Mom and I took a quick trip up to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago to attend a funeral; her 90 year-old cousin Phyllis had passed away after a short illness. This was yet another of her cousins that I had never met.
We did travel to South Carolina about a year ago to visit Phyllis’ younger brother Jon and his wife Carol, and based on the stories he shared with me about growing up and his relationship with the sister who was more than 15 years his senior, I knew this was a difficult time for him.
As much as I wanted to pay my respects to Jon and his wife, I will admit to having an ulterior motive for the trip: I wanted to meet mom’s other three surviving cousins to see if they were just as interesting and warmhearted as Jon.
Spoiler alert: They weren’t. So I guess now I understand why mom really hasn’t made a push to reconnect with the cousins I met at the funeral. But I did have a chance to observe all the cousins interact as a group and learn a bit more about their shared family history.
Over the course of the the past two years, I’ve learned a lot about mom’s family.
Her great grandfather, Sigmund S. Streebech, was born in 1856 in Merdigen, Baden-Württemberg (the southeastern corner of present-day Germany) and immigrated to the U.S. around 1870, settling in the Pittsburgh area.
Sigmund married Elizabeth Bets sometime around 1880 and opened a butcher shop in Crafton, Pa., a small town northwest of Pittsburgh. Sigmund and Elizabeth had five children: my great grandmother Elenora (1881), Albert (1882), Elizabeth (1884), Charles (1886) and Sigmund, Jr. (1892).
Our visit to cousin Jon last year yielded this wonderful photo of the family outside their home/butcher shop located at 10 Station Street in Crafton:
The building still stands. It’s now an office affiliated with the Catholic church next door, which explains the big blue donation bins:
Mom swears that she used to point out this building to us kids during our less-than-pleasant annual duty visits to my Grandmother Rink in Crafton, but I must have blocked that all out…
I love the fact that Sigmund came to America with little more than the clothes on his back, a trade and a desire to succeed, and managed to build what was, by all accounts, a very successful business.
It’s clear that Sigmund was proud of his success — just look at the family portrait above. He could have had the photo taken in a studio; instead he chose to arrange his family around the tangible symbol of his success — his home and shop.
Jon found the photo below — a real treasure — when he was going through Phyllis’ papers after she died. I love that it shows the name of the business (the American spelling, since the original German spelling is “Strübich”) and a THREE digit phone number. Although the photo isn’t dated or labelled, we believe that the man holding the horse is Sigmund’s son Albert Streebech, around age 16.
Sigmund died in 1932 and while the business survived the Great Depression, Albert struggled to keep the business going amid the anti-German sentiments of World War II. Eventually, he closed the butcher shop and sold the family home on Station Street. Sad to think that all Sigmund’s hard work and dreams of prosperity were destroyed by small-mindedness and prejudice disguised as “patriotism.”
As I stood in the cemetery in Carnegie where three generations of Streebechs now lay buried, I looked around at Sigmund’s five surviving great grandchildren from his daughter Elenora and I saw — at least in my mom and Cousin Jon — a family legacy of strength, determination and courage. His grandkids, born during the Great Depression and raised in very straightened circumstances, have gone on to build their own businesses and forge paths that their own parents never dreamed about.
And that’s a success story.