Today would have been my grandpa’s 107th birthday. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think of him, so I thought today was a good opportunity to post the section I wrote about him for My Marquette.
Lester Earle White (1905—1987)
My grandpa, Lester Earle White, was the oldest and therefore the “big brother” to the rest. He was named for Miss Lester, the nurse my great-grandmother had in the hospital. He was born premature and about the size of a kitchen knife. Consequently, he suffered with health problems throughout his life. He was a workaholic, but when he got sick, he would be laid up in bed for days.
My grandfather, as the oldest child, helped to support his family. At fourteen, when he graduated from eighth grade, he went to work with his father. In time he would own his own salvage and scrap metal business and was known as Haywire White in the 1930s. However, most of his life he spent as a carpenter building houses, cabinets, furniture, fences, and anything else anyone needed. Many people said he was the best carpenter in Marquette and if nothing else, his work was always sturdy. He retired when he was seventy, but he never really retired. Until a couple of weeks before he died, he was daily in his workshop putting in more than an eight-hour day making tables, lazy susans, benches, mirrors, and anything else he thought he could sell. My brother and I spent many hours in his woodshop with him and to this day I have many of the little houses, wagons, and other toys he made for us.
Like Henry in Superior Heritage, my grandfather died as a result of his flannel shirt catching on fire one morning when he went to light his woodstove so he could start working. Although he was flown to the Milwaukee Burn Center, after two weeks his body could not take the pain and his kidneys failed.
Other than his work, I remember my grandfather most for his kindness. I wanted to be with him every minute I could. I always wanted to sit next to him at the table, and I always had to go with him to help with his craft sales. He never complained about having me around, although he didn’t like me getting dirty or getting crumbs on the floor. He was always giving my brother and me money or treats, as did my grandmother, and often, he would stick dollar bills between paper plates at supper so we would discover them later when we cleared the table.
The scenes in Superior Heritage of Henry Whitman feeding the animals at Ives Lake are all based on my grandfather. He would have chipmunks come into his woodshop, jump into his hand, and take peanuts from him. One time he took care of a pigeon with a broken wing in his shop until it was able to fly again. He always had peanuts to feed to the squirrels and fed all the pigeons even when the neighbors complained. Until late in his life he always had a dog, and after, when I had my dog, Benji, he would tell us we weren’t allowed to visit unless we brought Benji with us.
Grandpa did everything he could for his family, including giving his brothers and brother-in-laws work, and buying the property for his parents where their house on Wilkinson Avenue would be built.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my grandpa and my grandma. They were the happiest married couple I ever saw. When my grandpa went to Florida to work for three months, my grandparents wrote to each other almost every single day, and my mother remembers when Grandpa came home, how he jumped out of the truck and ran into the house to see Grandma. I’m sure they are happy together in heaven. I don’t think I will ever stop missing them.