By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
I couldn’t help but reflect on passing eras in recent days. Blockbuster announced that its once-vast, video-rental empire was down to a single location. And, Sears announced it was closing its last store in Chicago, the city where it built its mighty legacy.
The worst for me, though, came when my Aunt Helen, a fighter for 96 years, left us for another life.
As far as passing eras go, I’ll remember my aunt long after Sears and Blockbuster are dust in the history books.
To say she led a simplistic life would be an understatement. She never had credit cards, did not drive, had no children, lived in the same house for more than 70 years and had a memory unlike anyone I ever met.
She was also as independent, stubborn and cantankerous as they came. My uncle, her late husband of 61 years, used to call her “Hellion,” an appellation of which she was quite proud. She may have been slow of foot, but no one — I mean no one — tried to pull a fast one on her.
Helen Taubold lived in Sulphur Springs, Mo., a tiny community in Jefferson County, in a home she built with her husband, high on a bluff with a wonderful view of the barges plying the Mississippi River. She had a front porch with large windows that inspired her to write many poems. One of the best was called, “Homeward Bound,” an ode to people’s afterlife. She was called upon many times to read it at local funerals.
Her town was quite famous. In 1922, it was home to a wreck involving two trains that killed 34 people, one of the worst ever. My uncle, a youngster then, grew up in the community and climbed on the derailed and splintered cars. He eventually recounted to me the tales of the dead and dying.
Years later, the two of them watched a plane pass over their roof and crash into the river, killing the lone pilot. And, in a subsequent incident, they spotted a teenage boy’s body floating down river, the victim of a bluff fall. My uncle, who had been fishing at the time, dragged the body to shore. My aunt helped pull him out.
Those were among the best stories I heard, repeated from the time I could remember hearing them, but they were far from the only stories, living as they did along the river and the train tracks that passed nearby. Sulphur Springs was flooded many times, and residents’ only choice was to stay at home or get in and out of town by boat.
It seems almost unbelievable that one couple — one town — could have seen so much. My uncle died in 2001, but my aunt kept the tales alive.
I’m ashamed to say that during the last 25 years or so, I simply didn’t get to see her as often as I would have liked, and many times that I did she was in the hospital or in a rehab unit. She suffered more maladies than she deserved, from heart to cancer to stroke, but she rebounded so often I never ceased to be amazed.
Although she’d been legally blind for some 40 years, she took great pleasure in “reading” my newspaper columns. First, she did it under a large, electronic magnifier that was her lifeline to the outside world. In later years, a good friend sat and read it to her.
She had some peculiar ways, as most of us do, but they were endearing. She had no computer, no cellphone, no use for some things that so many of us can’t live without. But her austere lifestyle was a lesson for everyone: You can live a full life without all the frills.
I loved the woman. I’ll miss her and one day I hope to see her again. And when I do, I’m sure she’ll chastise me for not visiting sooner.
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or (618) 977-6865.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH