My Dad, Ronald Norman Clarke, passed away on June 30, 2010 between 8 and 9 P.M. He was a scholar, a salesman, a raconteur, and a man with a deep enthusiasm for life, and for the unknown. He read Shakespeare aloud happily (and well), became an expert in antique prints in his retirement, and he lived with great heart. Dad could also be sentimental about some things, a fact not everyone appreciated or valued.
He had an immense curiosity and welcomed technology in the 50s and 60s…though not so much later on. But back then, we were the first to own a television set, and the first to have an advanced tape recorder, a two-reeler the size of a large suitcase in 1957!
He was a believer in exploring things and didn’t settle for the status quo when it came to subjects arcane to his friends, like UFOs and past lives. I remember hearing about Bridey Murphy around the supper table. Dad introduced me to Edgar Cayce when I was 12, beginning my lifelong admiration for that amazing and beautiful American prophet.
He also introduced me to poetry and literature and classical music. I remember playing his 45 RPMs while I did my homework in the sixth grade — each record had short clips of the classics — Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Chopin’s Nocturnes, the Meditation from Thais, Enrico Caruso, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the William Tell Overture, Gypsy Airs, and more. One Christmas Dad bought me a record by Bill Haley and the Comets, a concession on his part to the era. I learned to love that music later on, but at the time, his other gift of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sheherazade” meant more. To this day hearing that music from another time and place transports me into a world filled with something so embedded, so welcomed, and loved.
The last year of his life, Dad was bed-ridden in a nursing home as Alzheimer’s made its way through his brain. A desperate disease that brings us to our knees in witnessing what it can do to someone we love. But there was another side, something I sensed every time I visited, for seeing my father I knew he had chosen this soul path, and for whatever reason, it was his path to take, and it was sacred, then, as it is for us all. Each time I left from visiting him, I had the feeling I had been on holy ground, for there was no question his soul was close to God in the midst of this terrible affliction.
Dad was buried after a short outdoor ceremony on Tuesday, July 6, 2010. The cemetery is a reservation for veterans and offers just plaques in the ground, no headstones or crosses, as I show in one of the photos in the PDF below. You couldn’t bring flowers. I wish we honored our soldiers another way — maybe by not sending them to war in the first place. The location is pretty far away from where his parents and sisters and brother lie in the town where my father grew up, almost a hundred miles north. I’d always imagined him being laid to rest with them, in Malden, MA or Everett, MA. But he is in Bourne, MA, far to the south. It was a family decision and not one I was able to change. Some things that happen cannot be altered. Even so, all of it has a choreography we are meant to perceive, and allow.
It’s Forestdale in Malden where his mother and father were buried — both Salvation Army officers who began their married life and service in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England in 1905. His sister Mabel and brother Horace, both born in Gainsborough, were interred nearby in Woodlawn Cemetery. His sister Muriel was buried in North Carolina.
He had another sister, Maisie, who died at age 7 in Malden when Dad was 10. How did they survive that loss, that small immigrant family, with no other family to turn to, for everyone else was over three thousand miles away and beyond reach?
There are more thoughts and memories of my father I want to write down. Maybe I will. What I know is that he gave me many gifts.
Especially this one:
One late summer evening, a few years before he went into care, I arrived at his home to find my father sitting on a folding chair he’d placed against the wall of a neighbor’s house. He was watering his own side lawn with a spray hose while he sat in the chair, wearing the straw hat he did love, patched as it was. I sat beside him and we talked a while. The light was that last pearl light before dusk. The birds had been going on at a great rate. Then Dad looked up at the sky. I asked him if he wanted to go in, and he said he was waiting. I said waiting for what. And he answered that every night if the weather held he’d sit there and listen to the birds as they got ready for the approaching night and sleep. He’d stay until he heard the very last bird call out, and then he’d go in.