Brumback served with Patton, but Hancock stayed in his heart

August 15, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about James Mensel Brumback, who died Aug. 5 at the age of 90. His obituary appeared in the Aug. 7 edition of The Herald-Mail.

A son, a soldier, a gourmet cook, a marksman and a fisherman - and still James Mensel Brumback found the time and the inspiration to be a published poet, often drawing on his early days along the C&O Canal in Hancock.

He died Aug. 5 at Broadmore Assisted Living in Hagerstown at the age of 90.

"When I was a child, he taught me how to shoot and how to clean fish," said Leslie Williams Mills of Hancock. "And if my horse came home without me, James will go out and find me."


As an adult, Mills employed James as a cook and butler for eight years in her 18th-century ancestral home. Before that, James had performed the same duties, and more, for Mills' grandmother, Lalla Biays, for 34 years in the same house.

For most of those combined years, James lived in a room he built on the back of the house, Mills said. He still maintained a home in Hancock until he moved to Broadmore.

Leon Brumback, James's nephew, said he often would sit on the porch with James while he talked about the past.

"We did develop a close relationship when he reached his 60s," Leon Brumback said. "Before that, we had both been busy with our work."

Throughout James' life, cooking always was very important.

"During World War II, James was Gen. George Patton's mess sergeant," Mills said.

When the war ended, James returned to Hancock and parlayed his cooking prowess into his life's work.

But throughout his life, James always made time for his writing. Several of his poems were featured in the 1940, 1941 and 1942 editions of "Poets of America."

"James wrote poetry all the time, and also chronicles of his life," said Leon Brumback, who has typed up many of those works from his uncle's original handwritten versions.

Many centered around his love of nature in general, and Hancock and the C&O Canal in particular.

In his later years, James did crossword puzzles and looked forward to visits from friends, old and new.

"Friends would stop by and bring him fish and meat," Leon Brumback said. "It was like they had adopted him and he had adopted them."

Even toward the end, James made many new friends at Broadmore. Some of those friends attended his funeral service on Aug. 10 in Hancock.

One of 10 siblings, James's passing leaves just one surviving brother, Charles, and the only sister, Elizabeth, who soon will be 95 years old.

By all accounts, James's life was rich and full, and except for the war years and a brief stint at Broadmore, spent mostly in Hancock. Even his poetry was filled with visions of Hancock and his beloved canal.


Cattle lowing in the bottoms

Thirty grazing like one,

And through the filtered fog of the river

I can hear a tractor run.

The creak of a canal boat -

Not a cloud in the sky,

And there are wasps along the towpath,

Where the snake doctors fly.

I have heard the thundering waterfall

And the mighty roll of the sea.

Yet, when I walk the berm and towpath

It's the canal that speaks to me.

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