July 15 – Happy Birthday Laverne Turnbull

Usually, the current and former Amsterdam residents recognized on this Blog have accomplished something worthy of note in one field or another at some point in their lives. But the heart and soul of this City has always been comprised of people who have not so evidently done so. They are the people who wake up every day and go to work at ordinary jobs to support their families. They live their lives serving others, usually their children, spouses or perhaps aging parents, sacrificing many of the better things in life so that there is enough food in the fridge, the rent or taxes get paid and they can make those payments on the braces for their kid’s teeth while their own decay away.

From the outside looking in, the lives of these unrecognized folks may seem boring, but that’s only because you don’t really know them. I’d like to introduce you to one I used to know.

A few years ago while doing research for one of my Amsterdam books, I came across an old obituary for a person named Laverne Turnbull. I knew him quite well and had no idea he had passed away in February of 2014 at the age of 89. When I clicked on the Tributes & Condolences link of his Riley Mortuary Obituary listing, I found none had been left. At first that saddened me but not for long.

Laverne and his beloved wife Nina were regular customers of mine at the old Ralph’s cocktail lounge that used to be located on Market Street on the current site of Dr. Andolina’s office parking lot. I bartended at Ralph’s every Friday night during my college years and can honestly say that while doing so, I met some of the nicest people it has ever been my pleasure to know.

Laverne did most of the maintenance work at the Alexander Rest Home in Hagaman, NY and Nina was a hard-working purchasing agent for the Greater Amsterdam School District. They had two sons, David and Dean, both around my age.

I have never met two people more in love than Nina and LaVerne were with each other. Now don’t get me wrong, they certainly had their share of arguments, perhaps over something one of their boys had done or because LaVerne would want one more draft beer when Nina, who only drank Coca-Cola’s was more than ready to go home. But for the vast majority of those Friday nights, this couple would sit on those black leather bar stools and simply enjoy being with each other. They’d discuss their workdays, what they needed to pick up at the store, the conference they had with one of their sons’ teachers, or an article in that day’s Recorder. They’d always remember our discussions from the previous week and want to know if I passed the Economics exam, if my fiancee liked the movie or if my Mom was feeling better.

Ralph’s usually had a live band playing Friday nights so the three of us would often sing along together, usually C&W tunes and boy did Verne have a horrible singing voice. Nina had American Indian blood in her ancestry and she was so proud of it. I remember one night, perhaps on Halloween, she showed up at the bar in full Indian regalia with Laverne introducing her lovingly to everyone as his “squaw.”

Now I’m the first to admit I know nothing about what Laverne and Nina’s lives were like 24/7, but during their long-ago Friday evening date-nights at Ralph’s, they were two people completely content being with each other. My memories of them sitting there at the end of that large, heavily varnished, oak-topped bar help remind me that folks who are satisfied and happy with what they already have are much richer than those who are not. Laverne Turnbull may not have received any condolence messages on his obituary listing and he may have never got his name in the paper for starting a business, winning a case or scoring a touchdown but he was a rich man because he had something nobody else did and he loved her with all his heart. Rest in piece Laverne.

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