January 27th, 2014

dark flower


We struck up a conversation, as folks on airplanes do. I met my wife on an airplane, you know. He was in his late 80s, and going to southern California to visit two sisters. He hailed from Nashville, Tennessee, where he lived in some kind of assisted living facility. He spoke with a pleasant Tennessee burr.

We talked about his career as a pharmacist, and how his career started in the 1950s. He got to see the great transition from just pencillin and the sulfa drugs to the whole panoply of medicines. He told me about the old days of literally grinding the powder. He burnt out after forty years, he said, and spent five years doing more manual labor at a store.

He sang for me a passage of the song he and his wife considered their song. I do not remember the words, but they were a big-band song. They were married for 62 years. She died after a long illness. They met in high school. He told me of how he and his wife stood by a nephew who went to prison for injuring someone while driving under the influence of alcohol. They would go to the rural town where the prison was, rent a motel room nearby, and go visit on Saturday.

That nephew turned his life around, he said. He became a fellow who operated a kind of heavy machinery.
Once he tried to quit his work. His bosses asked him "what will it take to get you to stay?". The nephew replied that he wanted to work in equipment with a cab that had heat in the Winter and air conditioning in the Summer. "You shall have it", his employer said--and he ultimately did.

He told me of the time he testified as an expert witness. During cross-examination, the prosecutor, on learning that he worked for a Seventh Day Adventist medical facility, said "I assume you are a Seventh Day Adventist", to which he replied "you have this wrong about me just as you have so many things wrong. I am a Church of Christer", to which, he reported, the jury reacted enthusiastically.

I told him of the time I cross-examined a home installer who admitted on cross-examination that he only took the course in how to do the installation after he had done the install in issue in my case. We both laughed as I got to the punchline, "After".

He told me not to call him sir, as he did not want this mark of age. He told me everyone calls him Clem.
He was named Clem by one of his sister's boyfriends, as he declined to leave the room to permit his sister and her beau some privacy. The boyfriend compared him to Red Skelton's character Clem Kaddidlehopper, a fellow who seemed not to hear or understand anything. The nickname lasted him a lifetime, and now Clem is in effect his "name".

He told me he had a hope to walk one last time on the beach, perhaps at Newport Beach. He said this was his only remaining physical goal; his other goals were spiritual. He told me that he used a walker, but that they wheeled him onto the plane in a wheelchair. He told me of a time someone swindled him out of a little money. We talked about his daughters and how he was proud of them.

When the plane landed, I shook his hand twice. I hope he has a great week in California. I picked up my rental car, a KIA Soul, and drove off into a place without Kaddiddlehoppers.