Lately I’ve been thinking about Clinton. He was the salesman who first called on our business in 1987 when we were closed for repairs following Edmonton’s tornado. I was always pretty good at shooing away unwanted solicitation but somehow he managed to charm his way into our store. Over the course of several years he would charm his way into our hearts as well.
Through self-effacing humour, well-told adventure stories and old-fashioned charm Clinton was a day brightener for my mom, me and our families.
Despite his German heritage he managed to pick up enough Ukrainian to have us giggling with delight. He had also been attending a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Edmonton and was able to accurately imitate the hypocrites that sometimes inhabit these places.
If Clinton’s sales call happened to coincide with lunch or coffee break, so much the better. We could visit guilt-free that much longer. I can still picture him overseeing the grilled cheese sandwiches on the stove in the back as mother and I tended to customers in front.
We loved to hear his stories about being a salesman, a son, a friend, a pilot, a first-time homeowner, a Christian. About going to Big Valley Jamboree in Craven, Saskatchewan with friends. Or knowing that he buzzed Andrew with a small rental plane on his way home to Glendon to visit his parents. We knew he hung around with a group of friends but Pat was the closest. It was she who drove him around on his last sales calls. It was she who eventually assumed his job when he was too sick to work.
I missed his funeral because of discovering his obituary too late. I was inconsolable as I reflected on his life and impact on others.
That night I wrote to his parents to express my condolences, shock and sorrow. I told them I believed Clinton had squeezed more life and joy into his thirty-some years than most of do in twice that long. I mourned the loss of a vibrant, giving young man and a life cut short far too soon.
One of his sisters wrote back with a photo and copy of his eulogy that eerily echoed some of the things I’d written to his parents. My words must have touched his parents because despite their ill health they came to Andrew to meet me. I shared their sorrow as they described caring for their gravely ill son as long as they could. Carrying his emaciated body to the toilet and meals. Feeling helpless.
It was Pat who later filled me in on the details of Clinton’s last days at an Edmonton hospice for AIDS sufferers. It was Pat who told me Clinton never told anyone about his homosexuality, not even his family, not even her, not even at the end. It breaks my heart to think about him dying with this secret. Perhaps that’s the biggest tragedy of all, from where I sit.
*Reprinted with permission