Memories of my irascible Uncle Walt

— My Aunt Kate Tarbe died last week at age 93. Her late husband, my Uncle Walt Tarbe, spelled his last name with an E instead of a Y.

His older brother, my Uncle Joe Tarbe, also spelled it that way while the younger brothers, my Uncle Ed Tarby and my dad, Russ, spelled it with a Y.

Confusing, huh?

Tarbe’s replaced Therre’s

But as in most families, older brothers rule. When the Auburn-born boys returned to Central New York from World War II, they pooled their greenbacks and bought a beer joint on First Street. They purchased it from Aunt Kate’s family. They christened it Tarbe’s Grill.

Before that it had been Therre’s. That was Aunt Kate’s maiden name, and her family had run the place for at least a dozen years.

When the brothers opened for business in 1946 as Tarbe’s Grill, Uncle Walt manned the bar.

Some customers didn’t appreciate Walt’s prickly personality. He wasn’t your usual friendly neighborhood bartender. He could be short, gruff, even rude on occasion.

Artilleryman’s hazard

One explanation for his difficult demeanor was that he was half-deaf, having suffered permanent hearing damage as an artilleryman in George Patton’s Third Army.

Walt had helped keep the big guns roaring through the Battle of the Bulge and crossed the Rhine over the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen in March 1945 as the Allies zeroed in on Berlin and Patton pushed on to Bavaria.

When Walt was finished fighting, however, the persistent sound of cannon fire had severely impaired his hearing. It was a subtle disability, one that he adamantly denied, but which left him at a distinct disadvantage when it came to connecting with other people. As a result he grew bitter and sarcastic.

Uncle Walt was always pleasant to me, but he often rubbed the regulars the wrong way.

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