Surnames: GRAFF, HAGEMAN, IMIG, MEINBERG, ROCKER
Landmarks: THE CORNER CAFE
THE SEWARD CIVIC CENTER
SEWARD TOWN SQUARE
Thursday, August 9, 2001, lunchtime
I emerged from the convenience store not with the map of Seward I had gone in there after but with the revelation that, thank goodness, at least some people in this town were still familiar with my family name IMIG. Heading back up the sidewalk toward Seward Town Square where I had last seen my brother, I spotted a boy coming my way on a bicycle.
"Do you know where the Seward and Greenwood Cemeteries are?" I asked, wondering if one so young would know such things. He frowned thoughtfully, then pointed up the road and said, "Well, the North Cemetery is out of town a couple of miles that way, and the Greenwood Cemetery is up Second Street a few blocks." Thanking him, I puzzled about whether this "North Cemetery" was the same as the "Seward Cemetery" whose entrance sign I clearly remembered seeing in photos.
I spotted my brother up the street and yelled our family's "here I am" signal, "Yo!" and flagged him down. Clearly, Brian had been asking some questions of his own, for he reported, "Everyone seems to agree that the best place for lunch is the Corner Cafe," and gestured to the humble diner on the other side of the crosswalk. "One man said, 'The service is great, and the food is good.'"
And so, giving up on the fabled lunch whistle, we stepped through the glass doors of the tiny Corner Cafe, and were transported back in time. Once inside, we stopped and stared at the pre-World War II interior, the counter with its round, chrome-stemmed stools, and the neat little booths. It was as if we had walked right into the 1930's, or maybe into a Carson McCullers novel.
If anything in the San Francisco Bay area still looks like this, I haven't seen it. For me it evoked happy memories of a day long ago, sitting at an ice-cream counter in San Bernardino, California with my mother and Grandma Alice Hageman Imig, all three generations digging into hot fudge sundaes with equal gusto. And of having lunch with my mother in Ladyman's Cafe in Bloomington, Indiana, where I went to college in the 1970's; she loved their country-style food and especially their homemade noodles , which she said reminded her of Nebraska.
The Corner Cafe was not crowded, so we helped ourselves to a booth by the window. At once an energetic, white-haired waitress wearing bifocals welcomed us with a smile, brought us menus, and offered us coffee. "Do you have corn on the cob?" Brian asked, for that is one of his favorite foods, and we had just driven through miles of corn ripening in the sun. "No, I'm sorry, we don't," she said. Disappointed, he ordered a side of mashed potatoes and a bowl of their soup of the day, beef noodle, while I asked for a bacon and tomato sandwich with chips.
"By the way," I piped up, "have you ever heard of anyone named HAGEMAN or IMIG?"
Hageman, no, but Imig, yes, of course," she replied, and turned to take the chef our order. Brian, by this time sharing my glee, quipped, "Who would have guessed that Imig would be like Smith here?!"
It was at that moment that I heard myself beginning to write this Return to Seward diary in my head. I knew I had to try to capture the precious moments of our delightful adventure, so that I might savor them in the future and share them with others. I went to wash my hands and marveled at the closet-sized, unisex restroom, like the rest of the place way past needing remodeling but kept clean and tidy. Most amazing of all was the door, which couldn't have been more than 20 inches wide, and definitely had a weight limit.
Sure enough, the noodles in Brian's soup were homemade, the way our mother had loved them. The mashed potatoes, however, tasted "about like you can get anywhere else," he said. As I gazed out the window onto the Seward Town Square, I remembered my Aunt Joyce telling me that when she was a little girl she enjoyed going in the little drugstore on the north side of the square when my Grandma Alice took the children into Seward, before our adventurous family moved to southern California in 1930. I could almost see them now, skipping down the sidewalk and running into these shops. Stomachs and imaginations filled, we launched out the door in search of the next encounter with our heritage..
THE CORNER CAFE
We started driving north on 6th Street (Highway 15), very slowly, not wanting to miss anything. In two short blocks, we spotted the Seward Civic Center on the right and pulled over to check it out. I bounded up the front steps and into the building in search of helpful people, information, and maps. Happily, I scored a free Seward phone book by the front door, which would come in handy. I passed by a room with a few people having a meeting that I dared not interrupt. Later I was told that Seward Genealogical Society Secretary Jane Graff, whom I would love to meet, was in that meeting. Hmmm, GRAFF, she could even be an IMIG cousin.
I spent the next few minutes exploring the hallways and even the basement of the modern, vast structure, full of deserted but inviting rooms. Near another entrance, I loaded up on an assortment of Seward-related brochures. I made a mental note of the convenient, full-sized men's and women's restrooms, which served us well during our stay in Seward.
Returning to the parking lot, I noticed a group of older ladies about to get in a car. Maybe they remember some of my relatives, I thought, and came out with my favorite line, yes, you guessed it, "Excuse me, we're from out of town, and we're searching for relatives. Have you ever heard of anyone named HAGEMAN or IMIG?"
I saw the taller woman's jaw drop, and she quickly said, "Why, yes, I'm a ROCKER, and my mother was an IMIG. My father's mother was also an IMIG." My jaw dropped, too, for I recognized ROCKER as one of the main families that IMIGs married. I was not surprised that she, like my brother and I, is a double-Imig, since all Imig researchers quickly learn that "Imigs liked to marry Imigs," and cousin marriages were very common. Then the lady next to her piped up, "I'm Beverly, a ROCKER, too, by marriage." They are sisters-in-law, it turns out.
"You're kidding, that's fantastic!" I said, and raced toward them to shake their hands. "My name is Alice Imig Stipak, and this is my brother Brian. His middle name is Imig, too. Our Grandpa George Jacob Imig moved our mother's family to southern California in about 1930," explained. "We are here in Seward to try to reconnect with family."
"I'm Della MEINBERG," the taller lady responded warmly. "I thought George was Alfred's brother." I recognized the name Alfred as one of my grandfather's fifteen half-siblings. "Yes, that's right! Alfred and Freddy are two that my aunts remember well." Della added, "Alfred was short and Fred was tall." Hey, I thought, we are definitely on the same page here. Della's mother was my grandfather's first cousin!
Friends in the car were calling for my newly-discovered cousins to get in, so I panicked and ran to our car for my camera. Brian got his, too, while we heard one of them say, "Just a minute, they want to take our picture!" We managed to get off a few shots before they bundled into the car and vanished.
DELLA AND BEVERLY
"Wow, that was incredible," Brian and I agreed as they drove off. Too bad we couldn't spend more time with them, but meeting them even for a minute was wonderful, well worth coming all the way from California.
In a happy daze, we now felt the strong, silent pull of our Imig ancestors' graves, and took off in our rental car to find the Greenwood Cemetery.
[Coming next: Return to Seward Diary, August 2001: "Discovery in Greenwood"]
Alice Imig Stipak, a grateful granddaughter of Seward