Morris Gillespie had come by that winter of '77, driving his gold Pontiac station wagon loaded with plumbing and electrical tools.
Retired recently from Boeing, Morrie's fix-all prowess was already legendary in the sleepy village of Chinook, Wash.
He offered to help me rewire the oldest building in town. I was a young impetuous man who had just bought the Shelburne Inn for a few dollars down and a handshake that said "I'll honor this old building." But I hardly knew where to start. I told Morrie that I didn't have any money. Morrie Gillespie in uniform. He served in New Guinea during World War II.He said that didn't matter, and it didn't. For the next quarter of a century, no greenbacks ever passed between us. The remains of those many seasons stand plain and simple: We became and remained the best of friends. He was generous to a fault.
The work wasn't fun, unless you enjoy crawling through attic space as tight as Ebenezer Scrooge's wallet, space twined with cob webs, dust and many creatures, thank God, mostly small. We endured.
The Shelburne was wired knob and tube, and there wasn't much of either. Indeed, there wasn't a single private bath in the place. None of that mattered to Morrie. His God was hard work and fixing the broken and impossible. He seemed to respect the fact that I was a young man in over my head, but crazy enough not to be afraid (ignorant perhaps) of a giant project. I was single about that time, often carrying one or both of my sons in backpacks around the Inn.
With Morrie came Lottie, his beloved wife of many years, now my oldest friend. While we crawled through the attic, Lottie wallpapered and painted. "I want to do my own room, top to bottom. My colors, my paper, my antiques." Who was I to argue? Meanwhile Morrie and I figured ways to run 12-2 through single-wall construction and engineer water pipes into impossible spaces. Morrie Gillespie with his Western Dairy Products van. This picture of "the milk man" dates to about 1935.If Morrie complained, the nature of his protest was one born out with a kind laugh or consummated with a short mischievous smile.
The Gillespies showed up for months, and thereafter, whenever some electrical or plumbing problem stumped the young innkeeper. Sometimes they just brought food - Polish perogies and homemade sausage remain my favorites to this day. Morrie preferred a thin, mahogany-hued coffee. He stopped by most days.
He filled a short cup of coffee to the brim with milk. No sugar. His taste was plain. I never saw him drink alcohol.
On occasion ,when he would allow me to take Lottie and him to dinner - she liked Chinese - Morrie always ordered a steak, well done. Lottie liked a glass of sweet wine.
She favored a taste of wanderlust. After World War II, Morrie preferred hanging close to town. He preferred a small village to a large city. More than once, I (or my bride) drove them to Portland for medical appointments. Lottie and I attended antique auctions. Were there ever tensions between this couple from Pe Ell? Sometimes - this was the generation that hung together through thick and thin. Their love persevered.
Quite a catch! Morrie Gillespie during a successful fishing trip on the Columbia River.A month or two into the Shelburne project, Morrie called to ask a favor. "My neighbor's daughter, David, she got her car stuck on the Long Beach Approach. Can you help me pull her out?"
I was dressed in dirty blue jeans and a red checkered flannel shirt, with clay dust streaking the thread-bare fabric. It was winter and my curly hair was damp and hatless. Laurie Anderson was standing beside her father's old van looking concerned but not helpless. (She has never been helpless a day in her life, but I didn't know that yet.) My eyes fell on this blond, opal-eyed daughter of pure Viking extraction and I knew, knew I had found my soul mate. Morrie knew too. That is why he had called. Sitting beside me in my old Toyota pickup, his eyes just seemed to smile for miles.
And now he is gone. Gone this December. For the last two years, stroke and varying stages of Alzheimer's had whittled away this bright opinionated man - yes, Morrie could be stubborn at times - whittled away at his skill and wit. If I may rely on my instincts, never once did the disease fracture that big unselfish heart.
Even when I couldn't find my old friend inside that tired body, I recognized the regular throb of his kindly heart, that endearing sparkle.
Morrie's neighbor, Rod Maxwell-Muir, and I drove regularly to the local nursing home to pay homage to this generous man, and perhaps to say goodbye in our own awkward way. Photo courtesy Laurie Anderson