No, this is my mother’s brother, Ralph Lynn Hoover, and his first wife, Ethel. Behind them is his prized Model A. He parted from whatever the Hoover family disposition might have been and became a Lutheran, presumably because of his habit of marrying Swedish women. Ethel died in a car crash in the early 60s that left a dent in Ralph’s head, so (unrelated to the dent) he married Alice Ahlstrand, whose first husband had died rather young. They hung out at one of Moline’s Lutheran tabernacles, possibly Salem.
Ralph was particularly lucky in the second marriage, if happiness is the best measure of luck. I visited them now and then at the Honeymoon Mobile Home Park, in Dunedin, Florida, which found its way—along with some of Ralph’s stories of life there—into a few short stories and a novel.
Despite the Gatsby look, he was a solid and decent man. Don’t know if there is a story of Ralph in the Jazz Age. He was proud of having worked all through the Great Depression, selling auto supplies on a wide circuit, and he was proud of having held his shares of Cities Service common stock all the way through, collecting dividends.
Alice’s sons were pretty much grown by the time Ralph came along. Steve, with the YMCA, died young. Kenneth, also gone now, was a Lutheran pastor. Alice’s daughter, Kris, adored Ralph.
Ralph and Ethel had two children, Kenneth Hoover and Nancy Hoover (later Thornton). I see that Nancy joined the Great Majority, as people used to say, a few years ago. I believe Ken is still around. He came back from Korea and married a drop-dead gorgeous Southern girl named Katie. The later generation of Hoovers, Ahlstrands, and Thorntons all produced an array of grandchildren for Ralph and Alice. I don’t remember anything of the grandchildren except a vague image of a girl at a piano; it must have been around the time of Ralph’s funeral. When I asked if she could play Schubert, she had only hymns.
When we’d visit Riverside Cemetery, where his parents and sister lay, we would check out the inscriptions and Ralph would reminisce about Moline. Someone should have recorded those details, the where-this-and-thats-were, not that they’re important except to someone who heard them.
Midwesterners have a well-earned reputation as church-goers, which Ralph and Alice assuredly were. But he had a sense of humor. He puzzled me one time with the question, “Why did Moline get all the Swedes and Rock Island [the city next door] all the blacks?” I didn’t know. Ralph explained, enjoying his mischief, “Rock Island got first pick.” The bluest story I remember him telling was about four older fellows who visit the grocery where a young clerk wears a very short skirt. When the first gentleman asks for raisin bread, she has to climb a ladder to reach the shelf. The old boys watch with pleasure. Then the second fellow asks for the same thing, and she’s barely back down the ladder when the third man does as well. She climbs back up to the top of the ladder and, exasperated, asks the fourth man, “Is yours raisin, too?” He responds, “No, but it’s twitchin’ a mite.”
When Ralph died, in 1987, the service included his favorite hymn, “Living for Jesus.” You can love people without having some important things in common with them. I certainly admired his hanging onto that stock.
July 6 2017