Four years ago, the daughter of one of my best friends growing up called because her Dad was in a dark place on a mountain two thousand miles away. He wasn’t answering his cell phone, and she was desperate. Although I had never met her, and I still haven’t, we connected.
I called Clarke and surprisingly, he answered. It was a very awkward conversation as we just drifted away from each other more than forty years earlier. I listened as he unloaded years of pent-up bitterness about people in his childhood and issues in his life. I was aware of some of the events, but that night I heard it all and why. Some of his bitterness that night was even directed at me, but I listened. It was not a time to impose judgement, defend anyones actions, or come up with a fix. It was a time to just listen.
He came down from the mountain, and soon moved to join his three children in Missouri. Not long after reconciling with his children, his oldest daughter died leaving Renee and her brother. I spoke with Clarke a couple of times over the course of the past three years. Mostly we talked about our exploits as kids growing up in two super conservative Christian homes. We spent many Sunday afternoons at each other houses. He always seemed to have the cool stuff like the biggest stereo, the latest Stallion cap pistol, a CO2 fired pellet gun and a BB rifle. We even poked our fingers with a Swiss Army Knife and pressed them together to become blood brothers.
He was a skilled sketch artist and had a real flare for design. After spending three years in the Navy and serving in Vietnam, he joined Beattie Jewelers, an old reputable jewelry design firm in Cleveland. His smooth mannerisms, low mellow voice, and his ability to charm customers were natural assets that complimented his ability to sketch and produce the kind of custom jewelry that made Beattie Jewelers famous. One of my first photography projects was to photograph more than a million dollars worth of jewelry in the design studio above the store. They thought it might be safer to show customers slides of their work rather than carry it around in the trunks of their cars to show some of their more affluent customers. We have never handled so much bling since!
Renee contacted me last year to ask me to write a letter regarding our memories. He had been selected for a seat on an Honor Flight from Missouri to Washington to visit the war memorials. It was difficult considering the forty year gap in our very divergent lives, and I had no idea how it would be received, but I had an emotional hour and a half conversation shortly after he returned. In that deep resonate voice, he expanded on some of the exploits that I had brought to mind. He told me he had only a few months to live as cancer was eating away inside of him, but best of all, he told me how he had restored his relationship with Jesus Christ, or in his words, “I got right with God again.”
John Alexander Clarke Beattie passed away this week. He has gone home.