Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Home-Town Boy Goes Home

A friend departed, today.

David Turner of Shirley passed away and his death was a sobering blow. Dave was only sixty-four. By all accounts, this man was too young to die.

It was just last summer when I met Dave for the first time. The date was July 1, 2010, to be exact. My friend Larry Gilles, who lives on Russell Island in Brisbane Harbor off Australia’s eastern shore, traveled to Maine for a month-long vacation and he stayed at my parents’ camp in Elliotsville Township.

Larry also grew up in Shirley—a tiny village a few miles from Elliotsville between Monson and Greenville—and he’d known Dave since they were young shavers attending Shirley’s community school. In addition to growing up together, the men had something else in common. They were both veterans of the Vietnam War. I was stunned to realize how many young men from that tiny village went to fight in Southeast Asia. Larry. Dave. Bill. Neal. And many others…

Dave seemed a little bit shy, during our first meeting. Every time I pulled out my camera, he showed me his back or grinned self-consciously and held up his hands.  I had to be contented with rear and side shots.

The three of us sat down by the pond—Larry and Dave enjoying coffee brandy and milk while I got a caffeine buzz from my Diet Mt. Dew. That day, Larry cooked for me for the first of many times; grilling sausages and peppers and onions for us. I’d worked that morning and then drove the 70 miles to camp to mow the lawn. That was part of the deal… if Mum and Dad let my friend stay in their camp for a month then it was my responsibility to keep the place mowed while Larry was there. So… knowing I had a job to do, I chatted with the men for an hour or so and then went up to camp to change into my ‘grubs’… what I call the ratty old clothes I work in.

When I came out of the camp, Larry and Dave were standing at the back of my truck, tailgate down--looking for all the world like they thought they could be helpful. Prior to the opening of the bottle of coffee brandy, that might have been a possibility. But there they were—two old friends who hadn’t seen each other for five years--and they were partying. I smirked as I watched them try to figure out how to unfold the tractor ramps…and then shooed them back down to the picnic area to enjoy their reunion.

Two hours later, I was finished; the rider and the push mower were loaded back into my pick-up; and the Shirley boys were feeling no pain. I envied them and wondered at the special bond they had—one which would allow them to connect so comfortably after such long absences. Listening to them, it was like they’d never been apart. We’re not all so lucky as to have that strong and wonderful bond.

I had the opportunity to visit with Dave a couple more times before Larry winged his way back Down Under. I also met Dave’s brother Dan, and my heart goes out to him. Over the course of that month, I met most of Larry’s and Dave’s friends and family: Phoebe and Queenie and Linda and Peggy and their kids and spouses and pals. I may never see these folks again, but they left an indelible impression on me…one of family and simplicity and caring and…home.

The little hamlet of Shirley was Dave’s home, and I know that those who live there—and those who often stop by—will miss David Turner.

A friend.

A home-town boy.

An American soldier.

Setting moon, Elliotsville Township
Shirley Mills schoolhouse
Larry at the Bar-bee and Dave fixing them a drink
Some of the crew from Shirley...
Larry in Shirley Mills, Maine


  1. Hi Karen,
    I too am a Shirley, Maine native and knew David most of my life. Being 7 years his younger I didn't get a chance to know him well until he returned from Nam. He was living in a small home just down the street from the Gilles home. With Al and Dan, we would spend hours talking and listening to Pink Floyd. What a great way to spend an evening in Shirley. May Dave rest peacefully.
    Now I need to move on and sorry this is so long but I've been looking for Larry Gilles for years and here you have pictures and everything.
    My story about Larry is as follows, just so you know his sister Jana and I graduated in the same class from Greenville High:
    When I was 4 or 5 years old on a very cold winter night, my Mom asked me to run next door to the Chadbourne's house to tell my brother and sister to come home for supper. I ran out of our trailer with no hat, no coat, and no mittens. It was just across the street. I knocked on their front door but no answer so I knocked again. After no one came I went around to the back door and knocked there, still no answer. Not sure what was going on I spotted foot prints in the snow and thinking my brother and sister may have gone somewhere else I began to follow them. After a pretty good distance and bit past the Davis house I found myself fairly close to the swampy area near Beckwith's Pond. Suddenly I broke through the snow crust and found myself chest deep in the snow. As I tried to push myself out, my hands became really cold because I didn't have any mittens. I tried to step upward but my boots were stuck and started to come off. Each time I struggled to get out I only sank a little deeper. Not knowing what else to do and feeling very cold, I called out for help. I thought I heard voices near the Beckwith's house so I called out again. I heard one of them say, "Quiet I hear something!"
    I called out once more as loud as my cold voice would allow. This time I could hear them coming toward me so I continued calling out.
    The first person to find me was Larry Gilles. He grabbed me by my arms and pulled me out, of course my boots stayed in the hole. Someone else found them and shoved my boots back on. Larry carried me towards home and by this time I was probably crying. He took me all the way home to where we were greeted by my parents and of course my brother Ben and Mary.
    Larry left and I don't think I saw much of him after that and I'm sure I didn't get a chance to thank him properly. I've been waiting for a very long time to do just that so I'm hoping you might be able to help me out. I would very much appreciate it. My name is Bill Nye and I live in So. California with my wife and son. My e-mail is: fosilfuel@gmail.com
    I will gladly send you my home address if you like. Thank you again for posting your article about Dave and Larry. Take care, Bill

  2. Och, man! What a wonderful comment to leave on my blog. I've been truly amazed at what a small old world this is, and I will happily share Larry's address with you. I'll email it before I go to bed tonight.

    When Larry was here last summer, he took me 'round to all his friends' houses, and I think we stopped at your childhood home? A white house on the right as you're headed up the hill...with a front porch and luxuriant, fragrant rose bushes clamoring to take the place over? Was your brother Ben in Nam? Because the man I met, sitting on the porch having a Bud, was a friend and fellow soldier to Larry. :o)

    I'll email you Larry's info post-haste.

    Please keep in touch.

    Hugs from Maine.

    1. Kaz,
      I received his address and a letter is on it's way. Thank you for making this possible. PS-your last name is Pease so are you any relation to the Peases who settled in Shirley? And yes, the man on the porch having a Bud is my brother. He was in the service during Nam but didn't quite make it there. Probably a good thing. Thank you, Bill