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Goodbye, Clarence

Friday, May 24, 2013

Running. Running every moment, trying to keep up with the gardens and the lawn, to plant what needs to be planted exactly when it needs to be planted; to avoid having things die. I can't sit down. Something might die. 

When I'm not planting and mowing and weeding, I'm on the road, always unloading from the last trip and packing for the next. I got in at 11:30 pm last night from a speaking engagement two and a half hours away in Pike County, Ohio. Showed them a good time, met some truly lovely people, had a beer and an impossibly tough ribeye at a roadhouse and hit the road again. Manager gave me $10 off and a bag of peanuts for the road, probably because I was nice about it. It all tasted wonderful. Just a textural thing. I turned around and gave it to the waitress. Not their fault somebody ran that poor steer ragged.

Good thing I enjoy seeing new scenery, new skyscapes, meeting new people, because there's a lot of that going on this spring. Watching the light play on the road, that does it for me.

I've finally unloaded the greenhouse, emptied that sucker all the way out, only to load it up again with tender things just now, because they're calling for upper 30's tonight. I believe it. This morning I shivered in 45 degrees. Walked out the door in a tank top and shorts, turned on my heel and got out the long pants and sleeves again. 45/37 on May 24? Really? I'll have to pile straw on the tomatoes and peppers tonight. It's a familiar drill. I covered and uncovered the peas almost daily through late April and mid-May.

The good news is that the sugar snap peas I so boldly planted in mid-April almost all survived multiple mid-20's freezes, and they're a yard tall and blooming now. This cold snap won't faze them. That was an experiment that succeeded. I've never had yard-tall peas bloom in May before. Whee!

I continue to run every morning, my 2.8 mile route, and I've been taking a small pair of compact binoculars with me so I can watch the yellow-breasted chats do their flight displays; see the last few migrating warblers slip through the leaves. It's enhanced my experience immensely. As much as I love to run unencumbered, some encumbrances are worth it. I'm looking for a nice pair of compacts now that I've thoroughly spoiled myself for naked-eye birding.

This landscape continues to bewitch me, as the haymeadows grow up and new flowers open each day and new birds set up and shuffle territories. I never tire of this road, this sky, these sounds and scents, never tire of watching everything change hour by hour, day by day.

Chet is always by my side, unless he's routing a deer, a squirtle, or that new stray cat we keep seeing. A dog has his work to do.  At eight, he's still solid muscle. No flab on him!

It's a bittersweet time for me. This morning, I bade goodbye to Clarence, who drives the bus Liam and Phoebe used to ride. Each morning, we had 20 minutes to chat (well, chat doesn't really encompass it) as he waited by the little cemetery I frequent until it was time for him to pick up the kids who live at the end of my road. I'd had a nodding, joking acquaintance with Clarence for several years, but when we had regular time for conversation, it got interesting fast. This former Marine was a jungle sniper in Viet Nam, able to go into the forest with nothing but his gun, ammunition and water purifying tablets, and emerge six weeks later, having not only survived it, but done a job too dark to tell. Clarence has stories, and I listened, usually only speaking to ask another question. He's one of the most fascinating people I've met, and I treasured those minutes. 

It's probably my writer's ear and the fact that I just like him that made me want to hear Clarence out. He often complained that I knew everything about him, but he knew nothing about me. I'd laugh then, and tell him he doesn't need to know about me. Nothing to know anyway. Compared to him, I'm nothing; I've never suffered real privation or had to do anything terrible. I'm like a sapling. He's a weathered oak, growing on rock.

It's not often you meet someone who has done things and survived ordeals that you cannot even imagine, and will tell the stories that go along with that. He saved one of the best stories for last. Yes, I've written them down, but I don't know what I'll do with them. They're his.

Now he's retiring, and the world being the way it is, I know I won't get to see him any more. I'll miss him terribly. I know he'll miss me. And I wonder how much of my desire to run every morning, rain or shine, ice or snow, was tied up in getting a new story each day. In giving an ear to someone who would otherwise not be lent one.

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air....Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, some Cromwell, guiltless of his country’s blood.

Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751)

I think about what led me to listen for so many hours to a man who'd otherwise be sweeping out and cleaning his bus in those idle minutes each morning, lost in his own thoughts as I'd have been lost in mine. To peel back the layers, to try to understand what has made him who he is, to make a connection, build an enduring friendship. John Burroughs came close to describing it.

The lesson which life repeats and constantly enforces is 'look underfoot.' You are always nearer the divine and the true sources of your power than you think. The lure of the distant and difficult is deceptive. The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, every place is of the world. 

And somehow, this one works best of all.

Even after all this time, 
The sun never says to the earth,  "You owe me." 
...Look what happens with 
A love like that. 
It lights the whole sky.

Hafiz of Persia 

Thanks to Tim Ryan for the Burroughs quote, and to Dirk Coburn for Hafiz.  And to Clarence, for all the stories.


Wonderful tribute to your friend, Clarence who is clearly a very special individual. Sometimes we never know who is really crossing our path until we make the effort to dig and find out.

Beautiful tribute, Julie. Those closures have a heartbreak all their own. Hope Clarence's retirement is pure joy!

This story made my sinus infection hurt from tears. You're a gift, Julie Zickefoose, to more people than you know. xoxo


Posted by Fritzann May 24, 2013 at 10:08 AM

You made me cry.


A smooth sweep of lyricism and love. Jeez, Julie, a gift with grit.Thanks for listening, then telling. xxoom.

Posted by Anonymous May 24, 2013 at 10:39 AM

You make me want to write. And run. And watch birds. I have a girl crush.

Very touching blog about your friend the "bes driver." It's amazing the stories one hears if they stop to listen. You did and you did. The job he had in Vietnam--harrowing. And so glad he's still here in the world. Lovely tribute to him and to your friendship. While you said you probably won't see him again, because that's the way it is (I know that one), I hope you do see him again, "the weathered oak, growing on rock."

Wow! Great story. That Burroughs quote really hit home for me today.
Friendship is amazing, isn't it?

Maybe Clarence knew Jim Weatherman, an ex-marine I met while teaching. He was the "everything" man at school. Had similar stories and a treasure to know, talk with and listen to...
Thanks for the reminder, Julie.

Dearest Julie, this is my favorite blog post so far (I always say that, don't I? And so sincerely). Your chosen perceptions continue to inspire me. What you were describing with Clarence reminded me of a quote I always appreciated, from a Susan Sarandon movie... the context was marriage, but the same is true of ANY relationship... we all just need to know we're seen and heard, that someone is there to witness our lives... In fact, I feel that way about the smallest in nature, the snails and weeds and the despised dandelions. After getting down on my belly and really SEEING them, I often whisper, "your life didn't go unnoticed, little friend. I won't let you die uncelebrated." ::::shyly:::: I know it's weird, but... anyway, here's the quote I was referring to....

“We need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'.”

Julie, thank you for bearing witness to Clarence's life and spirit... and to that of everyone who "meets" you, online or otherwise. You have a way of making EVERYONE feel unique and valuable. I love you for that.

-- Syd

Posted by Anonymous May 24, 2013 at 7:30 PM

Julie, that was just lovely.

Thank you, Julie. And thank you, Anonymous, for that beautiful quote about the importance of someone being a witness to our lives. After my husband of 36 years died, I know the truth of every word of it.

Well, now you've got me crying. The sharing is the most important part of our lives. I think we sometimes (often?) forget that in our hurry-up-and-get-there lives. Clarence is a blessing.

Thanks for the reminder to cherish people, Julie. What a wonderful tribute to Clarence. I hope he gets to see this.

Posted by Anonymous May 25, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Clarence will probably never know about this. It doesn't matter. He knows I cherish his friendship and we will stay in each other's hearts forever. If I've learned anything, it's that you must work up the words to tell people what they mean to you. He knows. Thank you for all your thoughts, and Syd, for that nice quote about witnessing and caring about someone's life. Sometimes knowing someone you like and respect truly appreciates you can make all the difference in your outlook. I hope Clarence can carry that with him going forward.

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