Had he lived, Clyde Erwin, my father-in-law, would have turned 85 today. He died the week before Christmas in 1997 after a lengthy illness and years of chronic heart disease.
Clyde was quite a guy. Actually, he was something else indeed!
Born on a farm outside Rhome, Texas in Wise County, Clyde was one of ten children.
Four of his siblings died in childhood with juvenile diabetes before the days of readily available insulin treatment.
Trying to imagine the impact of the loss of four children on a family is a tough assignment. This reality hit me the day we buried Clyde's brother, Howard, at the family gravesite in the Boyd Cemetery. We found the graves of the little ones who had died decades earlier.
Clyde loved his parents. But somehow the family didn't quite work for the surviving children. Clyde and his dad had their issues. I am sure that this relationship affected him in a painful way all of his life.
Like most Texas families coming through the Depression years, Clyde's family faced real poverty. They scratched out a living on their farm. Heart disease prevented his father from most work fairly early in life. Clyde worked from the time he was just a kid until he retired in the mid-eighties.
He earned a basketball scholarship to Texas Christian University upon graduation from high school in Rhome. But work and World War II blocked him from taking advantage of the opportunity. Clyde was a great, natural athlete.
He loved his family beyond words--a subject he found it hard to discuss without tears or proud laughter or both.
He and my mother-in-law, Beatrice Moore, were married for 55 years. She and their two daughters, Judy and Brenda were the joy of his life. My brother-in-law, Bill and I sort of messed things up for him! But, he loved us too. He was a master at giving us a hard time. We had lots of great times together.
He was also a good and brave soldier. He served in the U. S. Army and was caught up in the now infamous Battle of the Bulge in France and Germany. He told me that he woke up on Christmas morning in 1944 covered in snow somewhere along the front lines. Twice during his tenure in Europe every man in his company except him was severely wounded or killed.
Clyde should have earned a Purple Heart when a German round blew him out of his Jeep and sent him to the hospital behind the lines. For some reason he failed to complete the necessary paper work while there. Years later I worked to recover those records to secure the well-earned deoration. All of his records burned in a fire at a government records building in St. Louis, Missouri. As a result, he never received the recognition he deserved. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his valor in battle.
He never liked talking about the war. I never heard him speak of it without tears in his eyes.
One of his most touching memories was the day he returned home from Europe. Bea was staying with her parents, Guy and Lela Moore. Clyde arrived in Ft. Worth by bus from New York City. He hitched a ride out to Rhome and arrived at the Moore's home unannounced. The Moores prepared a breakfast feast, complete with white tablecloth and celebrated his return. It was a very glad reunion. The war ended in Japan before Clyde's leave was over.
Clyde could have been an engineer. He could build anything. Most of his plans were drawn out on the back of a napkin! He could repair anything. He could figure out anything.
For years he managed huge grain elevator operations in North Texas, including Cassady Mills in Richardson, his last mill job. He raised cattle and farmed in the last working years of his life.
He loved people, especially children. During his years (almost 20!) as the custodian for the Waterview Church of Christ, Clyde befriended hundreds of little kids. Everyone knew Clyde! After all he was affectionately known as "the Candy Man."
He and Bea had more friends than can be counted or remembered.
Of course, his grandchildren--Jennifer, Joanna and Kyle--were off the charts as far as Clyde was concerned. Many a day our girls returned home from school to find Clyde waiting in front of the house in his pickup. Off they would go for a treat, usually ice cream! They loved him dearly.
He always insisted that the grandkids refer to him simply as "Clyde." His father had done the same with his children and grandchildren--his name was Tom Erwin. So, for us it was always "Clyde and Granny."
I regret that he didn't live long enough to meet my grandchildren--his great-grandchildren, Gracie Bea, Wyatt and Owen. Little Wyatt reminds me of him! Both he and Owen favor him!
Clyde was a man of his word. He always followed through. You could count on him in any situation.
He was basically a conservative when it came to faith and church. . .that is, until someone was going to be hurt by some church practice or some traditional opinion. He defended and stood with lots of people who were judged as "unworthy" by many people or who found themselves in some sort of mess.
He enjoyed being the center of attention--that went back to his sense of never measuring up for his own father, I expect. We loved to pour it on too--both praise, celebration and just giving him a hard time. He had a great sense of humor and loved to "go on" with folks.
After retiring, he and Bea moved back to Rhome where they built a new home. Not long after their move, Clyde ran for City Council and was elected twice to the office of Mayor of his hometown! His campaign motto was simple: "Elect me and I'll put this town back to sleep!" He worked hard to do just that!
He also had a humility about him that was inspiring. People had a way of taking advantage of him. He never seemed to mind. He just served everyone to the very best of his ability.
He taught us all what compassion and tenderness meant in down-to-earth, day-to-day life. He was constantly involved in helping someone. He co-signed many loans for people trying to do better.
He had an amazing heart. He was a giant of a guy. His capacity to love matched his physical stature and size.
The last words I heard him utter were very simple. He lifted himself up in his bed, looked us in the eye and said, "I love you all."
Not long after that last confession of his heart, he was gone.
We all miss him. But he lives on. He showed us how to care for one another and others. I think of him almost everyday. He was a natural community-builder and the world's best neighbor.
Happy Birthday, Clyde. I miss you a lot.
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