Andrew Lamphear Was my Uncle

by
Palmer Myhra
January 1995

One of the most interesting characters I have known in my life was my Uncle Andrew. He has been gone for 10 years, now, but I never will forget him. He never had a steady job, drank up all his money, never had his own home or family, never had much money or did anything very great but he had a lot of friends and 39 nieces and nephews. He wondered sometimes if we would remember him, but after reading the story of his life, the fact is, how could anyone forget him?

Andrew was born July 20, 1892, the second son of William and Anna Lamphear in the town of Lind, Waupaca County, Wisconsin. I do not know very much about his life as a young man, as he was almost 30 years old when I was born. He only went to school until the Third Grade, when he was 12 went out to do a man’s work. He worked for the neighbor farmers, in saw mills, and spent some time as a lumberjack, often earning money trapping. World War I soon came along and Andrew was drafted, ended up in the Infantry. 1918 found him in the trenches over in France. This was a big change in his life. He did what was asked of him, a country boy who knew well how to handle a gun. At one time, he shot two escaping German prisoners, he had been guarding. This he would not discuss except when he had been drinking. It always must have bothered him because it happened just a few days before the Armistice ended the war, and came home to find his girl friend had married someone else.

Andrew took to the bottle and stayed with it the rest of his life. Despite all his problems, he had an excellent sense of humor and could find something funny about most anything. All his life he liked to talk about the Army and The War. He look great pride in the fact he had so many nieces and nephews in World War II and was very interested in what we did. He carried his discharge papers in his shirt pocket all his life. There wasn't much left of them when he died, but I have the discharge papers. His occupation listed on the service record says, "Muskrat Trapper", which must have been what he was doing when he was drafted. Farmer, would have been a better term. After the war, he never shot a gun again.

To him, the 3 greatest men who ever lived were Pershing, Eisenhower, Sergeant York, the World War I hero. When we were young, he used to show me the old Army overcoat with all the bullet holes in it. When we got older, we realized they really must be moth holes, because no one could have survived that many shots.

Andrew really wasn't the best influence on us young boys, but he always liked kids and we found him very interesting with all his war stories, adventures and ideas. One idea in particular he was obsessed with, that is that someday man was going to the moon. He especially wanted to talk about that when he had been drinking. Many people said he was crazy to talk about that and maybe he should be locked up. Sure enough, man went to the moon July 20, 1969 on Andrew's 77th birthday. He simply said, "I told you so", and I was glad he lived to see it. He was a great weather forecaster. He went by the signs in the sky and behavior of the animals and was very often right. Although he made one mistake in this area that he never forgot.

We really didn't see much of Uncle Andrew until we moved to a farm near where he lived. Andrew chewed Copenhagen from the time he was 12 years old, and was a very accurate spitter. Seems he could hit a small can way across the room. However, one night he stayed at our place and my mother put him in bed with my brother and I. Andrew chewed day and night. He slept on the outside farthest from the window. He would wake up, sit up, and spit over us and out the open window. Of course there was a screen on the window which looked quite messy by morning.

In 1935 Andrew got about $400 World War I Soldiers bonus. Now that was a lot of money in those days. He could have bought a farm with that. Most money he had ever seen and got him on a good old time drinking spree. It must have been almost a month that he was seldom sober but he had a good time as long as it lasted. He bought drinks for people but one particular thing he did was to buy radios for people. He thought everyone should have a radio so if he liked someone who did not have a radio he would buy them one. He took one home but old Grandpa threw that darned contraption out. Said he had enough noise and commotion around the house with Andrew and didn’t t need more of that with a radio too. Andrew ended up with his money all gone and not even a radio for himself.

When I was in High School we would go down town at noon and sometimes see Andrew get thrown out of a tavern because his money was all gone. Then I wouldn’t admit that was my uncle but when he and I got older I would always say “that old Andrew he is my favorite Uncle".

One snowy winter night someone knocked on our door.

They had found Andrew who they had found laying on the road in a snowbank. He was cold and stiff and passed out. We laid him down on the floor by the stove and in the morning he was gone. I guess he had plenty of antifreeze on the inside. He always seemed to find some place to stay and to get something to eat. He seemed to have a fear of fires and never built a fire to keep warm instead he would sleep with all his clothes on and covered with a pile of old blankets. He only used a fire to make himself some hot coffee. There were times when he slept with his earflaps and mittens on. He never wore shoes only a pair of rubber or tennis shoes with at least 2 pairs of socks. He always patched his own clothes and sometimes had patches over the patches.

Andrew always was a clean shaver, although there were times when I doubt his bloodshot eyes could see himself in his little cracked and broken mirror. He always had a fresh hair cut. He would put a bowl on his head and cut according to that. He never went to a barber, except in his last years, when he could no longer manage that. When it came to taking a bath that was a different matter. He said “it was foolish to take a bath in the winter time, --- might catch a cold." I don’t ever remember him having a cold, but if he did, I am sure he had the medication for that.

It seemed that he wore winter underwear all year around, and sometimes 2 or 3 pair of bib overalls with a flannel or wool shirt. He liked overall jackets and wore them until they were ragged as Festus in Gunsmoke TV. One fine spring day in May we heard a big commotion down in the creek. It sounded like a bear but was only Andrew getting his Spring Bath, and washing his clothes all at once.

Most of Andrew's brothers and sisters were tall strong people. Uncle George, the youngest of 10, was about 6'5" tall and about 240 pounds, a very strong man. Andrew was short, about 5'8" weighing about 200 pounds, but was strong as a bear. The Madson cousin's often referred to them as "Uncle High” and "Uncle Wide". The two never got along at all. They had very different personalities. Andrew always seemed to be well satisfied with his lifestyle, and was friendly with a good sense of humor. George, on the other hand, who led same kind of life always complained, was very crabby, and always saw the dark side of any situation.

In the Spring of 1945, when I came home from Europe I went all over town to see if there was anyone I knew after this time away. I went into the Hotel Tavern, and there was Uncle Andrew, drunk as usual. He grinned, raised his glass of beer in the air spilling half of it. said, "Hi", just like he had seen me a few days ago, and said "glad to see you made it. I was in War I, you were in War II, and in the next war we will kill all the 'Polacks'. I looked around, and my gosh, the place was full of Polish people. I thought that Andrew and I were really in for it. They all looked at me and at Andrew and just went back drinking their beer. I guess they had heard so much of his silly talk when he had been drinking that they ignored it or else didn't want to beat up on a young fellow just back from overseas.

In the late 1940's Andrew look to living in a granary on my father's second farm. Then came a day in about the year 1954 when Andrew didn't forecast the weather just right and had a bad experience. He always said that "someday a tornado was going to come from the Southwest and destroy some of these buildings." Well, the tornado came all right, but it came from the Northwest. It seems it was a Saturday evening just before dark. Andrew was just home from a little drinking spree and was home in bed when it hit. If he had been sober, and heard it coming, he would have sat up or got up and would have been killed or badly injured. Machinery in the shed including a corn binder, grain binder and other equipment went right over his head and ended up in the woods. I had heard about it the next day and went to see. “What happened, Andrew”, I said. "I don’t know for sure", Andrew replied, "But, I don't think the old man wanted me up there yet. There was a terrible explosion and it rained on me. It was almost like the Western Front", referring again to the War. He had made himself a cup of coffee and was holding it in a badly shaking hand. He lived almost 30 years after that, but as long as he lived he had the fear that some tornado was going to come back and get him.

Andrew liked animals and was especially good with horses. He liked to work with a good team of horses. He never wanted to stay overnight at any place he worked so one would have to go get him and take him home again at night. It not too far away, he would walk. He liked some of the people he worked for and always spoke well of Ed Zdroik and Earl Olson. He liked driving a tractor once he learned how and would sit so erect and careful when driving that Don Carter always said, “He is the only person I've ever seen that drives at attention", a military term. After the tornado destroyed the shed my brother, Norman, built him a small shack which he lived in for several years and liked it very much. He helped Herbert and Elsie Hartwig and would walk up through the woods to get there. He liked kids and Herbert's boys got along well with him.

Andrew if he would vote for him. Andrew said, "No! I voted once in my life and will never vote again. I voted for Wilson in 1916 to keep us out of War and a few months later I was in the trenches in France. So, I'll never vote for anyone again." Norman won the election, anyhow.

When Andrew had too much to drink, he liked to sing. "Turkey in the Straw", was his favorite tune. He, of course, always got going on the man going to the moon idea and about all the money he had buried, which we have not yet found. He liked to read about military and scientific things. He really was interested in the Moon and Stars. I remember he used to carry around some rather odd piece of rock which he claimed he found from a meteor, which fell one night. I think now he probably did get them that way, although no one believed him then. I don't know what happened to those odd rocks, but they probably went in the tornado. He liked to discuss atomic energy and called it "Tomic" energy. Andrew basically was very intelligent and I sometimes wonder what he could have been with an education and ambition.

He never wore glasses, except to read. He had an old pair of reading glasses for that. He never went to a dentist and had all his teeth when he died, but they wore way down from chewing Copenhagen for almost 80 years. Bacteria could not live with that so he never had decay or toothaches. As he got older, he couldn't hear real well. He wouldn't consider a hearing aid and blamed it on the loud shell explosion during the War.

A story about Andrew was told to me by Ed Dobbe, who was of a good mind at 93. Shortly after World War 1, Andrew got in a big argument with Grandpa, who kicked him out of the house. It seemed they had been digging a well so Andrew crawled down in there to live, like in a cave. Some of the neighbors thought Andrew must be made crazy to live like that, especially when combined with his drinking of the moonshine. Those days probably would have made a person a little crazy anyhow and Andrew knew how to make up his own recipe of that. Some people got up a petition to the County Judge to have Andrew committed to the Insane Asylum. At the hearing some testified as to why Andrew was probably insane. Then, the Judge asked Andrew to tell his story. Andrew said, “Just a few years ago l was over in France in the trenches standing in water and mud up to my knees. Now, I am living in a nice dry cave with a roof over my head and people think I am crazy. I am just doing what I want to do and am not bothering anybody. At least, when I stick my head out nobody shoots at me". the Judge said, "Case Dismissed, Andrew go home."

About the last 10 years of his life, Andrew lived with my Mother. That's when I got to know him better. She was his guardian so he wouldn't squander his pension, which she managed to get for him. He liked to go, but he always wanted to ride in the back seat as he considered that safer. When they went to town, my Mother would give him a dollar. He would go to a bar and get a little drunk. It always puzzled her how he got so drunk on only a dollar. Seems everybody liked old Andrew and bought him a few drinks. And, he often never even spent the dollar. One time my Mother and my Aunt Lydia, who also tried to tell Andrew what to do, couldn't find Andrew when they were ready to go home. So they went into some of the taverns looking for him. They were quite embarrassed when coming out of one place, they met the minister. Andrew said, "serves them right for sticking their nose in my business."

My Mother was always trying to get him to stop drinking, but that was a hopeless effort. My bother, Clarence, and his boys, Larry and Ron, must remember well when Andrew took them out behind the old hog house and showed them where he kept his beer. There was a nest of snakes there, and he knew she wouldn't look there.

One time I took my Son-in Law, David to meet Andrew. We arrived there in the evening; Andrew was already in bed. We went to his room. He was awake sitting up in bed and shone a flashlight in David’s face and said, "You a Saw Filer?”. "No", David said, trying to explain who he was. No argument, “You’re the Saw Filer." End of discussion. David's red beard and red flannel shirt must have reminded him of someone from back in the lumberjack days. David only met Andrew once, but it is an example of another person who will not forget such a character.

We always enjoyed going to Andrews birthday as he got older. On his 90th birthday as we got ready to leave, he said to me, "If you're still living next year, come again." He was always joking and turning things around. I made it, but he did not.

On the day after his 90th birthday, Andrew asked my Mother, "What ever happened to Bessie?" She was the girl friend he once had. She told him of how she had married this one fellow. “How did that go” he asked. My mother told him that the fellow had died and that she had married another man. "How did that go", he asked. After a few years he died, too. Andrew thought for a while then said “good thing I never married her, or I'd be dead, too". End of discussion.

Andrew was never a religious man. He never belonged to a church or went to one. I think he was baptized, but never went beyond that. He did read the Bible some and had his own ideas about that and often made reference to "the Old Man up there". He never seemed to worry that he might die, but had a goal of living to 114. If anyone tried to get him to go to any senior citizen or retirement person's activities he would not go as he considered that only for old people. I think Andrew enjoyed his life as much as anyone. He had a lot of bad experiences, but made a joke of most of it, as a rule he did just about as he pleased and really didn't care what anyone thought about it.

In February of 1983, Andrew suddenly started to have problems, but my Mother could not get him to go see a Doctor. Finally, I was able to convince him to go if Lois and I would take him. He had never been to a Doctor in his life, except for the Army physical. Rather reluctantly, he threw his cane in the car and got in for the trip to see Dr. Benn. We waited as he checked over Andrew and we could hear him telling the Doctor that there wasn't anything wrong, except he was sure someone had put something in his Copenhagen. Finally, the Doctor came out and told us Andrew had a bad case of Congestive Heart Failure and his condition was so serious that he should be in the hospital. Andrew didn't want to go just because someone had put something in his Copenhagen, but finally gave in and said he would go if we went with him. We then went to the hospital in Stevens Point. He must have known it was getting toward the end, but still he could joke about it. They wanted him to get in a wheel chair, but he wanted to walk in. The nurse insisted and he finally got into one. Then turned to the nurse and said, ''have you got a driver's license for this thing?"

The next day we went to see him. We asked the nurse how he was doing. She said not too good, but pretty good for a 100 year old man. "Who told you he was 100?", I asked. "He did”, she said. I told her he must have said he was almost 100 and liked to say he was born right after Lincoln died. About 2 days later, I went to see him again. He was sleeping, but woke up to speak to me for a minute. Then went back to sleep. The next morning he died.

My Mother, over the years, had saved enough out of his pensions for a nice funeral. He never would have worried about that. When I went to the funeral home to see Andrew. I had to smile to myself as I looked at him and thought of what had happened to him and that he had made it over 90 years. My first thought was, Andrew, if you had known you would live so long, you would have taken better care of yourself. It happened that the regular pastor from my church was on vacation, so it was necessary for a seminary student, Rex Brandt who was called on for the funeral service. It was his first funeral and he did an excellent job, which Andrew would have agreed. It was good to see that so many came to pay their respects to Andrew and almost all the nieces and nephews were there also. As I remember it, one of Herbert's sons, who was now in the National Guard, came with his uniform on. I asked him, Why the uniform?" He said, “Because Andrew would have liked that". With that I agree. He was buried in the Halton Cemetery near Weyauwega, where some of his brothers and sisters are buried as well as his parents and grandparents. 90 years, 6 months and 15 days, and as I said before, "if he had know he would live so long".

My Mother received the flag for Andrew. When she went to the Nursing Home in 1992, we had to disperse everything in her home. At this time, I knew they needed a flag in the Iola High School gym, so Andrew's Flag always gets a lot of attention before every basketball game.

When the grave marker from the Veterans Administration came, it had a mistake in the engraving so I insisted they take it back, and put the correct information on it. The old soldier, as he called himself, would not rest easy if it were not right. There are many that will not forget Uncle Andrew.


-Taps
Day is done, gone the sun from the lake
from the hill, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest - God is neigh
thanks and praise for our days
'Neath the sun,
'Neath the moon & stars
thanks and praise for our days
'Neath the sun,
'Neath the moon & stars
"Neath the sky.
As we go, this we know -- God is neigh

Andrew Lamphear
Private Co. G  318th Infantry
80th Division -- U.S. Army
“If he had known he would live so long, he might of taken better care of himself”
     

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