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Friday, August 26, 2011

Grandpa Rolf

Walter Rolf, 1893-1945

My Grandpa Rolf died in February, 1945.  I was 22 months old.  My parents and I lived in Barberton, in The Projects, my Uncle Hank was in France, driving transports for the U.S. Army.  There are amazing letters from family and friends to Uncle Hank on the event of grandpa’s death, and I’ll post them in sequence later on.  Mom also wrote some fine passages about her father and about growing up, written for people in the family working on genealogies.  More good reading.

Grandpa Rolf and Joanne, 1943
I have no memory of my grandfather, but I have a good impression of the man he was.  He was humorous.  He was generous.  He had fun.  He loved to travel all over this country, and just consider what roads were in the 1930’s.  He loved technology and owned many cameras, and even moving picture cameras.   He enjoyed himself. His wit must have been close to my dad’s.

I do have one strong memory that involves my grandfather.  Here’s a picture of my mom and brothers, Walt and Mel.  It’s from my Uncle Hank, who got those captions onto pictures.  So, this is “Waiting for the Train”, Christmas 1951, at Grandma Rolf’s,  and there is a small tree on a gate leg table that now lives at Shelly’s house (aside).  In 1944 I was 19 months old at Christmas, a full size tree stood where there is a lamp in the window, and the train track went around the tree.  Same train my brothers are waiting on in 1951.  In 1944 and 19 months old I leaned down and picked up the locomotive.  I picked it up with two hands, palms down on the top. I gripped it with little fingers.  It was HEAVY!  I turned around and carried it the length of the living room,  my arms extended full length. I put the engine in my Grandpa’s lap.  He said, “Put it back.”  I lifted that sucker and carried it back to the track.  I have such a memory of the weight of it!
My Mom was fond of her dad, and close.  She had stories.  She told asking her dad why he used a knife in one hand and fork in the other to eat.  Not the way her mom taught herself and her brother.  “To defend my food from all my brothers and sisters!”  Like realizing my dad was Sparks, years later she realized he dad was an only child.  Once she asked him for money for something.  He said he had none.  She told him he could just write a check.  Probably analogous to a toddler telling a parent today to stop at the ATM.

In the front porch window of Grandma’s house hung a glass sign with gold lettering, facing the street.  When I was very young I sat on the swing on the porch behind the sign and puzzled out those strange letters:



All the individual letters were backward, too. One day I saw they made sense if I turned them around:
“Watchmaker” was no mystery to me, although there no longer was a W. E. Rolf in the house.  My Uncle Hank, my mother and my father all repaired watches and clocks in the 1940’s; Uncle Hank in a workshop in his basement and my parents in the spare room at our house.  Uncle Hank refurbished and gave me a Westclock Big Ben when I went to college.

At my grandma’s house, and later at Uncle Hank’s house, there was a lathe that was mighty handy.  I especially remember it was used to turn screw threads on whatever handy dowel rod was commandeered to make a new croquet mallet handle.  It turns out, that was a mighty important lathe.  The U.S. Army gave it to my grandfather.  I have the bill of lading. 
First, my grandfather gave his lathe to the U.S. Army.  Not to get one in exchange, he had no idea that would happen.  He DONATED his lathe to the cause when this country was gearing up for war.  I have that receipt, too.

But, Grandpa Rolf quickly became part of gearing up for and going to war.  He designed the works for a time recorder that the army went on to use and he was given the contract to manufacture them.  He needed a lathe.  So, the Army gave him one to replace the one he donated. The parts of a watch, and a time-keeping machine, must be fabricated.  I imagine the inside of an analog watch today is mass stamped gears.  A digital watch is circuit boards.  If they are even purchased and worn these days.  It’s as easy to glance at the cell phone as the wrist.  And, horology is the science of measuring time. I can understand that keeping things on time in the Army would be important.

I have only a photocopy of a photocopy of the newspaper bit about my grandfather.  I’m going to guess it was in the late 1930’s, while grandpa still had the original lathe.  It probably was a human interest type story.  The mind can easily fill in the missing words on the left margin, so I’m not going to retype the article. 
That’s some background on my Grandpa Rolf.  Now reading letters from home and my mom’s accounts will be really interesting.  I’ll get going on them.

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