Letter from Matthew Beach (younger
Picture a late 19th century midwest mansion, huge and green with a great front porch and out back a two-story barn with horse stables and a great hay loft and former servants' quarters ― all on half a city block, and less than a mile from Ojibway Island on the river dividing East Side from West Side in Saginaw, Michigan, late 1950's, the industrial city home to Steering Gear division of General Motors, and the world's largest gray iron foundry. Home also to Glenn M. Beach, Architect, his wife Jean Houlihan Beach and their three sons.
On the second floor at the front of the house was a great bedroom with its own bath, and a long closet connecting it to the next bedroom on that side. That front room provided study and model-building and Kiphuth Exercise Program space for Peter Morgan Beach, who would enter Yale College from Saginaw Arthur Hill High School in 1960. Through the closet was the room of Matthew, 4 years younger, and Jeffrey, 6 years younger.
I am Matthew, the middle son, remembering the love and the loss of the brother who entered the Class of '64. If you knew the residents of 50 Vanderbilt Hall at Yale during the year of 1960-61, you were pleased to encounter one or more of these freshmen "sons of Eli," Peter Beach, Doane Perry, Angus McDonald, and Tim White.
Peter loved singing, playing guitar, tennis and swimming most. And nearly as much, sailing, reading, talking with people in wide-ranging conversation, and sometimes using gifts honed on the high school debating team in rigorous examination of ideas. And he loved to build models ― boats and airplanes and cars ― especially airplanes.
Come now in imagination to this mansion in Saginaw, and after the sun sets west of Lake Michigan. You have a flashlight in your hand, and so do Peter and Matthew. Above our heads in the 16-foot ceiling room, run strong mono-filament lines in logical but not square grid pattern. Hanging from the line are model planes that Matthew bought and Peter built ― British Spitfire, German Messerschmitt, US Corsair, Lightning, B-17, and many others. The flashlight enables us to make the airplanes' shadows bank or climb or dive. It's magical.
When that remarkable model builder and singer went off to Yale, I was proud and in awe. He swam. He played water polo with medal winners from the 1960 Summer Olympics. That team won the National AAU Junior Championship. He was invited into one of the small singing groups that fed talent to the Whiffenpoofs. He delighted in studying music and English.
And at Christmas 1960 he gifted us with recordings by the Yale Glee Club and the Whiffenpoofs. Woolsey Hall became a wonderful living place to me long before I first entered that storied space. Peter talked about becoming a neurosurgeon. He considered the priesthood.
He was offered the summer job of directing a waterfront on Cape Cod. Our father demanded that he take a "real job" working construction on the new high school out in the township. Dad was consulting architect.
On 10 July 1961 the gymnasium roof collapsed, killing Peter and hurting two other men. I was flown back from a fishing camp in Wawa, Ontario. I hoped there had been a mistake, that Peter would reappear.
Instead there was a funeral with a closed casket. When Doane Perry came from far away New England, a part of me sensed that indeed Peter Morgan Beach would not return to Yale and I would never get to visit him there.
I was only partly correct.
At the 35th reunion of his class, staying in Davenport College, I had the rare pleasure of meeting men who remembered Peter. I was surprised on reflection at the vividness of the memories. I was also sorry to be an occasion for some to face an old grief. But indeed love conquers all. I will forever be thankful that so many people showed me not just welcome, but wisdom and eloquent compassion.
Truly Mother Yale yearns to care for her children unto the seventh generation.
The following poem conveys more than prose can say.
Skiff and ketch
The sweet skiff Healing sails
on fresh-bloom tears
and nary a luff stays her way.
Swept wood sculls,
will stir if breath should fail.
bear me on to that land
where Death no more can rend.
In the cadence of waves,
treble meter most dear,
give the brother sore torn from my side.
We were sailing through youth
when a squall drowned the voice
that was guiding me glad through some shoals.
Now my children and bride
need me steady at helm
so I ask you, fair skiff, will you heel?
Said she, "No, I cannot, for
my draught is too skant.
But I'll take you along to the Ketch.
There you'll change from the togs
that are chafing you so,
and your brother will sail to your lee."
and at once the bay changed
as the Ketch came in view,
for the fog swiftly lifted to show
that He once walked the water
who now plies my heart
and gives brothers abundant to me.