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17:My small town lost its youth.

BY Oh_Skinny on November 23, 2018
13 | 11 Favorites
Clint was the pied piper of knuckle-headed hilarity for every kid who lived in our small town. Clint whispered, “pants,” and pants immediately became a filthy childhood password. He kept his mental black book updated and read from it with milk-from-our-noses timing. Clint was all boy, alive with an unparalleled sense of humor, the Tom Sawyer to our pack of boys. We would paint a fence to satisfy his dare.

Clint died in a car accident the summer between our sophomore and junior years in high school. I am tearful writing this, still disbelieving a star the size of Clint could collapse upon itself. We shunned our parents’ attempts to console. They were supposed to warn us, about death and forever. If we were meant to experience the unthinkable, fate chose its horrid example by taking Clint.

Eight of us, honorary pallbearers, sat in an isolated row of folding chairs marked RESERVED near the big hole. Our dads served as the real things; his mother couldn’t bear to see us carry his casket. We sweat through our blue shirts, navy blazers, and khaki pants in the August heat. We didn’t own anything black. These occasions were for old people. The town showed up, Mom said. I didn’t look back to see. Folks from Nashville and from out of state. Dolly Parton, Porter Waggoner, and dozens of country music stars were there. Clint’s father was a well-known music executive. Still, I didn’t look back.

His divorced parents remained a part of my life. Clint’s mom was my mother’s best friend. His dad remained in my periphery. A huge personality himself, Clint’s dad called me often. He didn’t ask about my life or current state of things. “Read these three books and write me with your thoughts.” Click.

Fifteen years ago, I had a surgery that required a two-month hospital stay. My close friends and family scrambled to round up visitors and sitters. Clint’s father walked in the hospital room. He sat down at the farthest chair in the room from my bed and held up his worn hardback copy of “The Prince of Tides.” “I am going to read the introduction to this book. It’s among the finest writing I know. Then I will leave.” He read Pat Conroy’s words, with the intonations of one in show business. Once finished, he slap closed the book, stood, and said, “I will check up on you.”. He did.

Clint’s dad and I have a close, mutual friend. She asked him, “Why aren’t you any closer to Eric?” He replied that the graduations, weddings, births, and life events of his son’s childhood friends was more than he could handle. “I cannot picture my son living these times,” he said. “It’s death over and over to me.”

I run into grown kids I haven’t seen since elementary school or high school. One of us will inevitably whisper, “Pants.” We laugh. Our families don’t get it. We recall again the day that we and our little hometown lost our youth, and we go on living.

Pictured: Clint’s birthday. Clint, far right, and me, standing center.

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