My Grandfather William Pahlke came to the United States to avoid the catastrophe in Europe just before the first World War. He was officially born in East Prussia, Russia, but if asked he would tell you he was not a Russian, nor a German, though he spoke fluently in the language of the Fatherland, as did his wife Sophia (born in Nebraska of German heritage). One of my first memories of the Son-of-a-Bitch was of him telling me, a five year old boy sitting on his Grandfather’s lap, he was a god damn pollock. I cannot really know what he actually was, but I can tell you one thing positivity. He was not a very nice man to be around.
Now do not get the impression that I disliked my Grandfather Pahlke. I did not dislike him. I loathed him. That “L” word is strong for a kid that only could remember him from age three until his death in 1961. When he died, my contact with him ended and I was eight. Those eight years constructed my feelings toward him and today if he stood in front of me, I would address him in a not so good fashion. He was not a nice man. Have I said that already?
Grandfather Pahlke was many things, including a very successful businessman. Unlike his persona, he was a truly giving man that made the lives of others better, and a man of rather high morality for a somewhat heathen person. Yes, that last sentence does not make sense does it. Well, most people are part good and part not so good. That was my Grandfather and as a child I did not like to be around him and his disrespect for his adult son. He was not nice toward my Dad.
He was not into possessions, as he drove a Model A Ford truck almost 40 years old when he died. He wore crude clothing, and some would say he looked like a bum off California Street in OKC. The average “joe” thought of him as a poor soul, in mind and in look. He was like many men of the day, and yes, he did not bathe much. His wine breath that could drop a goat at ten feet. Yes, he produced his own grape wine as of his home winery located in a two car garage. He had his own vines that produced enough to wine to have his kids stomp the grapes in two large barrels he had on site. I think he also bought grapes to supplement his own, as the amount he produced was large. He did not sell his brew (against the law) but he drank enough of it that he never was in need for a bootlegger. He also gave many five gallon jugs to his friends and some customers.
My Grandfather was a master of his finances, with the business of buying and selling, and with the knowledge of the laws that governed the issues of commerce. He was always finding properties to buy. Plus, he was known for his word, always. If he said something you could bank on it being true. If he threatened you, he would follow through on his threat. Never tolerating anyone that tried to put one over on him, he was like a firecracker already lit. When that happened, as I was told, his violent nature would surface and to this day I cannot understand how he kept out of prison as of assault or worse on someone. He was a person that could and would put a physical hurt on you, and if he said he would do something to you if you challenged him, he would. I know of two incidents that his “workers” had to hold him back as of his serious threats almost became actions of extreme violence.
He was generous with his money and his children had an unlimited amount of money on a daily basis as they grew up. Money for the movies and new clothes. Money for anything they wanted. They could rob the grocery cash register at their leisure. The grocery was always thriving and the family finances were always in good shape.
My Dad and his sisters had the best of clothes, toys, and a sundry of items to live lives of well-to-do children from a wealthy family. My Dad was presented with a brand new car on his 16th birthday in 1933 and was only told by his Dad “do not wreck it.” You would know that my Dad was only four blocks from home on his first drive and had a collision with another auto at NW 16th and Penn. My Dad took that four block walk home to tell his Dad but did not get a spanking. My Dad and Aunts were never hit for punishment.
Dad was totally out-of-control by age eight and was taken out of the public schools and sent to the local Catholic school just a few blocks from home. Then Nuns wore him out often, but my Dad never said bad things about Rosery School and the Nuns. My Dad was smart enough to grasp the understanding that he deserved every beating he got at the Catholic school. And he told me they wore him out plenty.
I can not remember any conversation between my Dad and his Father without a dilate of negativity toward the son by the father, which included many “god damns” and “son-of-a-bitchs” included. Those were his words and nothing else. Never an “F” word. But they were said with meanness and a viciousness reserved for the son, my Dad. Did my Grandfather actually know what he was saying or how he was acting toward my Dad? I cannot tell you but my Dad did tell me that one look or word from my Grandmother would shut the man down immediately. That told me that the woman behind the man was actually the lead of the family in those sort of family issues and that meant that my grandparents were in fact somewhat a “modern” family as of the role of the mother having a say in what goes. She had that strong German influence that was not mistaken by anyone that knew her. She was the nicest and most loving grandmother one could have. The fact that I cried more when she passed at my early age than when my own Mom and Dad died years later says it all. I loved her without question and no issues.
With the good my Grandfather did display in his life, those acts were driven by his ingenuity of business and a strong foreseeing of the future. He was a man that came to the United States with the clothes on his back in within a short ten years was a successful neighborhood grocery store owner in Oklahoma City.
By the time World War 2 began, he had ballooned his personal empire to include not only many commercial real estate properties (on the best side of town) but became a noted owner of many single and duplex homes for rental. The fact of the matter he made his million dollars during the Great Depression as of one significant thing. Everyone has to eat and everyone has to buy food. My Grandfather, through a neighborhood grocery, sold his inventory to the homes of the Gatewood and Las Vegas Neighborhoods (near Northwest Oklahoma City}. He cleaned up if you get my drift.
He gave credit at his grocery, had a delivery system (my Dad on his bike), and was noted for his meat market (he was a butcher by trade), fresh produce that he grew much of in his large garden, and some excellent deli sandwiches and soups that were prepared by my Grandmother. His neighborhood grocery was only small in size, not in what he could sell and make money off of. His peers of the day, the Schwab’s, the Harris’s, the Kamp’s, all good friends, continued their businesses as started. Schwabs Meat Company, Harris Meat Packing, and Kamp’s Grocery, were all founded by men that came over from the same part of Europe and all became successful Oklahomans. My Grandfather pivoted into real estate with his earnings. He turned his profits into buying up properties all over north OKC when land was cheap and most others did not have a clue on the future of the city. For example, he purchased a rather large corner (SE) at NW 23rd and Pennsylvania when the two roads were in fact dirt with a common four way stop. That corner in time would have a gas station, a car lot, an ice dock, another small retail buiding, and an outdoor watermelon stand (in summer). Five leased businesses on one corner. Do that with other corners in OKC and my Grandfather became a man with means.
After the Second World War he sponsored the first child refugee to the Oklahoma City area. My future Aunt was a child of five from parents that had been killed and burned in a fire bombing in one of the major German cities the Allies targeted. She survived and in 1946 my Grandfather took her off the TWA at the Oklahoma City Airport and made her part of his family. My Grandfather also brought over to the US relatives that survived the War. So there was some good in the man in all truth. Plus the fact that my Grandfather did not see color as in the skin of a man. His acceptance of all people regardless of color has filtered down with me and my sons.
My Grandfather’s story is one of a strong willed man that became successful as of this country and it’s opportunities. The original store at 20th and Penn in NW OKC still stands as does my Grandfather’s home at the corner of that intersection. My Grandfather had a plan to make his mark in America, first starting as a meat cutter in Kentucky, Illinois and finally Oklahoma. With a first grocery on the NE side of OKC, he moved it to the NW side. He turned a local neighborhood grocery into a successful real estate business through his own ingenuity and sweat. He was not lazy. He was tough and old school, as of his Homeland. He was not a privileged man when he came to the USA. He was not all that great in some personal matters, but he had what some people do not have and will never understand. He had a vision and a plan and he followed through on it. And he did it as many that came to America did during his time. He was flawed and not of the Greatest Generation. He was one that fathered that Greatest Generation and gave those Americans what was needed to keep this country viable for its survival.