Gentle Ben

When my uncle Ben committed himself to a course of action, he generally stayed with it. This was a trait apparently started early in his life. We didn’t see him often, but the year before he died, at 85, I had the pleasure of talking to him about his life.

“When I was 6 years old,” he said, “my brother Bill, who was ten and always thought he was the cock of the walk, had a footlocker with a padlock on it. Well, I wanted to see just what he had in there, and I heard that you could pick a lock with a flattened nail. So, I was pounding on a nail with a hammer. It just wasn’t gettin’ the job done. Well, I put two hands on the hammer and whacked at the nail. It flew up and caught me square in the eye.”

Throughout his life Ben was a good and avid hunter. I commented that he was a good shot even at a young age, albeit with a nail. I’ve wondered if his love of hunting reflected his determination to not allow anything - including blindness in one eye - deter him.

When World War II began his brother Bill, then a catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, enlisted in the navy. The second eldest, Frank, begged his father to write a letter seeking a hardship deferment, on the grounds that he was needed on the farm. His father - my grandfather - refused. Frank was drafted into the army. Gentle Ben set his sights on the navy, as well. He was denied because of his blind eye. Not to be denied, he joined the merchant marines.

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