Don Bennett 1927 - 2004
I was talking to my son, Dave, and told him that Don Bennett had passed away. He replied that he didn't know Don Bennett. Well, I quickly realized it was quite unlikely that he would know Don. But that kind of saddened me because Don was family, and family has a way of getting lost in this day and age. Not only that, but I feel that Don had had a significant impact on Dave's life. Later, on that. But Dave had never had any contact with my cousin, Don.
The rest of the kids would know Don Bennett, because Don lived with Cheryl and me for two years. But that was after Dave had moved to Colorado and then to the Bay Area.
Don was a renegade; most of the New England crowd stayed in New England. But Don was a lot like George Benvie. Like George, Don went west. When his sister, Shirley, called with the news of Don's death, she was in Florida. But like most of the rest of the Pearce descendants, she spent most of her life in New England and had only retired to Florida with her husband, Chuck, after selling the family business in Maine.
But, on to Don. My favorite recollection of Don was a series of weekends in 1951. On the first of those weekends, Don had driven down to Pawtucket Rhode Island to visit with my folks, Roland and Viola. When I stop to think about that now, I am kind of amazed because he was only about twenty two at the time. I was seventeen. How many twenty two year olds would drive from Georgetown Massachusetts to Pawtucket Rhode Island to visit with folks a generation older? Roland was forty nine, and Vi was forty one.
So, how is this significant to me, Barry? Well, Don asked where I was. My dad said that I was out in the back yard, working on the car. What an under or over statement that was. Take it however you will. Roland owned a 1937 Ford but rarely drove it. He was only a block from work. So he walked to work, and I used the car to commute to college in Providence. But the bad news was that I had driven the Ford down to a football game at Yale. I drove too fast, and knew nothing about taking care of a car, like checking the oil. Now I was "fixing" an old Ford that was burning oil furiously. The spark plugs were fouled, and I could hardly get the car to start. Oh, yes, did I mention the usual teenager-plus-car equals problems?
So Roland told Don that I was out back, and Don came out back to see what I was doing. What he found was a kid that knew nothing about cars, with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, trying to remove the pan bolts. I had figured that if I could get the pan off, I could figure out a way to fix the engine. Whew! When I think back!
After Don saw the situation, he told me to wash my hands and wait for him to help. I highly respected Don and did what he said.
Don went back in the house and bawled my father out while I tried to get the grease off my hands. I was told that he said, "Do you know what that kid is trying to do?" He left.
The next weekend, Don came back. He had with him a short block that he had bought in a junkyard. He also had his tools. So Barry got to pull an engine out of a car, remove the fuel pump, carburetor, starter, etc., from the old block, and reinstall them on the "new" block. Suddenly, Barry had become an apprentice mechanic.
But, then the bad news; We put oil in the pan, and filled the radiator with water. Sadly, we found that the water ran into the pan. The "new" engine from the junk yard had a blown head gasket.
We pulled the "new" block out of the '37 Ford, and removed all the parts. Don took the engine with him. Guess what? On the next weekend, Don was back, and we repeated the operation. Not only that, but Barry was getting better at this new mechanic trade.
Anyone figuring out where, maybe Dave and Doug got those mechanical skills? Sure, you bet. I made sure that they each got a junker for their first car. Dave got the 1962 Plymouth Station wagon from Bill, across the street. It had a trashed engine and Bill was going to take it to the junk yard. But Bill thought that maybe . . . - And he was right, I took the car for Dave. Dave took that engine apart, and you could look down through the cylinders and see the driveway. He did rings, and valves, and everything else to that car. It had to be the smoothest running car I have ever driven. Dave, it was Don again. It never would have happened without Don Bennett.
But the earliest thing I remember about Don was when he took me for an airplane ride. Yep, that's right, Don was a pilot. He joined the service, and was a pilot! He took me up when I was about twelve, and he was probably about seventeen at the time. I remember for sure that he did his best to get me airsick. Boy, what aerobatics; but I didn't get sick. We flew over my folks home, and they waved. I was just waiting to land, and get out of the plane.
And there was the story about Don going down and getting his birth certificate that would show that he was old enough to join the airforce. After much confusion, he found his birth certificate, but it showed him as Donald Pearce. How did that happen? Well, we think it was Lana. Lana was our grandmother. We were told that she was the one that reported the birth. It was all done differently in those days. I can just hear someone asking Lana what the last name was, and Lana replying with her last name. So Donald Bennett was Donald Pearce. He had to formally change his name to Donald Bennett. He kept Pearce for a middle name. So now you know how Don became Donald Pearce Bennett.
As an aside, we can probably build on the theory above, because Lana also reported my birth. When I was around, thirty, I had need of a copy of my birth certificate. I wrote to the folks in Salem Massachusetts, and a copy showed up in the mail. Strangely, it showed my birth date as September 9th. But I had, my whole life, thought I was born on September 2d. I can just hear someone asking Lana what date Barry was born on, and Lana replying with the current date. Well, it's a theory. I still wonder what date I was born on. No matter!
Like Don Bennett and George Benvie, I went west too. It was probably 1955 when Don showed up for a visit. He was living in Lee Vining, California, and drove down to Los Angeles to see his cousin, Barry. Remember the visit to Roland and Vi? But this visit to Barry was a three hundred mile trip. That was the kind of guy Don was.
We kind of lost touch with Don for a while, but in 1984, I got a call from Glad, Don's mother. She was in New England, and Don was in San Diego, California. Don had been in New Mexico, but was now in San Diego, living with his lady friend, Cindy. He had been out of work, but had landed a job in Los Angeles. He needed a place to stay. I told Glad to give him my address and phone number. I had recently moved, and was certainly happy to put Don up while he got settled. He stayed with Cheryl and me for about two years! Yes, about two years.
Now, you might think that this would be a bit much for Cheryl. And, maybe Barry too. But it was quite an unusual stay. Don always drove back to San Diego every Friday after work. And, after spending the weekend with Cindy, he drove straight to work on Monday morning. So we didn't see him until Monday night. And he came home after stopping for a bite to eat on the way to our house. So he arrived at about 8:00 PM, said hello for about five minutes, and went to his room and watched TV. We watched TV in the living room, and Don watched his favorite (different) TV programs in his bedroom.
Another zinger; Don slept on top of the bed, so Cheryl never had to change the sheets. He would get up about an hour before we did, take a shower, and head off to work. He got something to eat on the way to work, so Cheryl never needed to worry about what to feed Don. More on Don's eating habits later.
So, Don was not seen again until Tuesday night around 8:00 PM. And so it went. He was the perfect, invisible house guest. When we said goodnight on Thursday, evening, we knew we wouldn't see him again until Monday evening.
About two years - That's our recollection!
So, why didn't Don ever eat dinner with us? Well, we finally found out that it was because he preferred a different kind of dinner. Don's idea of dinner was a hot dog with no mustard or relish, or anything else. He also liked plain hamburgers and Colonel Sanders Chicken. I don't remember what he drank, but my stash of beer didn't interest him. He was certainly a different kind of diner!
Don's health became an issue when he had his first heart attack. He drove off the highway after blacking out. Fortunately, he was not seriously injured, and the doctors had him back into the world in short order. But I believe he had another heart attack prior to the one that took his life this past September in 2004. I'm sure Shirley will have the facts.
But, back to Don's lifestyle: We got to see him in Reno on occasion because he made trips to Lake Tahoe. Amazingly, he went to Tahoe to perform with a group of folks that put on ice skating shows. Don was from New England, and he brought some of his youth learned talent to the west coast. We always enjoyed his company, and he usually would spend a night with us in Reno. Yes, Cheryl says he still slept on top of the comforter!
One of Don's major talents was oil painting. He was outstanding. He was sought out for special orders from friends, and friends of friends. He had been painting as far back as I can remember. I believe that he gained that painting ability by working with my mother, Viola, and others, like Bob Folsom. Vi and Bob were painting in Beverly Massachusetts, where Don lived as a kid. My guess is that he somehow tied up with the oils gang, and learned by watching. Perhaps Shirley will know. I am, right now, looking at one of Don's paintings. He was very talented.
So, why would I write all this out? I guess because I would like my children and grandchildren to know a little about their family. And Don was family. Perhaps some of my cousins, will also enjoy reading a little about their cousin, Don Bennett.
One final note: It wasn't but a few weeks, and I got the news from Shirley that Glad had passed away. Glad, Don's mother, was 97. She had been told that Don had gone to be with the Lord. I wonder about the coincidence of Glad's death. But, now, Glad and Don are both with Lana, and John. John and Lana are my grandparents. John was a Baptist minister. I wonder just how much he influenced all of the Pearces and Bennetts, and Thompsons. Someday, we will all find out.
Barry PearceE-mail: barry