Our son Robert served on the Fast Frigate Cannole in
the USN, but lets get on with the rest of the story.
One of Pearl’s and my dearest friends was stationed at the Federal
Reformatory for Women, here in Alderson, in the late 50’s and we have
remained friends through the
Years since. We have shared each other’s tragedies and joys as friends do.
Following his time at the prison, and after a year in New Haven at Yale,
Walt and his family settled into a practice in Narrows, Virginia. We were
elated, Pearl was pregnant and Walt agreed to be the deliveryman! He and
his wife Barbara later were our new son Roberts God-Parents. We were
heartbroken, when after several years they left the state of Virginia for,
what they felt was, a calling to the Peace Corps in the Dominican
It was later, after the tragic death of their oldest son, the breakup of
his and Barbara’s marriage, his later marriage to Sandi and several moves,
Santa Fe to Puget Sound, that Walt returned to the East.
Walt’s Mom and Dad, two delightful retired schoolteachers from Queens, New
York; had decided to move to the New River Valley of Virginia also. They
quickly became a part of the Presbyterian Church Family in Pearisburg and
the rest of the good Virginia rural life.
As happens, they grew older and more infirm, and after Helen VomLehn broke
her hip in a fall, it became apparent they would soon need Walt and Sandi!
It was also better that they not be uprooted at this point in their lives.
Walt and Sandi returned to Virginia. Walt became part of the Medical Staff
at VPI, Sandi started work on her MSW at Radford, they bought a house in
the area and they became, once more, Virginians!
We were delighted, we visited back and forth about every month, we went to
the VPI-WVU ball games, and we became better acquainted with Walter and
Mom and Dad. It is here the story really begins!
Walter Vomlehn’s father was a German immigrant about 1900, he settled in
Queens and became a successful home builder, When Walt’s Dad, “Walter” was
18 and just out of high school, he didn’t want to follow his dad’s trade
and he didn’t want to go to college. He joined the Navy!
At the completion of his boot camp at Great Lakes, his group of trainees
was asked if any of them would like to learn to dive, Walter raised his
hand. In telling the story he said that as a youth he could do a passable
jack-knife, but he thought it would be nice to be able to do a half-gainer
and some of the more difficult dives from a spring-Board since the Navy was offering him the opportunity. It would impress
In 1914-15, the Navy did not, as yet, have any divers. Walter was in Class
#1 of the USN school for hard-hat divers. He spent the rest of his
enlistment cutting-up sunken
Hazards to Navigation off the shores of the Outer Banks of North Carolina!
Returning to civilian life, he entered Dartmouth College and went on to a
career as a teacher and administrator in NYC public schools. Incidentally,
at Dartmouth he was the classmate of “Dr. Seuss”! With his Dartmouth
graduates son and grandson he attended the 70th. Reunion of his class, one
of his proudest possessions was a baseball cap given to his fellows by Dr.
Seuss. The cap had a Grinch embossed on it.
Walter and I bonded almost immediately, we were both Masons and we liked
many of the same sorts of things. He told me of his boyhood in NYC in the
early 1900’s and I told him about a farm-boys life in Virginia. I recall
loaning him my cherished copies of Eric Sloan’s books on early American
life, with the beautiful sketches also done by Sloan. He gave me an unused
sharpening stone in a cast-iron box that had been a gift to him. I’ve
never seen another like it! He asked me if I knew how and would make him a
sling such as David used to slay the giant. I made him one from rawhide
laces and tongue of an old hunting boot. His son told me the sling was in
the top drawer of his dresser when he died.
When his wife of nearly 70 years died, he suddenly grew older and much
more feeble. Walt and Sandi decided to retire and return to a home they
had built on Friday Harbor in Puget Sound, while they moved and made
Walters room just as it was in Virginia, Walter came to live with Pearl
and I. Later Pearl and I flew with him to Seattle
to his new home. We took the last known picture of him at a picnic on the
beach of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, grinning like one of Dr. Seuss’s
Cheshire Cats! He died peacefully in his sleep the next year.
The Seth Thomas clock on our mantle was one he bought at Abercrombie and
Fitch after leaving the Navy, it much later was a gift from him to a
fellow sailor, our son Robert. The clock kept very accurate time, but
never seemed to chime right. Only after several years did our son explain
what the clocks chimes really were.
It is a Sailors Clock and it does not chime the hours. It chimes the
“Bells” of a sailor’s duty or “Watch”!
It tolls the bells for seamen who in olden times could not afford a
personal time-piece (ie. - a watch), the sailors could thus determine the
length of their duty, morning, day or night.
The end of a sailors time on Watch was considered “8 Bells”; hence the
saying, “Eight Bells and All is Well”.
And so it is for Walter.
For Walt Vomlehn on the anniversary of the death of his Father Walter.