JOHN CLIFFORD HODGES LEE, III
Last Monday night, I got a call with the news that my friend, Cliff Lee, had suddenly passed away. Cliff began work at Texaco in New Orleans on the same day that Sam, my ex-husband, did, and he was one of the most incredibly, unique, loving, fun persons I have ever known. Cliff grew up in Cincinnati in a rather affluent family. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were military officers, and I believe Cliff was a direct descendent of General Robert E. Lee.
I have never known another individual in my life who lived his/her life with the zest and joy that Cliff Lee did. His memorial service is today, and many friends whom I haven't seen in YEARS will be gathering in Cincinnati to honor him. I had thought about attending, but Eliza is quite sick with mono and strep throat, so the "mom" in me decided to stay here at the Farm. In my own way, I will be there with the others as they and Cliff will be here with me...Here are a few thoughts I wrote to share about Cliff.....(I can't get the blog to post photos, but I'll keep trying...)
When I recall Cliff Lee, I remember days in New Orleans – a Halloween night’s ride through the city with Cliff, the caveman who had the best costume of all--, tubing down a river in Mississippi on a Saturday afternoon-- driving down St. Charles Avenue with Sam, Nancy, and Cliff, the car windows rolled down and belting out “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” at the top of our lungs-- his and Nancy’s apartment in the city-- and laughter, such great, great laughter. Later, when we all relocated back to Ohio/WV, the memories continue—spending the night out way back in the woods in his new company vehicle that he got stuck only inches from the edge of a pond-- sledding in the front field of our farm-- more Halloween celebrations-- brunches on the back deck-- and the joy in his eyes as he held my son, Samuel, (his godson) and sang him to sleep. I remember weekends here with Helga and Cliff—a hot-air balloon ride and Cliff’s exuberance as he tried to communicate in German with the rather petrified Amish family who owned the farm where the ride ended. I remember Cliff’s determination as he rallied the Boy Scouts outside of Charleston to search for Puppy, our friend Norm’s dog, who fled after he and Norm were in a nasty accident. (And yes, under Cliff’s untiring direction, they searched the hills around the area and found the dog.) I close my eyes and can vividly see Cliff and Sam, standing together with the other groomsmen as they awaited Martha’s entrance at the wedding. When Cliff saw her, a huge smile burst across his face as a tear ran down his cheek. And in the stillness of my memories, I can still hear Cliff’s voice when I would pick up the phone and hear him say, “How ya doin’, ‘Miss Tammy’?”
Years have passed, and our lives have changed in many ways, but every year at Christmas, I hang two ornaments on our tree that Cliff and Nancy made the first Christmas after we all moved from New Orleans. This year, one of them, a woodsman with a tree under his arm, came unglued, so I put it on our coffee table with some greenery. As I was placing some pine cones and holly around it, I promised myself that 2007 would be the year I would make every effort to re-connect with Cliff. I thought of him so, so often. Now, in a way that I had totally unanticipated, that connection has been made.
All of us whose lives are so richly blessed by having known Cliff understand just how much Cliff loved life and lived every moment of it fully. What an amazing, incredible, wonderful gift to share with us all!
Today, as many gather together in Cincinnati to celebrate his life, I do so here, at the farm in Marietta. The woodsman is now surrounded by photos, flowers, and candles. In honor of Cliff Lee, I give thanks for this day, my friends, and my many, many blessings…….Godspeed, dear friend.