Thursday, August 25, 2005

When two become one

The first time I met the older gentleman, he had seen at least seventy-five summers, maybe eighty, although I did not know it at the time. And he was a gentleman, in the truest sense. In a new place where most everyone was friendly anyway, Mister Clark stood out. I would come to realize later that he was one of those people who never met a stranger. And he would always find something good in everyone. Bring up any person, and there might have been ninety-nine bad things one could have said about this person, and only one tiny redeeming characteristic. But you can bet that was the one thing he would always point out. The good. And never the bad.

He loved talking to people and he could tell the best stories, in the way that only someone who has lived a long time can. He loved to talk about his great-grandchildren. He loved his wife. Like my mother's mother, his wife never learned to drive, which wasn't uncommon in their time. In his later years, he had gotten to where he could not see real well. But with her helping him see, and him driving, they still got around, slow though it may have been.

He grew up with my mother's family, working from dawn until dusk in cotton fields, and later in factories. I would come to learn that the house he lived in was next door to the house my grandparents had lived in when my grandpa was still alive. My grandpa died when I was three, but I remember being very young and whenever I would walk into the house, he would swat me with a fly-swatter. I remember there being chickens in the yard, and cotton fields behind the house that seemed to go on forever. And there was a plum tree, and as a kid I always felt like finding fruit growing somewhere was the best thing ever. Apples, plums, grapes, blackberries. Eating them felt like I was doing something I shouldn't have been doing.

Anyway, Mister Clark knew my grandfather and most of my older uncles better than I did. And once he knew who I was, many of his stories would refer back to them. And I loved to listen to those stories. They were different stories than what my mother had told me, probably because she came along later. They were things I had never heard, and I lapped them up like a starving man eating a bowl of homemade soup. And he never failed to say something like your uncle so-and-so was a good ol' feller, when referring to one of them.

After eighty-some-odd years of living, Mister Clark developed cancer. There were good days and bad and then I did not see him for a long time and I knew it must have gotten worse. So I stopped by one day. He had come home for good. I went into the bedroom to see him. It was bad. The tumor was protruding from his stomach. It was one of the worst things I have ever seen. Clearly, it was just a matter of time. But he still knew me. His mind was good. He still had a sense of humor. I think he even talked of getting back to his old self again. Less than a week after I went to see him, he was gone. His son had been there when I stopped by once. He had taken me aside and told me that Mister Clark had asked that I be a pallbearer at his funeral. I had only known him three or four years. It was an honor.

At the funeral, I remember looking around at all the people and thinking how much he would have loved to have been there. He loved people and he would have had a ball talking to so many friends and family members, some of whom I imagined he had not seen in months or years. I remember thinking he would have much preferred them to have stopped by a month or a year before just to talk. But I suppose that goes for me, too. I never stopped by to see him until he got sick. Why must I keep learning this same lesson over and over?

I missed his stories. I still do. Having lost both of my grandfathers before I was four, maybe I looked at him as filling that role, at least in part. I went by to visit his wife one day not long after he passed. We had never talked a whole lot, just standard greetings, hellos and how-are-yous. And occasionally she would have to help him remember some part of some story he was telling me. I think part of me thought that I would be able to still see part of him thru her. Maybe selfishly I hoped she would be able to tell me more stories of my family and it would be like he was not completely gone. But she didn't. Maybe she couldn't.

When two people truly become one, and one of them dies, that really only leaves half a person. And sitting there talking to her that day, I saw very clearly that half of her was gone.

"Today I braved the graveyard rain, and placed a rose between their names. That's the most that ever came, between the two of them..."

13 comments:

  1. I love your stories Bone. You tell them so well. Hearing you talk about Mister Clark makes me think about my own grandfathers and my great-grandfather. I still have my grandfathers, but my g-grandfather passed when I was 20. But there will be things about him that I never forget. The stories they would tell are better than any Hollywood movie or TV show or anything could ever be. The art of storytelling. You sound like you have it too. :)

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  2. I sit here now covered in goose bumps, with tears welling in my eyes.

    Yet another amazing post, Bone.

    Thank you.

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  3. PS- Lass is completely correct. You do have an amazing gift.

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  4. That is a great story.

    And you have a wonderful way of telling it.

    Everyone should be blessed with a Mister Clark in thier life.

    Thank you for the lovely story

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  5. Two people become one... I couldn't agree more.

    My heart hurts for Mrs. Clark and you and everyone else who knew and loved this man. We all have one like him in our lives.

    Hind site's 20/20, Bone. It's always easy to look back and think 'I should've'....

    I have grandparents now who I think 'I should go see them' and I never do. It's a strange thing that we go through - almost like we're in denial that anyone of our loved ones will ever leave - like we won't let ourselves believe it long enough to actually move us to take action and see the people we love.

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  6. Love this one. Thanks so much.

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  7. I think Mr. Clark was there to see everyone gather for his funeral and I'm sure he was pleased. And for as long as you continue to tell stories about him, his memory will always be alive.

    I too think that those couples that have many years together whether they were deep loving years or not, when one goes, it is a devestating thing. I can't imagine knowing someone let alone living with someone for 40 or 50 years. And, at the rate I'm going, I don't think I'll have to worry about that!

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  8. Very touching. Made me think of my beloved grandparents who have also passed.

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  9. Lovely story, beautifully stated. I emphasize with your feelings about your Mr. Clark - I think we all have someone in our lives (or had them in our lives) and loved knowing them because being around them, they brought out the good in you and others. Why do we forget the lessons we learn? Why do we know we should visit more with people rather than hurry home to the tv and computer? Because we're selfish people. I try to be better - but I fall in my bad ways because it's the easy thing to do. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. Your story is an outside force for me- hopefully will kick my butt in gear to get out and visit with others more.

    Thank you for sharing, Bone. I can't eloquently put into words how your stories like this affect me. Well, I'll say this, the kleenix box here at work was found and used (if I couldn't find it, I would have had to given in and used toilet paper on my nose). I don't mind crying - but I do mind it if I don't have soft tissue. :-)

    Have a great day!

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  10. What a great story. Very tender and shows what a great heart you have.

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  11. You did it again. Left me struggling for words; too beautiful

    I think that older people usually understand. Just want to pass on whatever stories they can while they can, but I bet (or hope) that he's standing at Mrs. Clark's shoulder

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  12. Thank you all! As I've said before, you have no idea how much your comments and feedback mean.

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  13. So, two years have nearly passed since this post. You are a storyteller, Bone. My husband and I are in our 33rd year of marriage. I cannot imagine life without him. We spend a lot of time together and know each other well. . . Your last four sentences: you are right about the first two, I think, and the second two are both heart warming and sad. I just hope my husband and I would be able to hold on to enough of each other to feel like a teeny bit more than half, but. . . .

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