52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Fire

Irvin Lloyd Jaeger was born on April 24, 1930. He was called “Sonny” or “Sonny Boy” by his loved ones and was the only son of Benno and Louise Jaeger. He grew up with his sisters Dorothy and Dorris Pearl (“Mipsie” and “Sweety Pie”) on the Steffen farm in Needville, Texas. Sonny attended school up until the sixth grade, when he dropped out because he was needed to work on the farm. He visited the Jaeger Farm for a few days during the summers and was more like a brother than a cousin to Henry and Lillie Jaeger’s kids. Henry likewise viewed Sonny as more of a son than a nephew.

Sonny moved to Houston when he was 25 and worked in maintenance for Suburban and later the Washburn Tunnel. He was well regarded by the family, who described him as a calm and laid-back person. He dated but never married and was a member of Zion Lutheran Church in the Heights area of Houston.  My mom shared an apartment with Sonny and tells many funny stories, such as the time he spontaneously hopped onto their nephew Daryl’s horse “Daisy” after a few beers and rode at high speed around the field before hopping back off. Another time, Sonny’s calm demeanor helped him out of a traffic ticket. The story goes that he was pulled over and started talking to the officer, who after a long conversation let him go with just a warning.

He eventually moved into his own trailer in Northwest Houston and over time filled it with a hoard of newspapers and other items. Sonny suffered from narcolepsy all his life and had a habit of drying wet clothes near the oven. During a visit one Sunday afternoon, his cousin Bernhardt discovered that the side door of the trailer had been nailed shut. His attempts to remove the nails were met with resistance, and Sonny maintained that he had sealed the door shut to ward off a home invasion. Bernhardt relented.

November 22, 1972 was an especially cold, rainy day. Because the 23rd was Thanksgiving, the Washburn Tunnel’s cleaning and maintenance was done on that Wednesday. Despite being underground and mostly out of the elements, Sonny was quite chilled by the time he finished his shift. After arriving home from work that evening, he draped his clothing over a chair, turned on the oven, and fell asleep. Sonny was killed a little over an hour later when his trailer caught on fire. His badly burned body was found next to the side door and laying beside him was a hammer and several charred nails. Reflecting on his visit with Sonny,  Bernhardt said, “I wish I had sat on him and pulled out the nails myself.”

Henry and his brother Benno disagreed on the type of funeral Sonny would be given. Benno insisted that the funeral take place on Friday at the Brookwood funeral home in Houston with Pastor Engler from Zion presiding. Henry, who was much closer to Sonny, wanted the funeral to be held at the Foehner Funeral Home in Burton, with Pastor Poehman from Greenvine Emmanuel Lutheran Church presiding. In the end, Sonny had two funeral services, the Houston one at 10am followed by the Burton one at 3:00pm, before arriving at the Jaeger Witte Cemetery where he was interred next to his mother Louise.

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