Did any of you know Beckham Walling?
In some grade at either Southboro or Conniston I met Beckham. He was not a physically impressive boy and my first contact with him came in the schoolyard as I was pulling some big guy off him. “Bullying” was not a common term in our era but it would have applied to what I interrupted.
Beckham and I did not become bosom buddies as a result of my playground rescue. We seldom spoke or even saw each other but the other boys knew we were friends and he seemed to be a much happier kid from that day forward.
How many years passed before I saw Beckham again, I’m not sure. I was visiting a friend or relative at Good Samaritan Hospital for some reason in the early 60’s and as I was walking down the hall to leave the building, a nurse approached me.
“A friend of yours ask; if you would stop by in his room?”
“A friend, who?” I responded.
Beckham was in his early twenties but he looked much older and he had lost too much weight. He had that yellowish pallor that we associate with a liver disorder and his voice was weak. He was in a semi-private room but I don’t remember any other patient.
It would have been difficult talking to him if I had been the best friend he had on earth but with only one long-ago experience in common, it was painful. We made the expected small talk and Beckham soon began to tell me what had brought him to where he was.
Whenever he left school he went to work for Tylander Lumber Co. His work involved the soaking of sheets of plywood in a woodlife like solution to provide weather proofing. In the process of doing this he routinely spent hours each day with his naked hands and arms submerged in the liquid and handling the soaked product. He wasn’t sure, nor at that time was anyone else, but he thought his work may, in his words, have “made me sick”.
The feeling I had, standing there looking into his sad eyes, was the same I had had years before on the playground but this time I was helpless. There was no bully I could pull off of Beckham. I cried and so did he. The bottom line was that because few people had ever even heard of a carcinogen, my friend was dying and he didn’t know why.
When I left I told him I would “stop back by in a day or two”. I never did.
Can anyone tell me more about Beckham Walling? I believe it might offer me a bit of closure if you can.
12 years old at Southboro Elem. School