My husband has been the subject of many of my blog posts. I’ve celebrated his kookiness, made fun of his wardrobe choices and planned on writing many more over our years together. But he died on March 28th of this year, and at his funeral, I left the eulogy to our kids. Now its my turn. So here goes.
We shared a home town, but I didn’t meet Clarence properly until university. On my fifth day there, I saw him standing with his friends in the doorway of our residential dining hall. He wore a red plaid shirt, faded jeans and a curly, brown, clown shaped Afro. There was something about his face that I instantly loved. He’d gone to the same high school as me, but I’d never been interested in the slimmer, hockey player version of him. I wanted the guy with the added freshman fifteen. The one ready for anything and definitely different from everyone else.
‘I’m going out with him,’ I told a friend. ‘What if he’s not interested?’ she replied. ‘Too bad,’ I said. ‘It’s going to happen.’ And so the plotting began. He was completely oblivious to the way I arranged to sit next to him when a bunch of us went to the pub. I was relentless in my pursuit, and the only mistake I made was in conversation when I told him he was a little weird. (Which his friends would totally validate.) I meant it as a compliment because I like people with a little something extra in their personality. He thought I thought he was gay. For about two weeks, he avoided me. Then, at a Ukrainian themed party, he asked me to dance. When the song was over, I made my bold move by continuing to hang on to his arm. I was like a stalker and a jailer at the same time. Nowadays he might complain to the administration, but he just shrugged and let me stay. We talked all night, and no, that’s not a euphemism for something else. We were pretty inseparable after that point. We’d been dating for two months before I knew his real name was Clarence, because everyone called him Ace. But I had already fallen in love so it didn’t matter.
I’ve never met anyone less self conscious than my husband. Once, we were waiting for the bus with a bunch of other people when suddenly, he dropped to his knees and started reciting his version of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. (He was really great at making stuff up.) I was charmed and mortified–not the last time I’d feel that way. His quirky side was really on show whenever we traveled. Clarence had no problem pretending to speak the language wherever we were, and was not above doing the chicken dance when trying to buy meat for his cooking group. In Switzerland, I came out of the bathroom in the world’s largest restaurant to find him up on the stage yodeling. At a gathering in Flin Flon, we decided to try square dancing with Clarence as the caller. He was very persuasive, and when he hollered, ‘Swing your partner round and round, clap your hands and pull your pants down,’ people followed his instructions. It was a very fun party.
I’m a home body, but Clarence was not. He loved traveling, and talked me into trekking up the Himalayas to Base Camp, then hiking the golden triangle in Thailand, and slogging through the West Coast Trail once we’d settled down in Canada. He loved to go walking and in the early days, I pretended to love it too. And then I did, and it became something we did every day.
We’re an even match when it comes to being chatty. At times, we’d get home from a party and accuse each other of not letting other people talk. But there was one party where we were the only people interested in holding a conversation. We tossed the ball back and forth to each other until we began wondering if we’d accidentally stumbled into a Buddhist retreat. Clarence took our failure to liven things up very personally.
Everything between us didn’t jive completely for the first couple of years. We didn’t lived together before we got married, so there were things we had to figure out. I came from a family of seven children, and an open bathroom door policy (with a closed shower curtain if one was bathing) was considered appropriate. He was not used to anyone interrupting him in the bathroom, and acted like I was trying to steal his virtue.
‘What are you doing!’
‘Brushing my teeth?’ I was truly mystified by his attitude. Who knew that peeing was supposed to be a private affair? Not me. But he grew more relaxed over time, and I got better at respecting his privacy.
Everything got sorted during our third year of marriage when we traveled through Asia with a group of strangers who became very dear to us. Far away from family, our own relationship tightened and we realized what we had in each other. I would highly recommend poor living conditions and a certain amount of danger to ramp up the closeness factor. Only for a short time, of course.
On that trip, we learned to love the same books, because there were no kindles or even book stores in most of the countries we visited. Instead, we’d swap with strangers, happy to have something new to read. I grew to love Dick Francis, who wrote British mysteries about jockeys and horse trainers, and Russian author, Mikhail Sholokov, who wrote about depressing Russian things. Before we left for Asia, reading was something we both enjoyed. But when we were overseas, we began the habit of reading each night before bed. It was one of my favorite things about our married life.
When we moved back to Flin Flon, it wasn’t long before we’d built our first house from plans we’d drawn up ourselves. It turned out well, but I still remember the carpenter saying, ‘Did you really want a window in the closet?’ We did not, so an adjustment was made. I still love that first house because it was ours in every way. We moved in to floors bare of carpet or linoleum and a kitchen holding only a toaster oven, hot plate and fridge dating from the forties. The sink sat on a board floating between two sawhorses. As we got paid, we bought flooring and appliances until the house was fully furnished. Although our kitchen chairs were cast offs from the Flin Flon School Division because we were still very thrifty.
It was an adventure, especially when I was painting the trim on the second story. I was afraid of heights, so Clarence tied a rope to my waist and wrapped the other end around a beam. It wouldn’t have done much if I’d fallen, but psychologically it worked very well. Our fathers helped us with the carpentry. When we were done, we bought them both VCR’s. They were $800.00 each, because they had just been invented. At least in Manitoba. After that, we had kids. But that’s a story for another day.