03/10/09 | Comments (0)

I am reminded of the story of the three blind Hindus that come upon an elephant and their perceptions differ based upon the part of the body they touch. A few short stories may help us all get a better picture of the man that some of us knew as Mr. Parmelee, or Walt, or “Pop” I have fond remembrances of my father playing the guitar while his mother played the mandolin. There were only 3 TV stations in those days, and they were in black and white, so we entertained ourselves with music and singing and fellowship long into the night. “One more song” we would say, hoping to delay the inevitable bedtime.

Pop loved his parents. After they passed on, almost every Sunday after church he would visit them at the Beaverdale cemetery. Such love, such devotion, such respect for them all these years.

He will be laid to rest there shortly, and though he loved his Dunbar Church, we felt this was where he belonged.

I remember taking Sunday rides to Savin Rock with Pop and Uncle Art and our cousins. We would sing songs along the way and drive the strip. That was probably when Pop began his love affair with hot dogs.

Pop was worried that we would become juvenile delinquents and I will spare you some of those stories that lent credibility to that worry. He funneled our attention to sports, encouraging us to play whatever sport was in season. He wanted us to associate with people like Ray Lombra and Jim Hurteau; cousin Vinny, kids who had similar interests like football and baseball and hockey and Home run derby at the WELI field. He knew this would keep us out of trouble.

Early in my sporting days, I enjoyed playing baseball. I remember playing a game at Rochford field. I ended the game by hitting a dribbler back to the pitcher who promptly threw me out. Walking back to the car, he asked Dave why I was pouting. Because he lost the game, Dave said. Pop, characteristically replied: He didn’t lose the game, he simply made the last out. There were many other opportunities to win the game. He’s not going to win them all. Besides, has he already forgotten he won the game with a hit the other night? But if he keeps this pouting up, he’s not going to be playing at all.”

It was important to Pop that we were good at sports, but more important that we were good sports.

One of David’s favorite stories is remembering Pop play third base with this rickety old GLOVE, barely more than a piece of leather. Nothing fancy, yet neither one of us can ever remember him missing a play or making a wild throw. After his experiences in WW 2, the “Hot box” must have been child’s play for him. He would knock down the hard liners off his burly chest, calmly throwing the ball to first that always seemed to beat the runner by half a step.

On one occasion, Dave remembers him catching a foul line drive with his bare hand; and without fanfare, tossing it back to the pitcher like nothing happened. He continually demonstrated his humility on and off the field.

Dave also remembers the numerous Golf rounds they played together. They often played in Father- Son or Member guest tournaments. One match in particular at Laurel View, Pop knocked in a putt on the 17th hole to keep the match close. The match went extra holes, and on the second extra hole Pop snaked in a 35 footer to win the match. What a happy day for this team to remember.

Dave made a card, showing Pop knocking it in the hole, and he has a special phrase enscribed: “I would have still loved you even if you missed the putt.” 

I ask: “Is there any question about a son’s unconditional love for his father? Or that he learned the lessons Pop was teaching us?”

A number of years later I remember we loved to play softball on Sunday afternoons at Paradise Park. We were all pretty good players by then, and I remember Sammy Fox saying: “You have to break the Parmelees up, all 3 of them can’t be on the same team, it’s not fair.

David had already developed a strong swing: I even remember Dave hitting many home runs in one game against East rock Market. Pop got the greatest kick out of seeing the center fielder go stand behind the center field fence when Dave came up and hit his fifth homer of the day; a feat that we also saw my father accomplish one time.

Anyways, I was up at BAT, and had recently asked my Dad how I could hit the long ball too instead of my usual singles and occasional double. “First, Swing the bat!” He would say. “And change the arc of your swing and aim higher.”

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a wonderful prescription for life.

Well, I hit this ball to left field, and was running as fast as I could, and my Dad was playing first base. He playfully teased me “Show off”, and I slowed to a trot as I realized I had hit a homer. The next inning, Pop comes up, and not to be out done, hits a line drive that started to sail over my head in left field. I ran to the fence, and peered through it until I saw his shot land on the raft that was in the middle of the pond some 50 feet past where my ball had come down. With great respect, I taunted him with “show off” from deep left.

POP always said you want to beat them at their best, because it makes more out of you. And most importantly, YOU want the opportunity when the pressure is on. It is how you grow and develop yourself as a Man.” Well said, by a true competitor.

Pop was also a great horseshoe player. He and Dave used to play at Paradise Park, and team up against Harry Bush and Harold Decker. Despite being twins, those days you had no trouble telling Dave and myself apart. He was stocky and I was skinny; Dave got to play because I couldn’t even lift up the horseshoes.

It didn’t matter of course who played, because Pop used to throw ringer after ringer. And Bowling? Awesome.

Fellowship and camaraderie through sports was a common theme throughout his life. Pop loved his golf, and he loved the sociability with his friends at the 19 th hole.

Sports weren’t the only thing he taught us. Dave has said about Pop: If he found a $100 bill he would take it to the police station and ask them to see if they could find the rightful owner. To this man of integrity, “honesty wasn’t the best policy; it was the only policy”.

Pop would often say to us: “I thought I was poor because I had no SHOES, until I met a man who had no feet.” He was always interested in helping others less fortunate, and he always told us never to complain.

We used to live in the old white house on Paradise Avenue, the one that was built in the 1860’s. Tragically symbolic of Pop, you can recognize it by its state of disrepair. Father time and macular degeneration stripped Pop of his eyesight; he could no longer do his crossword puzzles or read the newspaper. He lost all of his athletic skills and talents; and even when arthritis made it impossible for him to play the guitar anymore, he wouldn’t complain. He would simply say: “Everybody’s got something”.

Mom, do you remember hearing a horn start tooting at the top of the hill, and continue honking until it went past our house and even past George Slack’s old house that we eventually lived in for a number of years? We knew it was Pop’s good friend Don Bonyai saying “Hi” as he was passing by. Jim Miller would stop and say hi on his way to Laurel view, trying to snag Pop to go play a few holes. He would often say, sure, or why don’t us join me and the Avery Brothers. Such are the friendships he had with a great bunch of guys.

And how about: “I say Blue”. “I say Blue”. Pop had beautiful Blue eyes. Blue was one of his favorite colors; and one day when he confidently said those words on The Rainbow Jackpot TV program, he won for himself and his family $100,000. Another “Waltism” was born.

Pop wanted the best for his family, and he loved us all. Even though he had to sacrifice, he made sure that we all got a college education, something that he himself had never received. And he didn’t balk at the expense of Springfield College for me, even though it was considerably more expensive than a local college, because he knew it made a difference in my chosen path of athletics and Physical education as a career. There is an irony that the simple wisdom and values that we learned from Pop were as valuable as any learning we received from our respective institutions of higher learning.

We thought we had a corner on this guy, but we underestimated him. Although Cindy was not into “sports” he never hesitated to invest in things that made her happy, like telescopes and expensive calculators.

Another paradox: Looking at all that he saved and collected over the years, he was an old Yankee at heart. But oh, those Red Sox; for 86 years, who else could enthusiastically root for a team that didn’t know how to win the World Series? . Why Cindy of course, he was able to create in her another avid Boston Red Sox fan who could recite all the team’s statistics to him.

In his early days, this may surprise you but Pop was a smoker; at one point up to two packs a day. Cindy finally asked him: Don’t you want to be around to see me grow up? He stopped smoking cold turkey and never went back to them. Such is the power of unconditional love between a father and a daughter.

He loved all his grandchildren. Whether watching Allison on the pitching mound, or seeing Jennifer land a great job at Random House, or hearing of Dave’s success with multiple bands, or Lizzie’s roles in her school ensembles, he was proud of them all. And how he lit up when he saw the latest member of the family George, his great grandson.

In the end, it is the little things that I will remember. Teaching us how to tie our ties, or how to drive a car. Making time to take him for a haircut, or to the Dr’s office. Stopping by at the end of the day for a rum and coke with him. Taking him to the Towne house Diner for lunch, or to the Glenwood drive in. I would tease him and say “I only brought along $10 today, so you can only have 2 hot dogs, not 21” Oh, how he would laugh at that. It was indeed time well spent.

So looking at the many perspectives of Walter, we see a “Man’s man”; a robust and healthy and vibrant, powerful athlete; a humble servant to all, a true gentleman of high ethical and moral standards. A teacher.

Living comfortably among the farmers in these beautiful Dunbar Hills, he was a man of great and unconditional love.

On behalf of the Parmelee family, we would like to acknowledge and thank all of you for your generous acts of kindness and fellowship and love that you have bestowed upon all of us. Walter is especially grateful to Jim Arseniadis, and Ginny Grandquist, and Meg Nowacki; for Chuck and Barbara Walters, for Jane Bederhoff, and George; for Faraz and Marlene, dear neighbors who have been our parent’s daily guardian angels. And for all of the many others too numerous to mention, he had a special place in his heart for all of you.

Finally, family. He welcomes his brother Art and his family who have traveled from Florida to pay their respects. Though living miles apart, he really enjoyed your visits when we had our family reunions. To his devoted wife Pauline, who kept her promise to him for over 62 years; to live with him in sickness and in health, till death do they part. He is sure you know how much he loved you, and cannot begin to express his gratitude for your tireless efforts. His children, grandchildren, their families and great grandchild were blessed treasures to him.

If you ever had the occasion to break bread with them at dinner, you may remember seeing a wonderful tapestry hanging over the sideboard in their dining room. It is from the Swedish heritage of our family, and it is inscribed with the caption: “What ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

What a life he lived, what an example he was for all of us, what a legacy he leaves with this beautiful family and his extended family!

Whether you called him Mr. Parmelee, or Walt, or Pop, I am confident that his loving spirit is with us today. He is humbly, joyously, and proudly saying:

Pauline, look what we got from our garden.”

“Pauline, look what we got from our garden.”


Given in Loving Memory by Dennis Parmelee

March 13, 2007

(originally published March 10, 2008)


Two forty two

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