Ellie Searl Stories



CORRUPTION - Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it's set a rolling it must increase. ~ Charles Caleb Colton


Located in the Town of Prattsville, NY, on the left had side of the road on Rte. 23, about one mile past the bridge heading towards Grand Gorge. This cemetery is active and is in excellent condition.

Section 4, Plot 84

Louise A.K. Volckmann, b. 1884, d. 1957
Frederick P. Volckmann, b. 1883, d. 1968

I don’t remember much about my grandmother, other than she was very generous, sweet, and loving, and she adored my father, her only child. Her home smelled like violets and her lemon sponge cakes seemed to rise a foot off the plate. She married my grandfather in 1907 when she was 23 years old, and my dad, born in 1912, became a new love in her life. Her husband, my grandfather, spent the remainder of their marriage resenting that he would have to share his wife's attention with his son.

Grandma died of a massive stroke in the summer of 1957, a few days after her fiftieth wedding anniversary. A Volckmann family reunion combined with a golden anniversary party had been scheduled, so family members, already planning to attend, gathered at my grandfather’s house in Prattsville, NY, and rather than salute fifty years of marriage, they mourned the death of my grandmother.

Grandpa cried and handed out the monogrammed gold pens - party favors designed for the anniversary – now sad mementos of death. Grandma was laid out in the living room beside the grand piano, which my grandma promised to Dick after she and Grandpa died. The grandfather clock, promised to me, ticked in the silence. Friends and relatives sat around the edges of the room on silk-covered Victorian chairs, whispering about Fred and whether or not he would be able to carry on without Louise. My brothers, cousins, and I had to eat in the kitchen so we wouldn’t bother anybody. Grandpa sat in the corner of the dining room, his elbows on the table heavy with funeral food, and sobbed - his wife’s death rendering him inconsolable. Grandpa had lost the only person in the world who would accept him for what he was.

My grandfather was not a nice man. Whenever my brothers and I visited his house or sat with him at dinner or rode in his car, he seemed to enjoy being rude. He was never the kind of grandparent who delighted in being with his grandchildren. Instead, he’d grumble about us under his breath or just go about his business as though we weren’t there – so when he died eleven years after Grandma, not one of us shed a tear.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones who thought poorly of Fredrick P. Volckmann because only five townspeople came to Grandpa’s funeral in 1968. And with the family members who felt obligated to go, a total of twelve showed up. It wasn’t that my grandfather lived so isolated in the Catskills that he couldn’t find any friends. My grandfather was such a curmudgeon that no one in or around Prattsville thought much of him. His many years of grumbling about this or that or the other thing gave him a reputation as the town grouch. So when he died, few noticed. And of those who noticed, few cared.

My husband Ed sat with me and our baby daughter Katie near the front of the funeral parlor and watched my dad scowl down at his dead father.

The undertaker sidled alongside the casket. “Does he look ok?” he asked. “I tried to give him some color. He was kind of pale.”

“He looks pink – and puffy,” Dad grumbled. “And where the hell did you get that awful suit?” Dad pointed to the ill-fitting beige polyester suit with brown piping. It bunched under Grandpa’s armpits and pulled across his belly at the button. “That’s not his.”

“Francis brought it over.”

“Who’s Francis?” Dad snapped. “You mean Florence?”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Volckmann.” The undertaker blotted his forehead with a yellow stained handkerchief. “Florence, yes. She said that suit was the one your father wore for special occasions.”

“Norma!” Dad called to my mother. “Did you see what they put him in?”

Mom sat in the back of the room speaking to Florence, Grandpa’s second cousin and family busy body, whom nobody really liked, but everybody tolerated because for the eleven years after Grandma died, Florence lived with Grandpa - keeping him company, being his traveling companion, doing the shopping and the laundry and the cooking and the housekeeping – something no one else in our family would have volunteered to do. Of course, once the will was read, it became very clear why Florence put up with Grandpa until he died.

Mom looked over at Dad. “What?” And, as was her style, shouted, “I’ll be there in a minute,” then turned back into conversation with Florence, not giving any more attention to my dad, the only one at the viewing, who, up to that point, had actually viewed the body of his dead father.

Ed, Katie, and I joined Dad at the casket. “I’m sorry about Grandpa,” I said, knowing I wasn’t really sorry but figured Dad needed me to be. Grandpa never seemed happy – growling to anyone who’d listen, complaining about us, his only grandchildren, that we weren’t grateful and didn’t acknowledge him enough. “I hope he’s happier in heaven.”

Dad nodded and wiped a tear from the corner of his eye. “He looks horrible.”

Later that afternoon, the attorney came to my grandfather’s home for the reading of the will.

“Mr. Volckmann, your father left you the Cadillac, his diamond pinky ring, and the silver tea service,” the attorney said. He didn’t look up. No one looked up. “He left $3000 to each of the grandchildren, Dick, Dave, and Eloise. If they haven’t finished college, the money goes to their education.” The lawyer cleared his throat. “To Florence, he left the property, the barn, the house, and all the furnishings.”

No mention of the piano or the grandfather’s clock. I thought about the many visits to my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. I didn’t like my grandfather much, but I had fond memories of my grandma’s sponge cake, the vanilla pudding smell of the kitchen, the Little Lulu comic books in the bureau drawer, the huge bathroom upstairs where I played dolls on the green carpet, the whoosh of the waterfall in the river behind the house, the pine log swing in the back yard, the ferns that grew between the green slates of the side patio, and the red-handled pump under the arbor that drew cold water. Regardless of my feeling for my grandfather, I loved the house that rested in the center of the Catskill Mountains. And now it no longer belonged to our family. Now it belonged to Florence.

My heart broke for Dad at the reading of his father’s will. There Dad sat – the rightful heir to this lovely land in the Catskills - listening as his growing-up home was assigned to some distant cousin, a woman who had spent the past eleven years with a bitter old man so she could get her hooks into his valuable property. Dad was forced to relinquish his inheritance to a conniving woman we all thought was doing everyone a favor. How Florence got my grandfather to name her as his main beneficiary was unclear. That my grandfather didn’t leave the house, furnishings, and land to his only son was unfathomable – unforgivable. And the overwhelming hurt that must have caused my dad was incomprehensible.

It was at the reading of the will that it hit me. My dad was just like Grandpa. Disgruntled and forlorn. For years, I blamed my father for being a miserable, overbearing person. He seemed angry all the time – wanting his own way, finding fault with others, feeling left out, demanding attention, and chastising those who didn’t meet his standards, which was frequent. But after being confronted with my grandfather’s wretched disposition and his last will and testament, I realized Dad must have lived in a household of fear and emotional corrosion.

In spite of Grandma’s devotion and love, living under the shadow of Grandpa’s nastiness and constant disapproval, Dad never had a chance to develop into a confident, happy man. Grandpa didn’t offer my Dad the positive bonding vital to father-son relationships. Throughout his growing up years, my dad must have been under so much pressure to please his father, he didn’t notice his confidence was in a continuous process of decay.

Instead, Dad imploded, becoming uncomfortable in his own skin. His self-esteem diminished each time he didn’t meet Grandpa’s standards. With Grandpa’s constant disapproval, Dad must have seen himself as a failure. And with his energy being used up to please his father, his sense of self couldn’t develop.

My grandmother probably tried to mollify the ongoing humiliation, but with men like my grandfather, she didn’t have the wherewithal to combat the stifling oppressiveness. With my grandfather at the controls, Dad never learned how to love himself or the people around him. Instead, he learned to feel inferior, becoming full of insecurities, which he eventually protected behind a wall of fury and resentment – a fury and resentment that seeped into the life Dad started with my mother and into the home that raised my brothers and me.

“Of course, I will give it all back to you in my own will,” Florence said, in what was most likely an aberrant, fleeting state of guilt. But that never happened. She kept it all, willed it to her son, and our family never went to Prattsville again.

Family interactions are not simple incidents between two or more people in a household at any given time. Family interactions give birth to whole personalities, creating behaviors, emotions, and attitudes. Family interactions significantly impact the mind of a child, co-opting opinion, rearranging viewpoint, solidifying disposition, influencing judgment, ultimately defining character and sense of self. Once the child becomes an adult, the self-images gleaned from what seemed like simple family interactions are carried into, and beyond, the next generation.

Our job as parents or guardians is to recognize those destructive behaviors and interactions that erode the spirit and leap to eradicate anything that even hints of the insidious corruption of the soul.

EVS 08/10

“In a house which becomes a home, one hands down and another takes up the heritage of mind and heart, laughter and tears, musings and deeds. Love, like a carefully loaded ship, crosses the gulf between the generations. . . . Let us build memories in our children, lest they drag out joyless lives, lest they allow treasures to be lost because they have not been given the keys. . . . It is needful to transmit the passwords from generation to generation.” from Generation to Generation by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.