Warning: This entry is not for the faint in heart. Family members (especially the first responders), please read with caution. This is a topic I have wrestled with for almost fifteen years now, and I hope my words will bring a measure of comfort. But if you’re not ready, I understand. That said, you may want to grab some Kleenex. Oh, and my apologies to Orvid Balls. While you were Mom's first BF, I just couldn't figure a way to work your story in to this post. Thank you for understanding...
Mom had three crushes in her lifetime: Elvis Presley, Alan Jackson, and my dad. The first needs little explanation as I’m sure every girl in America who graduated in 1957 shared her sentiments. No, she wasn’t one of those screaming-like-a-lunatic fans featured in old video footage at one of his concerts (even as a teenager she thought their antics were “a bit much”--especially the ones who fainted or were nervy enough to throw their underwear on stage). According to Mom, “That was just plain ridiculous” and she "wasn't about to swoon over him like an idiot." But she did love his music, and whenever she had a chance to buy one of his albums or watch a TV performance, she took it. News of Elvis’s death rattled her. On August 18, 1977, just two days after his sudden and unexpected passing, Mom watched the live funeral coverage, commenting on everything from the stream of white Cadillacs to the number of roses displayed in his honor. During the services she complained about the gospel music she didn’t know (or like) very well but sang along to “How Great Thou Art,” all the while ironing clothes and lamenting the fact that her teen idol had died alone, naked, in the bathroom--an eerie foreshadowing of events to come.
It took Mom nearly a decade to get over Elvis, and by the early nineties, she had moved on to the sounds (and looks) of country music’s newcomer: Alan Jackson. Now in her fifties and still happily married to Dad, Mom made little effort to hide what would turn out to be a two-and-a-half-decade-long lust affair with the popular singer/songwriter. Just like a teenager, she had a poster of AJ hanging in the office downstairs, prompting one of her young granddaughters to refer to him as “Grandma’s boyfriend.” This elicited so much laughter from Dad that whenever the opportunity arose, he would place Mikele in front of the poster and ask “Who is that guy?” just so he could laugh all over again. We knew Mom’s crush was serious when years after Dad’s passing she went so far as to attend an Alan Jackson concert--buying and securing tickets on her own, figuring out transportation and parking, and convincing a friend from work to attend with her--something she never did for Elvis.
In spite of Mom’s two crushes and her occasional mention of Mark Harmon and Dieter F. Uchtdorf--two men whose good looks were enhanced by crooked smiles and military uniforms--she loved Dad more than words could ever express. He really was her “one and only.” When recalling the first time she saw him walk across the commons area of the Student Union Building at Utah State, Mom would stop short of claiming that it was love at first sight, but the satisfied smirk on her face indicated that it was the next closest thing. They officially met the summer before their sophomore year of college and were married a year later in the fall of 1959.
From the beginning, they complemented one another’s personalities. Dad was the comedian, cracking jokes, telling stories, and using self-deprecating humor to make others laugh. Mom was the serious one, straight-laced and driven to accomplish the goals of their time: home ownership, a large family, church affiliation, higher education--all elements of the “perfect life in suburbia.” And while she too had a quick wit and a healthy sense of humor, Mom could hold a straight face and was more about getting things done than she was about getting laughs. She was the Bert to his Ernie. The Tim Conway to his Harvey Korman. If Dad was funny, Mom’s rolling eyes, shaking head, and failed attempts to stifle her laughter only made him funnier.
They were a balanced act, a team--a team whose championship performance was cut short by a devastating and very unexpected lunch-time discovery: Dad. Just out of the shower. Lying on the bathroom floor. Naked. And alone.
At first Mom thought Dad was playing a joke on her. Surely, any moment now, he would open his eyes, look at her, and say “Gotcha!” But the punchline never came. She had lost her one and only--never to laugh together again.
That is until…
Fourteen years after Dad’s death, I confided in Mom how upsetting it was to me that Dad had died “in all his glory.” Even as a grown woman, it was embarrassing to me--so vulnerable, so undignified--not the way I wanted to imagine my father in his last moments on earth.
Then, I had a paradigm shift as a friend of ours was relating his own near-death experience. He shared the one funny thought that kept coming to his mind as he was having a stroke in an out-of-state hotel bathroom while away on business. Imagining the poor maid’s face upon discovering his body in the tub, Randy said all he could think was, "Wait a minute...I’m not cool enough to die naked in the bathroom.” Through somewhat slurred speech, he went on to explain that it was all the motivation he needed to get out of the tub and use his best “beached whale impression to get to the phone for help.” Needless to say, the room erupted in laughter, and I immediately thought of my dad.
In my next phone conversation with Mom, I told her Randy’s brush-with-death story and let her know that he had provided Dad with some new (and probably much-needed) funny guy material to use on the other side. “Can’t you just picture Dad walking around up there asking people if they were cool enough to die naked in the bathroom? And then telling them, ‘I was!’” Fortunately, Mom thought it was just as funny as I did and agreed that Dad was probably using that line because “that was just the kind of humor he loved.” Her laughter brought me as much relief as my new perspective did, and I will forever thank Randy Toone for his humorous account of a not-so-funny situation. I believe it brought my mother comfort as well. But unfortunately, it would be one of our last laughs together, occurring just ten weeks before Mom too would be found alone, on the same bathroom floor as Dad, fully clothed, her hair beautifully done, her dignity in tact.
It has been almost four months since my parents were reunited, their class-act championship performance resumed. While imagining what their everyday activities on the other side might include, I like to picture Mom stifling laughter, rolling her eyes, and shaking her head when Dad delivers his “cool enough to die naked in the bathroom” line to all the new pearly gate arrivals who have yet to hear his (now overused but funny) line.I also picture Mom’s here-we-go-again face as Dad brags about the fact that his naked-in-the-bathroom death story connects him to the likes of Judy Garland, Jim Morrison, Orville Redenbacher, Michael Jackson, and of course, Elvis Presley. And with the mention of his name, I think I hear Mom sigh from the other side of the veil, or maybe even swoon...just a little.
In Loving Memory of
Charles G. Cluff, Jr. March,1939-August, 2000
Rebecca R. Cluff September,1939-March, 2015
Randy Toone May, 1968-January, 2015