My Most Unforgettable Characters

In everyone’s life, there are people who have an effect on your life and the way you perceive it.  This list does not include parents, siblings or your children.  I have several I think about often.   Allow me to tell you about them.

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This is a character that has had an impact on my life many times over.  It is a long read so I decided to post it in a .PDF format.  If you choose to print it out to read, please destroy it afterwards.

Grant

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Willis N. Clark. 

Now that’s a name that is well known in parts of Texas.

Willis was a close friend of my father, who was his accountant for many years.  My mother has told me many times, how Willis was one of those old fashioned Southerners who had respect for the womenfolk.

I had heard my dad talk about Ol’ Willis (My Dad’s reference to him) over the years before I met him.  I heard his wife of many years passed away not long before I met him.  They had five children in the area, the oldest was Robert.  Robert is a tall impressive man with a politeness similar to Willis.

The two men had several interests, many of which were monetary.  I was not privy to their financial aspects because, although my father was their accountant, he remained steadfast in their financial privacy.  As you would expect, Pop was a man of integrity. 

Another of their interests was flying.  They both were licensed pilots and each owned their own aircraft.  Every year for decades, there would be a “fly-in” at the Clark ranch, with pilots all over the US.  They would land their aircraft on the grass runway and park them in a row next to the hanger.  Then there would be a feast.  The family being in the cattle business, always had an ample supply of beef.  Often, Ol’ Willis would come to town and meet with my dad, and the two would then go to one of those buffet places with an endless supply of food.  Willis referred to them as a “hog trough”.  One thing Ol’ Willis wanted Pop to do, was only get beef, no other meat.

Sometime ago they discovered the little one or two seater airplanes, which uses a parachute instead of wings. Willis and Robert both purchased one and decided to make a business of them.  They planned to purchase these wholesale and build trailers to sell with them.  This is where I came in.

At this time I worked as a Maintenance Electrician at a manufacturing plant.  Previously, I worked as a welder building large derricks. (these were the type that could pull almost a million pounds of pipe out of the ground).  Pop evidently mentioned to Ol’ Willis that I had been a welder, so he met me at an ice cream shop and we talked.  From what I gathered at the time, I had envisioned a shop where all I did was weld, and so I asked a princely sum.  It was a bit too much.  Later, we talked again, and he decided to hire me to do welding and mechanical work on their equipment.  Robert had several pieces of earth moving equipment that I would also maintain.

This was a part-time job where I would work anywhere from 0 to 40 hours a month.  This job helped me get through the financial crises of the time, and made all the difference in maintaining a family of four good kids versus becoming delinquent in my finances.

Now, let’s concentrate on Ol’ Willis.

As I pretty much determined, he was a self-made millionaire dealing with cattle, oil and ranches.  Perhaps I’m not complete with that, but that is what I perceived from where I stood.  In thinking back, I believe he was at the ripe old age of 93 when I first went to work for him.  He had built an airplane hanger with a condominium above it where he lived.  Down below is where I worked.

I built several of the trailers that he and Robert designed, along with any other work they needed.  For those of you who have welded in your life, or have done mechanical work, you know how satisfying it is.  This was only a part-time job which helped my family during the lean times, but also gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

Ol’ Willis, being of sound mind in his 90’s, had a mind sharper than mine.  There were many times he and I would sit in the evenings before I left for home, with pencil, paper and beer, and design something he wanted me to build.

We had the same political views and spent no few hours discussing the Conservative viewpoint.

Shortly after 911, I met my wife who is a very sociable person, (she can strike up a conversation with a sign post).  Ol’ Willis and Robert soon hired her for part-time work also.

One day, Ol’ Willis and I drove to Wichita Falls, Texas to purchase some items for the trailers I was building, but also to look into a chair lift for his stairs at the condo.  I was surprised at the number of people that seemed to come out of the woodwork to see him. 

Once the chair lift was installed, Ol’ Willis had my wife sit her butt in the chair to try it out, then piled all his groceries on her lap to haul them upstairs to his condo.  He always purchased a gallon of milk and a hand full of bananas from the ice cream place where I first met him.

Ol’ Willis knew his days were numbered.  One Saturday morning when I came in, he took me upstairs to his condo and handed me several pages of his handwriting. 

I said, What is this? 

It’s my obituary! 

You planning on leaving? 

He laughed, You never know.

At the end of it, he stated there was to be no church service because he didn’t want to put anybody out.

I asked, No service?

I can still hear him saying, Heeell-noooo!

I asked, Can we at least have a party?

He laughed and said, You can have a going away party!

In 2004, Terese and I decided to get married.  Ol’ Willis was excited because we had planned a feast which encompassed both New York (Buffalo Wings – Terese) and Texas (BBQ ribs – me) which also contained plenty of beer.  To this day, we still acknowledge the help from her family and my generous brother-in-law for that feast.

And as fate is the ultimate determiner, Willis Clark passed away 3 days before the wedding.  I had so much wanted to propose a toast to this good man at the wedding feast, but my emotions would not allow it, and I always regretted it.  As I understand, his daughter-in-law found him in his chair, asleep and into the next Life.  There are a number who did not regret his passing, but it affected me and my wife as we both sincerely admired the man.

There was no service for him as he requested and not sure if there ever was one.  That was nine years ago, and a lot of water has passed under the bridge; and yet to this day, I still miss his intelligence, humor and technical savvy.

I sincerely hope that my mind is as sharp and inventive as Ol’ Willis Clark’s, should fate grant me the age beyond 90 years.

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Padre Gary Sides

Some decades ago in our small Texas town, the local Catholic Church, St. Vincent de Paul, had a division among the Parishioners, brought about by a rebellious priest who didn’t think the Parish should also support a Catholic school.  When the Bishop removed that Vincentian priest, he replaced him with a Diocesan priest, whose name was Gary Sides.  I always called him, Padre, because this is what my father always called the priests.  He was put in a parish of people who were divided and sometimes head strong, yet he managed to maintain the serene sense of the Priesthood.

This was at a time in my life I worked as a Maintenance Electrician at a local manufacturing plant.  In the preceding decade, we sent our kids to St. Vincent de Paul school at a time when we could not afford it.  It was my firm belief, as it is now, that a Parochial school can provide a better education to my children than the public schools.  I myself, went through the school and convinced, drew me in the direction I needed to be.

As a father with four small kids, extra money was almost non-existent at times, and yet the school never hounded us for money.  So in the later years, I did any electrical work the school needed to help pay back a debt that would never be fully repaid.

I don’t remember when Padre and I became friends, but I do remember it involved computers.  I was a member of the School Board and became a liaison to the Parish Council, and we spent time discussing computers and all they entailed at that point.

After his tour was up at St. Vincent’s, he was transferred to a parish in the small community of Panhandle, Texas, about 30 minutes away.  St. Theresa’s Parish was also an orphanage and a home for retired priests and nuns.  It was the perfect place to put a priest who has worked hard for the Diocese and needed a place to relax.

One year at Christmas time, our family headed to Levelland for Christmas and stopped by to visit him since it was on the way, and drop off some cookies.  After that point, I would make a trip to the small town about once a month to see him and talk about anything, which always included computers.

Padre Gary Sides had several hobbies along with computers.  The young ones among you must realize, that although computers are as normal as eating junk food now, back then, they were still new and exciting.  So, our discussion was mostly just that.  But I learned another of his hobbies included collecting Walt Disney figurines.  Some of you may think, Come on, Disney figurines?  Yes, it showed me his true and innocent way of thinking.  I respected that and reveled in it with him.

There were times in our discussion, he would express concerns with certain parish members, even at times telling me some things that people had done that really aggravated or hurt him.  He was always cautious to not give me any names, but just enough info that I was able to know who he was talking about.  But every time that took place, on my way home in the evenings I was unable to regale what he said.  It was as if the Creator put me with him so he could unload things that bothered him.  Maybe it was a sort of confession, I don’t know, nor did I care.  I do know it helped him cope with those people in life that are petty.

But on one such visitation during the following Summer, he told me he had spent the afternoon mowing the grass at the parish and had a pain in his shoulder that would not go away.  Later, I learned that the doctors found a tumor and had it removed, but it was cancerous.

Many prayers went out and the next thing I heard, the cancer was gone.  Everyone celebrated except Padre.  He seemed to know it was not really gone.

Since I only visited with him maybe once a month, I heard from other sources that the cancer returned.  Once when I dropped by, he had been taking cancer treatments and looked tired and run down, yet he was glad to see me.  He told me one of the women in the parish was living with him to help him out.  When he told me that, he turned and looked at me as if seeing past me; not to see how I would react to a woman living with him, but seeing something deeper in me.  And to this day I can still see that look on his face.

A short time later, I heard he was placed in a Hospice.  I drove to Amarillo to see him, but others were present and never had the opportunity to visit with him on a one to one basis. That would be the last time I would see him.

One day while working on something at the school, I stopped by the office to return a key.  The secretary had just gotten off the phone and turned to her co-worker and stated Father Sides had passed away.  I felt a loneliness inside that I had to find out in such a casual way.  But I guess that is the way our relationship was.  Just what was done was done.

I attended his funeral at the church.  It was the usual funeral Mass with the prayers for the redemption of the soul.  I sat in the back watching and listening.  Afterwards, the parish gave a dinner for everyone, but I felt so out of place that I started to leave.  I sat in my truck, when something (or someone) told me not to go, but be a part of it.  I did and enjoyed the meal of pork roast, one of my favorite meals, and enjoyed watching the good people of his parish as they socialized with one another.

As I sit and write this, I try to evaluate what I saw and perceived in him.  Padre did not fit the role of the masculine bear some men try to be, but he was an individual who rolled with life and kept looking forward.  He was content with the life given him.  He had his deep thoughts and simple things he liked, but I also never forgot that he was a man of God appointed to serve Him.  He did not bring about world peace, or stave off a war.  Didn’t bring hordes of people into the Church or build cathedrals to the Lord.  He sustained a simple yet satisfying life and soothed the rift in a church by his simple persona.  He just let everything play out and clear itself up.

Padre passed away on August 15th, which happened to be the Feast of the Ascension that year.  It commemorates the time when Christ left the Earth and returned to Heaven.  It was the point He left all his humanity and returned to the Divine.

And I still think about that look he gave me.  One day after his death, I saw it as a wondrous look that one would have upon their entrance into Heaven.  Perhaps he saw a bit of it ahead of time.

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Tharon Kimbrough

The first I want to tell you about is enjoying the rewards of his life, brought about with his humor, acceptance, compassion and strong faith.  He is my children’s Maternal Great Grandfather.

Tharon Kimbrough –  I remember well the day I first met him.  With unforgettable characters, this is normal.  He and his wife, Reola had a farm about 10 or 15 minutes south of Levelland, Texas.  The house sat just off the road and surrounded by furrows plowed with his sweat.  Nearby, you would hear the big 454 GM engine pulling water from over four hundred feet below.  To the West of the house was the garden which supplied his family, his children and soon to be me and my future wife with food.  Again, from his sweat and hard work.  His granddaughter and I drove out for me to meet him and his wife for the first time.  I was 21 and not used to meeting people, let alone future in-laws.  But as soon as I walked into that house, he sat down beside me and gave me his total undivided attention.  After 37 years, this image is still burned into my mind.  He went out of his way to let me know, beyond any uncertainty, that I was welcomed into their family.  I have tried to do the same with my children’s spouses.

Tharon had a thick head of jet black hair and walked slowly.  Somewhere over the 19 years I was a part of his life, that hair stayed thick, but turned sliver; and his slow walk became burdensome as his knees became wore out over the decades of walking the furrows.  I remember the many times every year, that he would rise several times throughout the night to move the irrigation, then head back to bed for a few more hours.  Whoever thinks being a farmer is easy, has no clue to the reality of life.  In the later years, whenever he rose from his chair, it was always with an “Oomf!” and yet, the only time I heard this good man complain, was about the Government.  I do not think his political views reflected mine, but voicing concern of our Government, is not only paid for by those before us, but necessary for us to remain free.

There are many of us who complain and according to my wife, I am one.  One day while driving along one of the West Texas farm roads with him, a pickup truck passed us in a heartbeat.  The driver and female passenger was sitting so close, you wondered who was actually driving.  Most people would have voiced distaste for that, but Tharon‘s always humorous reply was simply, “It takes two people to drive that truck!”  His acceptance and his view of life are a few of many reasons I try to pattern my life after him.

Over the years, as a young married couple, we received a great deal of food from him and Reola.  Every time we visited, we came back with fresh vegetables and canned food.  Several times while visiting, he would trudge out to the garden and pick a bowl of fresh okra for Reola to fry up.  This is the epitome of fresh food.  In the evening, he would drive his old pickup to the garden and load it up with 4 or 5 watermelons, and drop the tail gate and cut one open.  If it did not pass his inspection, it was tossed aside and another one opened up.  I had a butt load of kids over the years, and they each thrilled at being giving a slice of watermelon fresh off the vine to devour.  I know my children will have their own remembrances of Grandpa Kimbrough, and I hope this is one.

Tharon and Reola had five good kids.  Each one is very different and each had their own path to follow.  I imagine these good people know and appreciate their parents.  They worked hard for what they have and never looked back.  What a wonderful heritage!  The best way to teach your children is by your examples.  His love, compassion and Faith has been instilled in his children, and thus into his granddaughter and her children.  The effect and consequences of everything we do in life, moves out as a ripple to others.  Especially children.  And if I remember correctly, he was a part of his church’s Sunday School program for 39 years.  If I am incorrect, I sincerely apologize to his good family.

I saw firsthand his compassion and understanding of the human race, and I will always try to follow his example.  He may not have known the impact he has had on my life, until now, as this is one of those subconscious things that makes me who I am.  I cry at the aspects of Human Life that is solemn and precious, and laugh at those things that need help in coping with.

I work in the Foreign Service.  I’ve met many Ambassadors, Ministers from other countries, and Heads of State.  I’ve shaken hands with countless Diplomats and people from all over the world; but none of these individuals have earned my respect more than this old dirt farmer who worked the hot dry soil of West Texas.  Over the years, I dropped the hint to my kids to name one of their offspring after me.  My oldest son, instead, gave his last son, the middle name of Tharon.  It made me realize my son’s love and respect of his Great Grandfather.  How can I compete with that?  What a wonderful man to name my Grandchild after!

As with all of us, life tends to get harder as we age.  It was no different for him, especially after Reola passed away.  I saw loneliness in his dark eyes, and at the final scene of his Life when he was ready to return Home, I understand he laid his head down on the dining room table and went to sleep.  Fitting.  This man’s sweat fed my family and many others.  His table provided comfort and humor for many over the decades.  It was a gathering place for friends and relatives, a symbol of their social life, and a symbol of his acceptance of Life and all it encompasses.

I felt it was then the Father said, “Let us bring our child home to rest, for he has done well.”

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4 thoughts on “My Most Unforgettable Characters”

  1. Micah Nolte said:

    I remember him as the most generous man I’ve ever known. I try to follow that.

  2. Elleta Nolte said:

    This was a good one to start with; bring the others on. Your dad had a heavy glass paperweight that now graces my computer desk:

    If you like him, let him know it,
    if he merits praise, bestow it,
    Let the words of true encouragement
    be said.

    Never wait till life is over
    And he’s underneath the clover,
    ‘Cause he sure can’t read his tombstone
    when he’s dead.

    But better late than never.

  3. Rebecca said:

    Regarding Grandpa: I can’t remember as much about him as I want to. I remember a closet of board games, and he always had copy paper and crayons I could use. I loved that he always said “o’er yonder,” and it could mean anything from “the next room” to “down the street and into town.” I remember him always in the same clothes: dark slacks, dark (plaid?) button-up, dark suspenders. Big glasses. Hair always perfectly styled, except sometimes a piece of it would break away and fall in his face when he was working hard on something. Overall, I just remember the manner about him–kind, loving, accepting, never harsh.

    Back when I wanted to have kids of my own, I had planned to name the first boy James Tharon. Then Mom called and told me Jeremy was naming Kyle after him, and I exclaimed, “He stole the name I wanted!” Anyway, I suppose it all worked out for the best.

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