I went to a funeral today.
I often find myself being the Family Representative on these occasions. But I'm honored to do it and to sometimes re-connect with people I may not have seen for many years.
This particular funeral was for a person whom you probably did not know. His name was Clyde Gault and he was 71 years old when he died.
Clyde lived in my neighborhood near the City Park when I was a kid. It turns out he was about 16 years older than me.
When the neighborhood kids and I were small, we knew Clyde was "different." At one point in time, he might have been called "retarded." Today, we would call people like Clyde something much kinder.
I don't recall hearing Clyde talk very much. But there's one thing I remember very distinctly about him. And that was the look of utter joy that would come across his face when he was riding his bicycle. As I recall, his bike was one of those 1950s monstrosities that you so often see in movies about that era. Big tires. White side walls. Plenty of chrome. Perhaps a built-in bell. I don't know for certain that his bike had all of those options, but you get the picture. It probably weighed 50 pounds.
Clyde's mother had died sometime in the past and he lived with his father, who worked at the post office with my Dad. Mr. Gault built an apartment behind his home so that Clyde could live there when he got older. Or should I say, IF he got older. I heard at his funeral today that Clyde had not been expected to live past the age of 12. He far exceeded that.
After Mr. Gault's death, Clyde lived in his apartment. By then, my friends and I had graduated from high school and had gone off to college and to our adult lives.
But Clyde stayed in the old neighborhood, riding his bike and living a quiet life.
You would most often see Clyde at parades in downtown Parkersburg. He wasn't content to just stand along the street, watching from the curb. Clyde took it upon himself to "bring up the rear" at those parades, and you would know the parade was over when Clyde (and his bike) came rolling down the street.
He continued riding his bike until he was in his 40s, I was told. But then, he started suffering so many seizures, that he could no longer be permitted on two wheels. His niece tells me the day that they took away his bike "you wouldn't have wanted to be in Wood County," he was so upset.
Clyde enjoyed going to football games, too.
But about 10 years ago, his health got so frail that we was taken to a facility in Pleasants County where he lived out most of his days. Not long ago, he told a family member he thought his time on this earth was growing short and he wanted to "come home." By "home" he meant Parkersburg. And so they brought him back to Eagle Point and then he died in a local hospiptal on November 29.
The story of Clyde Gault is the story of a young boy, born into difficult circumstances, who overcame great odds simply by surviving, who was loved by his immediate and extended family, who enjoyed the simple things we all take for granted, and who touched a number of lives along the way.
I found myself being very moved at Clyde's simple funeral. Why? I had not seen him in probably 30 years. We'd never really had what you'd call a substantive conversation. It could be argued we had nothing in common other than our shared neighborhood and our love of bicycling.
I think it was because this simple man-child was a vestige of my childhood memories and he carried those simpler times with him throughout his life. And to think of him as a 71-year-old man was shocking and disorienting.
We all encounter people throughout our lives that we think touch us only in a peripheral way. But as time goes by, we realize their impact was greater than we thought. And so it was with Clyde Gault.
My condolences to his family and to all who may have known him.