Cumberland Times-News

October 22, 2011

By these standards, they were everything

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— Back in the day, as we were preparing for a golf tournament at Maplehurst, a fellow on my team observed, “Whaddya know. I’m playing with three columnists: Jack Anderson, Jim Bishop and Jim Goldsworthy.”

Of course, those guys were no relation to the Jack Anderson and Jim Bishop who were syndicated columnists in The Cumberland News and two of my favorite writers. (I am occasionally a syncopated columnist.)

Anderson told us what was going on in the world. I first learned from him about the way Vietnam veterans were being treated when they came home, and this had a significant impact on my personal life and newspaper career.

People and their foibles were Bishop’s specialty, and he once wrote about martinis, a volatile mixture of gin and dry vermouth. The drier the martini, the better — meaning a maximum of gin and a minimum of vermouth.

Bishop said that when Bebe Rebozo made martinis for President Nixon, he put some gin into a glass with a couple of olives, then turned to face Italy — which amused Nixon to no end.

My favorite columnists today are Maude McDaniel, our sports editor Mike Burke and our outdoors editor Mike Sawyers, who are at their best when writing about people ... about folks, as my friend Chef says.

Maude recently caused me to think about Nat King Cole’s haunting rendition of a song I have loved for more than half a century.

Since you went away, the days grow long

And soon I’ll hear old winter's song

But I miss you most of all, my darling

When autumn leaves start to fall.

Do I miss someone? Yes. Who is it? There’s no simple answer to that question.

One recent evening, I sat alone with those thoughts on my back porch and watched the autumn leaves ... not falling, so much as being blown sideways from the trees.

I’m not a lover of the wind because I once was a proficient kicker of footballs, and no kicker likes the wind unless it is at his back.

My buddy Bo was a player, and I was a sportswriter and manager on the Keyser High football team.

Last week, Bo asked if I remembered the time Tack Clark, the coach, was talking about suiting up one of the managers for the next game to see if he could do a better job than the guy who was the regular kicker.

We usually were booting the ball around when we weren’t needed for some useful purpose, and a couple of us were pretty good at it.

When the other managers and I heard about that, we made ourselves scarce. It is one thing to stand out in the field by yourself and kick the ball, but it’s a different story when half a dozen or more guys are trying to knock it down your throat.

Coach Frederick “Tack” Clark was one of Keyser’s most beloved figures. When he passed away several years ago, Burke asked if I would write something about him for our sports pages.

I called it “Mom and Dad Clark” because that’s how Tack and his wife Nola were regarded by many kids, and not just those who actually played for Tack.

For a lot of years, some of Keyser’s young people were able to find warmth, welcome, ears willing to listen, wise words and maybe even a snack in the Clark home at times when they really needed it ... or just wanted it.

How much of what’s good in my life do I owe to Tack and Nola? Where do I start?

After coaching me for two years in junior high basketball, Tack must have seen that — at this point in my life, anyway — I was too scrawny to be an athlete at Keyser High.

But he knew how much I loved sports, and that I liked to write, so when I was a freshman he asked if I would be his junior sportswriter for the football team.

That I have been a professional newspaperman for more than 40 years is at least partly due to Coach Clark. That I have a 1962 West Virginia State Football Championship pin is entirely because of him (and, of course, Bo and the other players who won that game).

The junior high basketball team was showering and changing into street clothes after playing Elk Garden when Nola walked unannounced into the locker room, looking for Tack.

We squealed and tried to hide behind towels and lockers, and when Coach showed up, we told him Mrs. Clark had come in and seen us.

“Don’t worry about it,” he laughed. “She sees better than that every night at home.”

About the only time in recent years that Nola’s path and mine crossed was at the pancake dinners held periodically by Grace United Methodist Church in Keyser. (Great eats.)

If she wasn’t there, I was disappointed — but usually she was, and I always sat and talked with her for a while. There was much affection, and it was almost like being with my mother or one of my grandmothers. She was Mom Clark. That’s how she made me feel.

What I always saw in her eyes was a very profound and boundless love ... the same joyful love she had for all of her kids. I hope she saw it in my eyes, for her, because it was there.

As St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, no matter what else we may have, if we do not have love, we are nothing. By these standards, Nola and Tack Clark were everything.

Until a week ago today, Nola was the last survivor of a small band of teachers, coaches and other grownups who long ago made Keyser a marvelous place to grow up.

Some might believe that a golden era has now ended, but as long as at least one of us remains among those who loved and learned from Nola and the others, that era will live on.

Grieve, I will not. Rather, I rejoice. For one thing, I was blessed to play a small part in a life that was wonderfully lived.

For another, “Nola and Tack are dancing again!” So said the Rev. Jim McCune, Grace church’s pastor. (St. Paul also told the Corinthians that “Love never ends,” and my friend Jim and I believe him.)

Good night, Mom Clark. I’ll see you in the morning ... the morning of the Lord’s great tomorrow.

You’ll be one of those I miss most of all, my darling, when autumn leaves start to fall.