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February 29, 1996

Today's column brings greetings and salutations to this community from Fred W. Beers of West Palm Beach, Florida. Perhaps that name doesn't strike a responsive chord, but let me just say that if you lived here in the 1930s, Fred remembers you and can recall which block you lived on in Perry, Oklahoma. He has one of the most remarkable memories this side of Chan-du, the fabled Oriental mentalist.

Cousin Fred, who came from Kansas City, Mo., lived here during the heart of the Great Depression and assisted with management of our family business, the City Drug Store, on the north side of the square where Roy Kendrick's Cherokee Strip Antique Mall is now located. During the time he lived in Perry Fred became acquainted with just about everyone in town and he remembers an unbelievable amount of information about all of them, including interesting bits of trivia and local lore. Today our conversations are largely about the good and the bad of those days, mostly the good. Though he's been away from here since 1939, he remembers a lot more than I do, and I'm still living here.

Our fathers were brothers and Fred was named for my dad, Fred William Beers. I came along 15 years later and was given the middle initial G, for another cousin, Gordon McIntyre. At one time there were three people named Fred Beers living in our household -- big Fred, middle Fred and little Fred. My dad died in 1931 and I grew up considering cousin Fred to be my brother, which I still do.

Laura and I recently made our annual trip to Florida to visit Cousin Fred. Although this is a wonderful time of year to be in West Palm Beach, we found that the nation's recent weird weather pattern also affected Florida. We had an unheard-of wind chill temperature of 17 degrees one night and fruit and vegetable crops were damaged, but for the most part it was balmy and mild.

The Palm Beach locale is breathtakingly beautiful. There, in the middle of February, people in their cut-off jeans and shorts are mowing luscious green lawns and doing all the other outdoor things that won't happen here until after the last freeze. All the homes are in pastel shades and look like they have just been freshly scrubbed and painted. Hibiscus, impatiens and other variegated flowers are everywhere. Royal palms and coconut trees dominate the landscape with their gracefully arching trunks and fronds gently fanning the air. Giant banyan trees provide an interesting contrast. Cousin Fred lives only a couple of blocks from the intercostal waterway, and just across the drawbridge that connects the mainland to Palm Beach is Mar-a-largo, the fabulous estate now belonging to moneyman Donald Trump. Mr. Trump is developing the property into a pricey private club and is suing the city of West Palm Beach for millions because air traffic in and out of the city's busy International Airport goes over his estate, thereby allegedly distracting his paying customers. The flight patterns were in existence long before he made a deal for the land, so his chances of recovering damages wound not seem real good.

Cousin Fred has been a widower since 1990, when Jayne, his wife of 49 years, passed away. Time's inroads have taken a toll on his physical capabilities; he is legally blind, survived cancer surgery and a stroke, and he is unable to move around without assistance, but his attitude and outlook are both cheerful and positive. He relies heavily on a practical nurse and housekeeper who are virtually part of the family. His doctor says Fred is one of his prize patients, a fact that makes my cousin beam. His comfortable home also is a justifiable source of pride. With an illuminated reading device he is able to study his Sunday school lesson and read newspapers, including The Perry Daily Journal, and he can see television images well enough, but he can no longer drive his cars. Going to church or Sunday school with his neighbor, Webster, from across the street, is a highlight each week, and he has a complete collection of the Bill Gaither gospel video tapes.

Cousin Fred used to come to Perry each summer but that has not been possible the last two years. He chooses not to fly, but that's because he can't see the countryside from the portholes of an airliner, not from any fear of air travel. As a matter of fact Fred became a licensed pilot while living in Perry when he and several others bought a Piper Cub and formed a flying club. Their landing field was on school land property at the corner of Fifteenth street and Fir avenue. Virgil Sherrod, Merrill Hamous and Irene Dolezal were some of the others in that club. I believe Fred said they had to dissolve the club after one of the members made a pancake landing on the airstrip, which also was a pasture for cattle.

Most of Fred's friends in the Poor Boys club, with the exception of Glenn Yahn and Sam Schwieger, are no longer with us but he has many happy memories of high jinks perpetrated by that group. He would love to be here in person to greet all his friends in Perry, but because that is not possible he asked me to convey his regards to all of you. It's a pleasure for me to do that.