Broad of Beam

And Heavy Afore the Mast

My father-in-law died at home over the weekend and it feels like the passing of a certain style of talking, thinking, behaving and being.

Just shy of his 97th birthday when he breathed his last, Walter had a knack for expressions—the sort you rarely hear.

My favorite is his description of a relative.

Walter related a silhouette of his relative to my husband, Scott, who needed to pick her out of a crowd.

Because Scott had never laid eyes on her, Walter said, “you’ll know her” by the figure she cuts.

“She’s built broad of beam, and heavy afore the mast.”

Walter was simply stating a fact.

He didn’t have a mean bone in his tiny frame—which earned him the nickname of “Pee-Wee” in high school.

Short but fast, he held his high school’s record for the fastest mile run during his tenure.

Although diminutive, he cut quite the figure in his navy-blue Coast Guard uniform, but, alas, his fashion sense was tragic.

Walter could ply plaid on plaid with carefree abandon. For him, madras and seersucker made a fashion statement.

He traded his World War II uniform for the Wall Street attire of neckties and suits, and put his degree in economics to work in banking and investing, his lifelong career.

His observations were wicked-smart, like the pronouncement that a full-bellied man exhibited a “large corporation.”

Or that a stylish woman was “well-upholstered.”

When his wife was lagging behind, she was “dragging anchor.”

Walter’s endearments of his wife of 72 years, Violet, were sweet indeed.

When Walter talked about Violet to his son, he identified her as, “Your Mother.”

Walter would say, “Your mother is in a mood.”

Or, if Violet were taking a nap, he’d say, “Your mother’s corked off.”

Sometimes–when Walter was mildly annoyed—he would call Violet by her pet name: Henry.

More than once I’ve heard him say, “No, no, no, no, Henry. That’s not right.”

And while Walter was setting the record straight, Henry would shake her head as if to say, no, no, no, no.

They would sit side-by-side on the couch, Walter talking, with Violet shaking her head and rolling her eyes.

Sometimes she would vigorously disagree with her husband, and, if Walter couldn’t sway Violet, he would simply shrug his shoulders.

He didn’t hold a grudge and was one of those rare muggles who gave other people the benefit of the doubt no matter what.

As his vigor faded in his 90s, Walter recited statements he called mantras.

I captured one of them:

“We have a long and happy life together.

That’s the new mantra.

We do the best that we can as long as we can and then we fade away like everything else.

We’re out of here.

We’re out of here.

We’re out of here.”


For Walter Leonard Emery

23 June 1921-25 May 2018

Photo of Walter and Violet Emery by C Coleman Emery


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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3 Responses to Broad of Beam

  1. Having just lost a much loved step-father in law, I imagine I might comprehend something of you loss. But maybe not.


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