Friday, March 8, 2019

Happy memories of a beloved uncle

Clark Eugene Lankford
The 52 Ancestors theme this week is “bachelor uncle.”

My uncle, Clark Eugene Lankford, was a kind, sweet man. He was always good to me, my sisters Bonita, Jennifer, and Vanessa, and my brother Michael. Bonita remembers that Clark was never sad or mad. He was always smiling and cutting up. Clark came to live with us at our house on Macon Drive in southeast Atlanta, Georgia after he left the U.S. Army. According to his obituary, that would have been 1961. He had spent time in Korea and brought a scrapbook and a decorative pillow home with him. Bonita remembers the scrapbook had photos of Korean women which she believes were thrown away years later immediately after he got married. Ha, my father-in-law had to do the same thing! I remember playing with the pillow in his bedroom. Both the scrapbook and pillow were very decorative.

During the years that Clark lived with us, he gave Mama $10 a week to wash his clothes and make his bed. Mama used that money to buy herself a car. At some point, the car was parked in our driveway or on the street and was totaled after being hit by another car. After the accident, Clark let Mama use his red convertible to run errands during the week. At the end of the week, Mama would wash the car before she gave it back to Clark. He and Daddy were plumbers and worked together for Thompson Brothers Plumbing in Atlanta or Decatur. Clark must have ridden to work with Daddy for him to be able to let Mama use his car. Most days, Mama packed lunches for both Daddy and Clark.

Growing up, we didn’t have the traditional family environment. Mama bent over backwards to make sure we had fun and stayed busy. Daddy on the other hand was a self-described loner. He worked all day and after work he’d spend his evenings working in the yard. We always had beautiful flowers and a big vegetable garden. But when it came to family activities, most times he didn’t participate. So, Clark stepped in and filled the void.

Uncle Ralph Epps, my Daddy Sam Lankford, brother
Michael, Clark, and my grandpa Carroll Lankford. This picture
was taken at  Bairdstown Cemetery, probably the day
my grandma was buried in 1970.
On several occasions, Mama and Clark took us to Shakey’s Pizza Parlor for pizza and beer. Well, Mama and Clark had a beer in an ice-cold frozen mug. The kids got a Coke. We’d stand on the benches underneath the windows to watch the staff make the pizzas. Then we’d all sit down and eat pizza while we listened to the piano and banjo players play Dixieland jazz. We had a ball!

Jennifer remembers that Clark would take any of us who wanted to go to Greene County when he went to visit our grandparents and aunt. He always stopped at McDonalds and we’d sing and play games on the ride there.

During the summer months, Mama went to the farmer’s market and brought back bushel bags of peas for canning. We’d all sit on the back-porch shelling peas until our fingers turned purple. Clark was right there helping us.

On Christmas morning, we couldn’t check out what Santa left us until we woke Clark up. At Easter, he helped us hunt eggs.

Michael, Clark, Vanessa, and Bonita
Bonita remembers Clark emptying the change out of his pockets every night when he got home from work. He’d save the change and every few months, we would sit around the dining table and help him roll it up. She believes he used that money as a down payment on his first house.

Daddy would sometimes take us to the Miss Georgia ice cream parlor on Lakewood Avenue on Sunday afternoons. Clark would go with us.

Every Saturday night Clark went to a dance club in DeKalb County called The Sports Arena. Bonita remembers that it wasn’t a bar, although it may have had beer. Jennifer said they sometimes had wrestling and he loved it. He wanted to take Bonita, but Daddy wouldn’t let him. Clark had a girlfriend for many years. None of us remember her name but she had children our age. Sometimes on Saturdays, he’d take us to her house to play with her kids. We’d go to the park and have picnics with them. Clark would sometimes take her to The Sports Arena on Saturday nights.

Clark eventually moved out into a small house a couple of miles from ours, behind the Southeastern Fair Grounds in Atlanta. On weekends, he’d come pick us up and take us to his house. We’d help him clean his house, cut grass, and wash his car. His house was always immaculate. I remember music playing and still today if I hear the songs “Corinna, Corinna” by Ray Peterson from 1960 or “Return to Sender” by Elvis Presley from 1962, I think of Clark.

In 1970, at the age of 37, Clark married my aunt Alice and they moved to Alpharetta, north of Atlanta. They had twin daughters whom he loved dearly. The night they were born, Mama and Jennifer went to the hospital and sat up all night with Clark. Jennifer remembers that he was a nervous wreck yet so excited. The twins weren’t born that night and at daylight, Mama and Jennifer had to leave so Mama could go to work. By the time they arrived home, Clark had already called Daddy and told him they were born right after Mama and Jennifer left. The girls were the light of his life.

My brother Michael, Clark, and cousin Tim
standing in front of my grandparents grave
at Bairdstown Cemetery. They died less than
three months apart.
When Jennifer graduated in 1972, Daddy wouldn’t go, and she remembers that she cried like a baby. Clark felt bad for Jennifer, so he and Alice attended her graduation. She always remembered him for that.

Clark and Alice eventually moved next door to Daddy in Riverdale, 10 miles south of Atlanta. Daddy and Clark were best friends and they looked out for each other. Those years were comforting for me because Daddy was getting older and lived alone. Alice died in 2004 and Clark in 2009. Both are buried at Bairdstown Cemetery in Bairdstown, Oglethorpe County, Georgia near my grandparents, Carroll and Floria Lankford. Appropriately, when Daddy is called home, he’ll be buried beside Clark at Bairdstown.

We all have great memories of my uncle Clark. For a few years, he was our “bachelor” uncle who loved us, and we loved him. He was like a second father to us.

My thanks to Mama, Bonita, and Jennifer who shared their memories of Clark with me for this post. My sisters remember a lot more than I do!

My son Kevin, Clark, my son Chris, and my Daddy (1995)

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