Clark Franklyn Barber died his final death at 4pm September 20th, 2016. I saw his final death because he was a man who died 100 times. There wasn’t much for him to leave on the 20th. Gone are the blind eyes that saw only light and shadow. My father was an intensely private person, so much so that there are probably people in this room that never saw his eyes. I was surprised that Aunt Lynn and Mom were able to find this many pictures of him not wearing his sunglasses.
Gone are the atrophied muscles and arthritic knees, shoulders, hands, and wrists. His was a body well abused. His physical feats not sound legendary. He ran up Mount Marcy carrying a backpack loaded heavy with rocks, ascending and descending in the same day. He did a 40-mile day hike in Sweden and slept in the mossy turret of an abandoned castle. He won a fist fight against a group of Russian sailors who were displeased with his banjo rendition of Norwegian wood.
Gone are the hands that held our hands, held micrometers, held guitars, held banjos, held maps, held motorcycle handlebars.
His broken back is gone.
A few months ago, Dad told me that the CIA attempted to recruit him out of high school. He spoke fluent German and they wanted him to infiltrate Baader-Meinhoff in East Germany. My dad refused. I asked him why and he said it was because he didn’t want to serve his country. He lost too many friends and classmates to Vietnam. He told me once that Grandpa was the last hero in this family, but I disagree. He waged a different war. One fought in factories, standing over machinery and enduring the physical demand and the mental tediousness that the work required. I remember waking up one morning after his first stroke to the sound of him crying. He was sitting in the living room struggling to lace his boot, he had forgotten and then remembered that he no longer worked.
He was freed from his shattered mind. Once exact, and sharp – his trade was so obscure that we all had to Google how to spell it for the obituary. After putting in over 20 years at Cutter he was laid off. Unable to find trainings for other work, he taught himself physics using college textbooks that he bought at yard sales. He measured his world with micrometers, he underlined books with rulers. He raised us to look at the world with wonder and curiosity. We listened to far-away lands on the shortwave radio, peered out at the night sky through telescopes, and hiked through the forest preservation looking for fossils.
Gone is his beat-skipping heart, the heart that loved us. I was able to go back home for several days last month and we were able to spend some time alone together. He was still lucid. We talked about music, and movies and shared memories but mostly he talked about his love for us. He showed his love in the same way that his mother did, by asking us, telling us, and reminding us at every conversation to be safe, be careful, drive carefully. He told MJ to remind me to wear my seatbelt in the car. He also showed his love by making sure we had enough to eat. When we would go out as a family, he would often order nothing so that we could get shrimp dinners and beef hash. He would eat the shrimp tails, we would re-enact the scene from The Blues Brothers, “How much for your women, how much for the little girl.” He would eat the solitary leftover egg and then go home and make himself a bean sandwich for dinner.
He was thoughtful. When Mom and him met it was love at first sight. Mom saw him across the dining room at Potsdam and turned to her roommate and told her, “that’s the man I am going to marry.” Later they would go sledding, Mom took a bad spill down an icy hill and got pretty banged up. Mom went home to get cleaned up and thought to herself that if really is the one, he will show up with hot chocolate – and Dad did.
Dad’s thoughtfulness took many forms. He used to proudly tell anyone that would listen that he was an ex-Baptist deacon with a lesbian daughter. He went to Pride every year he was able, and he would stand outside of Spot Coffee during the Dyke March and wave to us. One rainy year he showed up to give me his umbrella and to give me a hug.
Even in his last moments his love for us was apparent. He wanted me to tell Mom that he knew it was a hard 9 years for her and that he wanted her to go out and have fun. To find a social group, to go to church, but most importantly have some fun.
He wanted Matt to know how proud of him he was and proud he was the kind of man that Matt is, that he has a good reputation and that people respect him. That he is a good father to Geneva and that he is a big guy but doesn’t use that to intimidate anyone.
I asked him what he was going to do when he got to Heaven. He didn’t think about his response very long. He was that he was going to meet the Lord and get a bike. He wasn’t much of a church-going man but he told us that riding his motorcycle was like being in church. That sometimes he would ride down country roads and that the trees towering overhead reminded him of being in a cathedral.
He looked forward to being reunited with his Mom and Dad, with Buster and Quigley.
He looked forward to not being confined to his well-abused body, the broken back and shattered mind.
He wanted everyone to know that someday we would all be reunited.
His last days were ones where he was with Mom, at home, and in no pain. He had his music and all of our love.
To quote his favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut.
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
His ending was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Clark is in Heaven now, and everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.