The Man With The Huge Clapping Hands

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man with a difficult past puts on a brave happy front

Submitted: December 14, 2016

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Submitted: December 14, 2016

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THE MAN WITH THE HUGE CLAPPING HANDS

I have never figured out how Bob Postel could have been born in Muscoda, Wisconsin, just seven miles up river from Port Andrews where my father was born and they never met...Bob was a little older than my dad, but my dad had three older brothers...How could Bob have never known the Beebe boys...? The river was everything to boys back in the 30's and 40's before the Big War took them all away....
Anyway, I didn't even meet Bob in Wisconsin. I met him on Longboat Key near Sarasota on the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida....He had retired from the dairy industry after many years with Borden's Dairy in Madison, Wisconsin and spent his winters on the west side of The Sunshine State...
I had worked on this long narrow barrier island for four years before I took a job at the Holiday Inn in the center of the 12 mile-long mound of expensive white sand. Bob was good friends with the bar manager at the Holiday Inn, and he and several other businessmen and beach bums liked to hang out every afternoon at the Crow's Nest Bar in the holidome area of this beautiful gulf front resort. They drank beer and played euchre until the bar closed at 6 pm when the main bar opened and I would start playing. You had to notice Bob because he was 6'2" or so and he always walked in clapping as he walked and he could make his big hands sound so loud somehow. He left them hollowed out just enough to make his clapping the loudest thing in the room...even when I was playing...! Then he would quickly zoom out onto the busy dance floor grabbing a cute young girl along the way and moving and grooving for half a dance and then he was done...he moved on....
He was proud of me and what I could do so, whenever there was a brief lull, he liked to holler out my name like an announcer would, and make me people applaud a little extra for me...We quickly became good friends and I played in this resort for most of six years....There was a shake-up in the management and I moved to bar across the street for a year and everybody came along so Bob was there every night always announcing his arrival with hisbig loud hands...He was in his seventies, but he still liked to make the scene and dance with the young girls...
Everybody loved Bob...He drank a lot of beer but was never drunk...He was always laughing or getting a laugh from someone else...I never saw him with a date, but he loved girls and they loved him...Everybody was always in a good mood when they were around Bobbo...
One day, I heard something from one of his close friends and it was so strange and unexpected that I had to ask him about it...It turned out that Bob was still married to the love of his life, but she was in a nursing home in nearby Bradenton, Florida, and she had Alzheimer's and didn't know him any more...He would visit regularly and she would be angry and afraid, and didn't know her husband of fifty years...He never brought it up
I know there are a lot of people who decide that they're going to be happy every day even with gloom and darkness and heartache in their lives and suddenly I saw my friend, Bob as a perfect example of this...I saw him differently...and loved him differently...
New management at the Holiday Inn lured me back across the street for another year...then new management again came and I was suddenly playing at one of the coolest places on the island, The Buccaneer Inn on Dream Island Road....This big place was a famously successful fine dining restaurant on the Bayside and had a nice marina filled with million-dollar yachts...And oddly enough, it was owned by a family originally from Wisconsin named Field ( no relation )...I always loved the place and had always wanted to play there...This was my first long-term exposure to a piano bar setting. They had a huge piano-shaped table and I stood at the keyboard end and played to a big beautiful room...We had a great time and I seldom took a break, but sometimes when I did, if Bob was there, I would holler out to him, 

"Road trip!" 

and he would go get his car and wait for me at the front doors. Then we hurry off to some other nearby bar and have a drink and then hurry back...I was single then, so we would often take a lady or two with us...Fun, fun and even more fun

Then one evening in 1995, I called,

" Road trip!"

And when I got in Bob's car, there were photos spilled out on the seat between us...Bob took thousands of pictures all the time of anybody and everybody, so I scooped them up and started looking at them...At about this time, lots of guys Bob's age,  were traveling all over the country and all over the world to go to 50-year anniversary celebrations of their service in World War II and Bob was getting photos together to take with him to one of these reunions...
I looked at these photos for a long moment before I even understood what I was looking at. In each of the twenty or so pictures that I held up, the setting was on the edge of a deep forest and there were all these very white ghostly looking people-like creatures standing, sitting, lying on the ground... hundreds of them...maybe more...

Bob Postel had been in the troop that liberated the Buchenwald Death Camp in Nazi Germany during World War II...I couldn't believe what I was seeing! He wasn't showing me these photos...I just grabbed them up...
It was another thing that never came up in conversation with the man with the huge clapping hands...
I played at Bob Postel's 90th birthday party in Madison and people came from all over everywhere....From Florida and even farther...He died just a few years ago at 93...!


© Copyright 2020 Brian Beebe. All rights reserved.

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