Sunday, April 28, 2013
I was pretty silent all last week. Last Monday, I got a call from a cousin telling me that his brother had died earlier that morning, alone in a hospital in Newport RI. That loss occupied many of my thoughts. Yesterday, I gave a eulogy at his funeral. If I'd been able to keep all my thoughts together, this is how it would have come out.
Memories of Cliff
They were my “Summer Siblings;” I really can’t recall a summer without the Wilson family showing up at our family home in East Chatham. It seemed that it was supposed to be that way. They were also our “fall family.” Seems like every fall, around Thanksgiving, we ended up in Virginia with them. So, Cliff was my big brother. Just 11 months older than I was, it was a lot of fun as little kids, and there is the source of most of my great memories.
When news of his passing hit our family, my brother shared a couple of his memories with me. The first was of the Turtles, the 1960’s musical group, and their signature song Happy Together. There were two parts of the memory: the first being that one of the musicians had a remarkable resemblance to Cliff; the other being that we were always happy when we were together. I can recall not a single meeting when the greeting was not accompanied by a chuckle.
And we were happy. I recall countess card games in which Cliff won by such a margin we always sure he cheated. That brought about the rhyme of “Cliff’s the smarty, what the heck; he always plays with an extra deck.”
My brother recalls riding down “Uncle Bob’s Mountain” in an old Ford wagon, Cliff at the wheel and no brakes. He also recalls taking that same car, with the same driver, into town for groceries…. My recollection of being with Cliff on the The Mountain include trying to figure out how to skin frog legs for dinner and something about a can of beans being left on the stove to heat.
I also recall him trying—unsuccessfully—to get me to drink Moxie, a vile drink created somewhere in Massachusetts and him trying—also without success—to get me “up” on a surf board.
One of the most meaningful things about Cliff is that he was the family ambassador. Whatever the event, he’d pull out all the stops to be there. Whether a wedding, a birthday, or other special event, he’d do his best to be there. He was happy to be together with his family.
The theme of the 60’s runs strong in my memories of Cliff. Another song from the era was Turn, Turn, Turn, by the Byrds, the words of which were taken from the book of Ecclesiastes of the Bible. Two verses best describe why we’re here today:
Ec 3:1 To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
We will weep and mourn—we lost a friend, father, sibling, child…, and that’s part of the normal grieving process; but we have the memories of man who gave each of us a measure of joy. For that and on account of that, we laugh—and oh, there has been no small amount of laughter here today. One measure of a life well lived, and a man well loved, is laughter at the funeral home. Thought we’ll probably not dance today, at some time in the future, we can recall him with joy even as we dance.