Saturday, January 11, 2014

Memories of Charlie

I lost my Uncle Charles Boyer last Monday. He had been sick for some time, hospitalized in early November and then moved to a Miamisburg nursing home (Kingston) where he declined steadily over the past two months.

In recent weeks, he was unresponsive. Mom and I visited him on Friday, January 3 and that would be my final time.

 Born December 4, 1926, Charlie's life consisted of 31,811 days. Perhaps all of them weren't good ones - certainly the last handful were not - but they contain many memories etched into my own life forever. Here are a few highlights.

Charlie at my cousin Mel's wedding

My earliest recollection was when Mom and I visited Mae and Charlie while they were living above his Aunt Clara's hat shop in downtown Miamisburg. That would have been in the very early 1950's. I was still young enough that walking was a chore. I remember holding Mom's hand and climbing the long dark stairs to their second floor apartment. I had no idea where I was.

While still a young child, as I placed relatives in their respective slots, I was confused whether the Boyers were famous or not. I'd heard of Charles Boyer, the actor. Was this the same? And Chef Boyardee surely had something to do with them, too.

As a young boy we once went swimming at Whitewater State Park. Every Wednesday we'd meet for a family dinner at my Grandma Paulsen's. We'd visit Mae and Charlie's on summer holidays for picnics on the patio Charlie built, floored with local Ordovician stones.

I remember, while I was still very young, Charlie building a wooden model of a stagecoach and how intricate the details, how perfectly he assembled it.  Later he would construct a flintlock rifle. His woodworking skills were unparalleled.

In the 1960's the Boyer's had a fallout shelter dug and constructed in their back yard. It was part of the fear of an all-out nuclear war with the Russians. The fallout shelter remains to this day, still unused. Like many insurance policies, it's better to have than to have to use.

A WWII vet, Charlie served in the US Army in Europe. He played saxophone in the band.

Charlie - WWII Portrait

Every now and then, especially when we were young, Charlie would pull the sax from the closet and play some songs for us. He was good ... mellow, jazzy, accomplished. Dad often talked of accompanying Charlie on piano with "Monk" Hughes, another Miamisburg notable.

In later years - probably the 1980's - when we helped prepare a Miamisburg house for his son, Doug, I marveled at the job Charlie did while washing the windows. I wrote about it in Pinehaven. He was slow, but exquisitely detailed in his work. The windows were clean when he finished.

We once went camping in Friendship, Indiana where he often attended their semi-annual "shoots". It was a muzzle-loader's group that met there for contests. Though Charlie didn't shoot that time, I remember helping set up his large canvas tent and laying awake till well after midnight, talking, while a rock band played into the night. The next day, upon finding a toilet broken, Charlie took it upon himself to fix it.

Charlie - 2012

Once, in the mid-1990's, I accompanied Mae and Charlie to Rocky Mount, Virginia to visit his son, Doug, and his family. Charlie and I shared a basement for sleeping.

I especially remember when my own father died in 2011. We stopped over at Mae and Charlie's and found him working on clearing honeysuckle from a fence at the rear of their property. Charlie turned and saw me, gathered his balance and gave me a big hug. He knew I had lost my best friend. He made sure I knew I had another one left.

When we visited a restaurant, Charlie would always order coffee, "Half and half. Half regular, half decaf," he would tell the waitress.

 Charlie was always a gentleman.

This past fall, when he and Mae visited Pinehaven the last time, he was having a hard time maintaining his balance as he walked to their car. I took him by the hand - as warm and soft as his heart - and helped hold him up while we stepped down from the porch into the driveway. I somehow knew that would be his final visit here. I suppose that was last October.

Many years ago Charlie bought a wooden table at an estate sale. It was apparently owned by my Grandfather's firm, Gebhart & Schmidt Funeral Home in Miamisburg. He refinished it with the same care he handled all wood. From  an old dirty card-table-sized wooden table, it became something of a family heirloom.

 I always joked with Mae and Charlie that the table should be passed to me when they died. It was a Schmidt table, after all, and rightly should be returned to a Schmidt. They'd always laugh about it. And they'd  warn me that Doug wanted it, too.

A few months ago, Mae said the table was mine and to come pick it up. Charlie was hospitalized at the time. I carefully carried it from their home, laid it out gently on the floor of the trunk and have had it standing against a wall in the living room. I admire the smooth, blonde wood.

At Charlie's memorial service yesterday, Doug came up to me smiling. "Do you know what Dad's final words were to me?" I told him I did not.

"Dad said to tell you to give that table to Doug!"

 He was kidding, of course.


  1. Wonderful memories Bill. I know Mae, Doug, Sue and the extended family will miss him greatly.

  2. what great times you had with them during your life. maybe Doug should get the table when you are gone...