I began writing a column two years ago, but never finished. It began like this:
“I have two very special men in my life — well, besides my husband, father, four brothers and son-in-law — and they are 90 years apart. Both have three things in common: they like to take walks, enjoy a good cookie and have captured my heart.”
Now one of them is gone and will never read the heartfelt tribute I planned to write. I found the beginnings of that My Turn, which I began in March of 2016, after I learned that Harry Clarke died on Feb. 18. He was 95. The other half of the duo is my soon-to-be 4-year-old grandson, Carter.
I met Harry, as I have many of the important people in my life, through my work — specifically while covering the board of supervisors. Harry wanted to pay for a bench to be placed at Gansner Park in his wife’s memory and Dony Sawchuk, the county’s facilities manager, asked the board’s permission. I always have a soft spot for a story with a romantic twist so rather than making it a one-paragraph entry within my board coverage, I dug a little deeper.
That’s when I met Harry. We talked on the phone and I spent the morning with him at the park while the marble bench was installed. We clicked and soon began meeting regularly at Patti’s Thunder for breakfast. He ate there every morning as part of his regular routine when he walked from his Main Street home to Gansner Park and back; making stops at various businesses along the way. He trekked through town during all four seasons despite being legally blind.
He took such enjoyment from those morning outings, and he also developed a fan base. I quickly realized that he had more than one regular date. We shared a good laugh one afternoon when I called to set up a breakfast. Instead of saying, “Hi Harry, it’s Debra,” I said, “Hi Harry, it’s your girlfriend.” Very long pause. Aha!
There were a lot of people who kept tabs on Harry and made sure that he was okay. When he could no longer make his morning walks, his good friend, Bud Kibbee, brought him coffee every day. About three months ago, Harry’s daughter moved him to Arizona to be with her. She was the one who called to tell me that he had died.
On the Sunday afternoon that I heard about Harry, I had just driven home from attending my aunt Emily’s funeral in Napa and had given her eulogy. She lived next door to our family for 60 years; her late husband was my dad’s older brother. It was a weekend for goodbyes. While both will be deeply missed, it’s difficult to be too sad, when they both had lived long, full lives and would be joining their lifelong partners.
The reality is that a lot of people that I know are aging and that’s reflected by the types of cards that I need most often. My daughter has given me two boxed sets of greeting cards — she knows that I have a penchant for snail mail and the written word — and the compartments that contain “sympathy” and “get well” missives are empty.
Well Harry, I finally finished this My Turn. I just wish that I had done it sooner. You will be missed.