Tuesday, March 1, 2011

JEAN BILLINGS CLARK

This is the story of a woman I did not get to know as well as I would have wanted to.  Grandma Clark was my father's mother.  I can honestly say I have not met a sweeter and more loving woman than Grandma Clark.

She had a hard life in her early years.  She met and married Belden Clark at an early age and soon found herself with five children.  It wasn't long after she bore her fifth child that Grandpa Clark died of complications from pneumonia.  So here she was.  A young widow with five kids and the country heading into the great depression.  What a daunting task the future must have looked for her but she was strong and determined and she decided that her family would survive this tremendous setback.

She started doing anything she could to raise money for the family.  She did other people's laundry and ironing.  She worked everyday to be sure there was enough to sustain the family.  As much as she didn't want it to happen, my father dropped out of school early to get jobs to help support her and his siblings.  I believe that much of the work ethic of my dad's that I make such a big deal of came from grandma Clark.  People could depend upon her to get their clothes done in a good and timely fashion.  She could sew as well.  She would do whatever needed to be done and this she passed down to her children.

She became known for her good work and was soon getting business from the local New York Yankees farm club, the Kansas City Blues.  She washed the clothes of many future Yankee hall of Famers who found themselves in Kansas City without family.  In a way she sort of became a small family for some of these players.  One time years later the Yankees came to town to play the Royals.  The radio broadcaster for the Yankees was Phil Rizzuto, former shortstop for the Yankees and known as "scooter".  Dad took us up to the press level and left word for Mr. Rizzuto that Howard Clark, son of Mrs. Clark was there and would like to see him.  It wasn't very long at all until all five foot six inches of Phil Rizzuto stood before us shaking my dad's hand and telling him how he remembered my grandmother and what a lovely lady she was.  My grandmother had an impact on these young players that she never knew of.

Her children began to grow up and they grew up not having things that a lot of other kids may have taken for granted.  They were happy kids though and they were responsible kids.  I haven't heard too many stories about life and the interactions among my aunts and uncle as they were growing up but looking at them after they had grown up you can get a pretty good idea of how they might have been as children.  She raised her children to be responsible, respectful, hard working and to have a sense of humor in spite of hard times.  She succeeded in all of these.

As the children grew up and left the nest one by one my Aunt Faye took care of grandma.  Grandma did not have a pension plan or any savings from those difficult years of hard work but Faye took it upon herself to be grandmas partner in getting through life.  I am sure it meant a lot of sacrifices for my Aunt but she willingly made them and ensured that my grandmother had a good and happy life.

When I look at this whole family, grandma and all of the kids and see the different paths that have been taken over the course of generation, my respect not only for my aunts and uncle and father but also for my grandmother grows by the day.

I really don't know much about grandma's day to day life.  I have a sister and some cousins that could tell you much better than I what grandma was like.  This is the Grandma Clark that I knew though.

She was extremely faithful in all she did.  She had faith in God and relied on that faith daily.  She raised her kids to rely on that faith as well.  She helped others whenever she could and she helped without reservation and without expecting anything in return.

She loved her family.  She had a big family to love and she loved them all.  She had sisters that she loved dearly and she lost a few of them in her lifetime.  She had grandchildren that she loved on an equal basis.  Her grandchildren were all important to her and she would shine with delight whenever she would just talk abut them.  She kept a bulletin board in her hallway and on that board she had all of her grandkid's school pictures.  She was very proud of all of us I think.

She was fun loving.  Her sense of humor was way out there for a woman of her age.  She could find humor in even the most serious of situations.  She had a contagious smile and laugh and when she burped, which was quite often, she casually would excuse her self with a giggle.  She would play board games with her grandchildren.  She would talk to her grandchildren and make each of us feel important.  Even into her later years she had fun.  I remember when my father was in the hospital after a heart attack, I took grandma in a wheelchair for the long walk to his room.  Pretty soon we were going at a pretty good rate of speed and she was loving it.

She loved candy.  You could always count on grandma having at least two candy dishes filled up whenever you visited.  Candies of choice were butterscotch, peppermint, coffee flavored and mints.  Only our parents limited us on how much candy we could have.  Grandma wouldn't care if we ate the whole bowl.

Grandma was at peace.  She never wanted or expected anything.  She would take what God gave her but she never expected anything of anyone.  This was one of the things that made her so special in my eyes.  She would give of herself time and time again and never expect anything in return.

She was a disciplinarian.  With all I have written about how fun loving she was and how she use to smile she still had rules and they were to be obeyed.  She could crack the whip if it needed to be done.  She only disciplined though when it was justified and required.  I don't feel like she ever called me down for anything that I didn't deserve to be called down for.  She was fair in her discipline.

She was a lovely lady that gave her all to her family, her church, and to her neighbors and anyone else who may have needed her.  She was a special lady.  A special lady the world should know about.  A special lady who face life head on and came out with a few scars but a huge victory in life.

I loved her.  We all loved her and we all miss her.

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