Sunday, January 6, 2008

Memories of my Brother Walt by Lynn Lewis

About six months ago John Lewis visited Chris and me in LA for a couple of days as part of a business trip. One night I reminisced for a few minutes on my memories of my brother Walt. John asked me to write some of these memories down as he had never heard them before. The following are some of my memories of your father:

Walt was seven years older than I, so we were rarely playmates. My earliest recollection of my brother Walt was when I was about 4 or 5 years old. The furnace at the house at 32 Bishop at that time burned wood or coal. Several cords of fire wood had been delivered and Walt had carefully stacked the wood in a long high pile beside the coal bin. I climbed all over the neat wood pile and of course most of the wood fell down and made a mess. Walt was mad at me and I stayed away from him for a couple of days.

Walt and I would go fishing with our father to either the Grass or St. Lawrence Rivers. We often went at night as my father liked night fishing. One night on the Grass River in a boat I started to reel in something that felt like it was a whale. In the dark we couldn't tell what it was and Walt tried to help me bring it in. It turned out to be three or four foot long Lampeer eel which promptly rapped itself around Walt's arm and it was one hell of a job to get the eel off.

My mother and father loved to picnic. Often we would all go out to the St. Lawrence River but by far their favorite place was Lake Meacham in the Adirondacks. We would all go in a couple of cars and make a great time of it. Our father liked to travel and explore. Many times during the summer we would travel on 2 to 4 day trips to see sights or nearby relatives.

In high school I was always being compared to my smart brothers, Walt and William.Bill was smart and a very good musician. Walt was also smart and a top athlete. In my first math class with "Skeets" Caroll, Skeets said I was going to have to go some to beat my brother Walt. I was able to do it a couple of times in math, but there was no comparison in sports. Walt was a three letter man (football, basketball and track) three years in a row. He was particularly good in football. Walt was a tackle and as a junior and senior called the plays in the huddle. This was before the days of unlimited substitution and plays were called by the players on the field. The guard next to him for years was Joe McGuire. When I started to play football, the old timers around town said I had to be good because I was Walt Lewis' brother. But they were wrong as I never played first string.

Walt played the piano well and Bill was excellent on the cornet. Musically I was the big disappointment to my mother. The piano teacher finally told her she was wasting her money trying to teach me piano.

Every summer my Mother and Dad would take Walt and me to Pennsylvania for two weeks to visit our relatives. Even during gas rationing in World War II, Dad would figure out how to get enough gas rationing stamps to make the trip. Our grandfather, William Beedle Sr ("Big Willie" or Pap), ran a service station at the main cross roads in Elrama, PA. Big Willie died when I was 4 or 5 years old and I vaguely remember the funeral. Our uncle, William Beedle Jr ("Little Willie") took over running the service station. In 1941 Little Willie got a great deal on fire works and bought enough to be able to sell them for several years. Well, of course when the US got into World War II in late 1941, sale of fireworks became illegal. So for a couple of years when we went to PA, Walt and our cousins, Lois and Deanne and their friends would play war. We would get on the opposite sides of a narrow ravine and fire sky rockets at each other. Luckily no one got hurt. Also on the nearby farm, we got to ride horses and feed the farm animals.

Walt graduated from high school in June 1944 and went into the Army in July or August. I remember going to the train station to see him off. I believe he had basic training in NJ After basic training he was sent to Japanese language school at Yale University. There he played hockey and in practice got hit in the forehead with a puck which left a noticeable scar for several years. When the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, Walt was immediately sent to Japan. He was stationed at an Army air base in southern Hokkaido (This was before there was a separate Air Force). He was the base recreation coordinator. Walt wrote to my mother to get her to order a special pair of boots for him. When they came I immediately recognized they were paratrooper jump boots. I didn't tell my mother and we sent them on to Japan. Then Walt started to regularly send my mother money to put in the bank for him. My mother began to wonder where the extra money was coming from and started to question if it was money from gambling or selling things on the "black market." I finally told her about the booths and that the extra money was probably the extra pay he got for making parachute jumps. Walt later confirmed he made quite a few jumps. Once he went to Tokyo to meet Joe McGuire. Joe had the use of a jeep and they drove it to Mt. Fuji and drove open field (there were no roads) about half way up the mountain.

Walt came back from the Army and he and Joe McGuire decided to go to Ithaca College on the GI Bill. The first year he and Joe both played on the Ithaca College football team. He started to date Gean Gibson who lived on the River Road at Louisville Landing (now under water as result of Seaway flooding). They were married a few months later. The next term Walt transferred to St. Lawrence University in Canton and commuted from Massena. He started to help out his father-in-law in his memorial business at Louisville Landing. Within a short time his father-in-law became ill and Walt took over the memorial business completely. I started to help Walt in the memorial business when I was in high school and helped him primarily in setting stones in cemeteries for several years. Sometimes we drove to Barrie, Vermont and picked up stones for special jobs.

He then built a camp at Louisville Landing doing most of the work himself. He liked boating with small boats. On a windy day with lots of waves he liked to take a flat bottomed fishing boat with a 75 or 90 Hp motor and bounce through the waves.

One of the people who worked for Walt in the memorial business was Pat Martin who was the brakeman on the US Olympic 4 Man Bobsled team. Walt would sometimes go to Lake Placid for practice runs when they didn't have a full team to practice. I went once and can still remember Pat Martin's big arm come swinging around to straighten you up when you were leaning the wrong way on the bob sled run.

As his younger brother Walt was always there to help me when I needed help. I found my brother to be fair, honest, straight forward, and non judgmental. These were traits we both got from our mother who had a lot to do with the development of our personalities. She taught you to be self reliant. She believed the best way to learn something was to puzzle through it. In general she would let you work something out yourself and not provide help unless you asked for help. Our mother would say "if you cannot say something nice, don't say anything at all." Also, she would say "face up to your fears. If you are afraid of something you should do and don't want to do it you should face it and do it." Nine out of ten times you would find it was not as bad as you thought it would be or even more often not difficult at all if you faced up to it.

By Lynn Lewis