Note: Over my time at CC I’ve written a number of articles reflecting upon various automotive related family events. However, from the automotive standpoint, there are other persons and events that stick out and whose story is yearning to be told.
Marvin Eichstetter lived across the road from my maternal grandparents, “Albert” and “Iris”. Raised in an orphanage, Marvin (usually referred to as “Ike”) farmed his unknown number of acres. Every warm day a person could drive by on Route N and see the results of Ike’s effort. He had his row crops on the north side of the road and his cattle on the south side, adjacent to my grandparents 10 acres.
Periodically during my visits to my grandparents, Ike would stop by in his mid-1970s Chevrolet pickup. Despite his considerable frugality, Ike had spent some cash on his pickup; it was a two-tone and it obviously had a V8 under the hood given the sound it made. It was not a bare-bones example by any measure.
As a child, I always knew the atmosphere with my grandparents changed whenever thin-as-a-rail Ike would stop by. My grandmother would linger long enough to say hi and would announce she had laundry or dishes to attend to – anything to get her back inside. As a very young child, the only thing amiss to me was Ike wore nothing but a pair of short shorts and tennis shoes. It was obvious Ike dressed this way frequently as he had a near mahogany sheen.
My grandfather was utterly unfazed by what Ike wore (or, rather, didn’t wear). They would talk about cattle, grain prices, and the weather. However, when Grandpa had to go to Ike’s house about something pertinent, he never let me accompany him. This was uncharacteristic, always making me wonder why.
As I got older, Ike’s Chevrolet pickup stuck around. For that area of Southeast Missouri, it was far enough south that winter didn’t bring as much calcium and sodium chloride for snow removal purposes, so even a famously rust-prone vehicle such as Ike’s Chevrolet never developed full-on cancer. However, it sure did age as Ike used it hard every day.
During the years I grew up, the pieces about Ike started to slowly fall into place. As the puzzle came together the resultant picture was an interesting one.
For a long time I never knew if Ike was married or not. Asking my grandmother about this one day, I got more than I had anticipated. To roughly quote her:
“Yes, Ike is married. His wife’s name is Marie. She was a mail-order bride from somewhere up in Quebec and speaking English isn’t her strong suit. Marie is a difficult person as every time I’ve seen her she’s barking orders to Ike faster than he can carry them out.
“She’s also eccentric. I was there one day and was surprised to see she had a cat since that was another mouth to feed. She spoke French to the cat, telling me how cats mind her as they universally understand French, not English or any other language.”
I never met Marie.
Of course, I was only in Ike’s house once to deliver some Christmas candy. The house itself was a fairly innocuous two-story that had some years on it. It was rather cold and sparsely furnished and Ike did not turn on any lights while we were there.
Ike’s aversion to electricity was tied into his breathtaking frugality, a trait he addressed on many fronts. These behaviors flew in the face of his having such a well-equipped pickup and something I would later learn was his only allowance of any type of extravagance.
When I was in high school, conversation during a visit to my grandparents house revealed Ike had inadvertently left the water on to his cattle feeder. Doing so meant the pump to Ike’s well ran all night, burning electricity. Ike had told Grandpa this was so disastrous to him, he had punished himself for two weeks by parking his pickup and using a wheelbarrow along with going to bed after dinner and not watching the broadcast news. Ike had figured this would offset his well pump having ran for about ten hours.
Food was also a consideration. Along about this same time, my grandparents were beginning to question Ike’s sanity. It appears another disclosure from Ike revealed he and Marie were eating once daily, with their sole menu item being a bologna sandwich with lard and cake icing as condiments.
The most memorable was a story told to me by my grandfather’s younger half-brother Clem. Clem had been visiting grandpa one day and the need to go see Ike arose. Grandpa had told Clem to be prepared but, as Clem told me, “I told Al I’d been in the Army; not much surprised me.”. Well, Clem was wrong; he was surprised. As he told me:
“We got there, Jason, and your grandpa went tearing off between the house and barn yelling for Ike. He didn’t want to go in the house. Anyway, we heard Ike yelling back from the barn. After we got past his old Chevy pickup, there was the damnedest sight I’d ever seen – Ike was sitting there buck naked milking a cow. Your grandpa didn’t tell me Ike was a nudist! He said that son of a bitch went around naked half the year! Your grandpa set me up.”
As Grandpa wisely observed, a person can save a lot on clothing, water, and laundry detergent by going around naked. Plus, if you have short shorts, it doesn’t take as much water to clean them. It also helped explained how, as my grandfather was later unsurprised to learn, Ike had a couple million dollars in the bank.
Ike finally broke down and bought a new Chevrolet pickup around 1990. Like his last pickup, it wasn’t a base model as his new one even had chrome wheels. But this pickup didn’t last long.
A few years later, Marie was having health issues and Ike decided to put her in a nursing home. Not wanting to be alone, Ike sold everything and moved in with her. Ike died about twenty years ago but it is impossible for me to see any two-toned Chevrolet pickup from the 1970s without thinking of Marvin Eichstetter.