany they came from. You could farm there and that is what the Rossbach’s did in Alcester South Dakota. Carl met and married the love of his entire life, a Swedish girl, Eunice Larsen. I knew them to be devoted to each other and my grandpa protected my grandma until the day he died.
Carl and Eunice had only one child, my mother Betty Jane Rossbach. Perhaps the reason they only had one child was because my mom was bigger than life. One was all they could hope to handle. Carl tried farming in a difficult time to be a farmer, the twenties and thirties. He lost his farm during the depression and then bought a gas station in Alcester.
Leaving the farm for the city was hard on the entire family. But, my mom, little Betty, found her place in town. She was a talented pianist and was in every play or theater production at every grade level. When she found out they didn’t have a piano in the Alcester High School Marching Band, she learned to play the bass drum. Carl (Harold) and Eunice were in seventh heaven watching their little girl take over every musical expedition she ever tried.
The depression was cruel to any business. The gas station was losing money so Harold heard about all of the jobs that paid good money, in Michigan. He made arrangements to sell the gas station and headed to Michigan. Aha, but little Betty was a senior in High School and she refused to leave South Dakota. So, my mom and grandma stayed in Alcester while grandpa went to Michigan.
Grandpa landed a job with a new company that manufactured ball bearings for cars. He also found a house that would be a house I came to know and love. Once Betty and Eunice got to Ann Arbor the family was reunited…with one small wrinkle…Mom had met and become engaged to a guy that was about to be shipped out to Europe with Patton’s Fifth Army.
My grandpa was the head usher of the First United Methodist Church, a position he held for 35 years. At one point he went 30 straight years without missing a Sunday. That is not done anymore. Everyone loved Carl and he loved being a part of that community. He lived the motto; Strangers are friends you haven’t met yet.
And then he was not there anymore. I recall that my mom had to make all of the funeral arrangements because my grandma was inconsolable. She was paralyzed. I hated seeing that and I hated not knowing what to do to help her. I also hated the funeral. At the time I thought, I will never go to another one of those things again. My feelings were so raw and I couldn’t stop the hurt.
And, how things happen…I never would have thought I would be involved in death so closely. In one of my careers I would know more about death than I ever wanted to know. In another of my careers, I conducted many funerals, including both my Mom’s and Dad’s. Funny how life is in retrospect.
My mom now had the task of taking care of her mother. Grandma had no concept of money, Grandpa had never told her about money, she didn’t even know how to make out a check. So, my Mom was taken away from the store for a number of weeks while Dad and I ran the whole thing.
Back on the weekends, which was actually only Sunday, Dad and I helped clean out Grandpa’s basement as they made the decision that Grandma couldn’t live in Ann Arbor with us in Tecumseh. I did have some time to go into Grandpa’s basement and see an amazing sight.
Back in the corner, away from the window that was the old coal Shute, and behind the monstrosity of a furnace that made a horrific noise when it was about to kick on, was a little room that was locked for most of my childhood. Evidently Van knew where the key was because I know he went in there. But now, it was unlocked. The walls of this hiding place were covered with old calendars from the gas station. The calendars that grandpa kept in the back of the station and would let the old dudes see if they knew the password.
The old original Vargas calendars. I went in as many times as I could and for a pubescent boy, it was a wonder to behold. I never knew what became of those calendars I would be willing to bet Van somehow took them when no one was looking.
Speaking of Van, he had a friend all through high school who live right behind grandma and grandpa. This kid picked up a guitar when he was young and kept at it. He formed a band and would play at all the high school dances. They started to play at clubs when they were older. He got pretty good at the guitar. Then he wanted to add an electric piano to the band. So, this kid asked Van if he could ask his parents to get him this instrument. I remember ordering it and when it came in Dad and I loaded it into our station wagon and drove it from the store in Tecumseh back to our house on North Circle in Ann Arbor.
The kid came over with other guys in his band and picked it up. He promised to make installment payments on it every month…but that is a whole other story. The kid did pretty well for himself. His name was Bob Seeger.
Funny how things work out.
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