I was a young teen when I first met Paul Steinweg Sr., or “Stewy,” the man who would become my father-in-law. It took a long time for me to get used to the thick German accent he had that carried through in every sentence, even though he’d been in this country for decades.
He came here as a teen himself, leaving his whole family behind. Since he didn’t talk a whole lot about his upbringing and I hesitated to ask questions, I’m not completely clear on how he ended up here. It seems I’ve heard bits through family over the years that it was a job opportunity paired with the desire to distance himself from some of the radical Nazi youth organizations that were still trying to recruit young men in the post-war years.
For the first many years I knew him, I thought of his time in Germany as one jovial beer hall celebration after another, but as I got older and learned more about history I realized that was far from the case. Stewy was born just a year before Germany invaded Poland, which was the start of World War II.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when I was viewing a museum exhibit about the war in Europe that included a large photo of some children dressed in torn clothing sitting on the street in front of a bombed-out building in Germany that it hit me. Stewy would have been the same age as those very young kids in the photo during that time. As a child, living in a country at war was all he knew.
It’s my understanding that his father was a police chief in the town he lived in and at some point during the war, his father left his family and went into hiding to avoid having to follow through with the orders of the Nazis.
Once in a while Stewy would talk about a dog he had as a pet when he was a child or the orchards near his house where he would pick fresh fruit, but he never shared much about growing up in Germany. One thing he did recall fondly was when the American pilots flew overhead dropping small parachutes with candy bars attached for the children around Berlin.
In the early 1960s he served in the U.S. Army and not long ago when just the two of us were sitting and chatting on my front porch, he told me a story I’d never heard before about being in a plane carrying bombs over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Stewy had three daughters before my husband was born, so when we married, it probably wasn’t a huge thrill to be gaining a daughter, but he definitely wanted to see his name carried on. He wanted a grandson with the Steinweg name and I was the gal who could do that. I gave him not one, but five grandsons to carry on the Steinweg name. He had 14 grandkids in all and he relished the role of being “Grandpa.”
Since the time I was 14, Stewy was part of every Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter. Every Father’s Day was a backyard barbecue at his place or ours. He was there for every one of the kids’ birthday parties and graduations and other significant events. After a cancer diagnosis, he tried his hardest to still be there. His last trip out of the house was to see his grandson graduate from the Fire Academy. Last week, Stewy passed away, and it’s starting to sink in that he won’t be here anymore for holidays and birthdays and front porch chats.
When he had quadruple bypass surgery about three years ago, he was excited to learn that his operation would be televised for medical students. Ever since then, he talked about donating his body to science for medical research, and that’s what he did. We sure will miss him.