|Billy Grabe photo by Lugene Heimel|
While I was writing my stories about Irvin Duell for day 81, I could not help but think about another favorite Coudersport treasure that we lost a few years ago. Much like Irvin, he could always be found somewhere around town and would give you the friendliest smile and hello for which one could ask.
Billy Grabe was a special person to many of us in the community. Being born with Down’s syndrome never slowed him down as had his daily routine that involved talking to the girls who worked at Buchannon’s pharmacy and Hauber’s Jewelry. Later, he would go over to the Market Basket, which later became the Jubilee Store, to help bag and carry groceries for the customers.
He would peddle his three-wheeled bicycle all around Main Street, often stopping on the corners to catch his breath and check out the cars going by him.
In the afternoon, social services would pick him up and take him to the fitness center at Charles Cole. He would walk around and talk to everyone there while occasionally getting on a machine for a few minutes. I think he enjoyed the social atmosphere more than actually working out, which was fine by me. Paul Heimel and I would go there on our lunch breaks from Adelphia and always looked forward to seeing Billy.
I don’t know if I have ever met a more sweet and innocent soul than Billy Grabe. If you asked him, he would tell you about growing up and playing with young Bobby Ness, the son of famed Cleveland crime fighter Eliot Ness, who lived in Coudersport for the last two years of his life. They were next door neighbors and about the same age so naturally they played together often.
Billy was also the biggest Elvis fan you would ever meet. I remember asking him about his shiny Elvis belt buckle. He would grab the sides of the buckle and turn it up so you could see it better. Then he would tell you how he was Elvis’ number one fan. He even met Elvis once and spent the day with him at his mansion. Billy loved to tell people about riding horses with Elvis at his house. He had also collected all of the TV Guide books with a picture of Elvis on the cover.
One spring, I was playing music for people at the Gazebo on the town square during a festival. Billy sat on the steps listening to the music. I was amazed to watch him sing along with many of songs as he knew all of the words.
Since I knew he was an Elvis fan, I dug out some of my Elvis music and played a few songs. As soon as he heard the first note he sprung to his feet and started dancing. He danced and danced and danced. Different people would come up and dance with him but he never left the floor. The lady who DJ’d with me had me throw on “Love Me Tender” and she asked him to dance with her. It was by far one of the sweetest things I have ever seen.
He was truly a best friend of just about everybody he met and he had an outstanding zest for life. I remember chuckling when he would ask people for advice. Once while in the locker room at the fitness center he said to Paul, “I need to talk to you” then looked straight at me and said “alone.”
I gave them some space as Billy asked Paul about how to get girls to like him. Paul kept it simple advising him to say nice things to them and listen to what they say. Billy pulled a small bottle of cologne or after shave out of his pocket and told Paul that the girls at the drug store told him he could use this. He demonstrated applying it lightly with just a finger behind each year, stressing that it was important to not use too much. Paul agreed and told him that ought to do it.
Coudersport has never seemed the same since Billy left us. He led a very full life and the people of our town really looked out for him. His passing left a large hole in our community as someone like him does not come around very often.
Today I am dedicating my progress to the memory of Billy Grabe. May he continue to rest in peace, and I hope to see him again one day when I have worn out my welcome in this life.