The United States Marine Corps
Clyde Jeremiah Patterson, age 98, died a few weeks ago. He was the first person to welcome us to the state of Washington, 12 years ago when we transferred here from sunny South Florida. He was our next door neighbor.
At 86, he was still physically active and I remember our first encounter...
"You movin in this house, girlie?" he asked, coming up the walkway with a covered dish, a road map tucked under one arm, a deck of cards in the front pocket of his shirt and the naughtiest grin on his face.
"I am," I replied and introduced myself.
"Name's Patterson. Folks call me Patty. You're a pretty thing. I'm single. You married?"
"Yes, she is," my husband answered as he came around the side of the house. He took the offered covered dish and shook Patty's hand. "Come on in. Beer's cold. Don't mind the dogs."
We didn't have SweetPea and BullyBoy in those days; they hadn't been born yet. We had another Rott and Bull Mastiff - our first of those breeds - Brix and Rox who had traveled from Miami with us.
Patty took a handful of small milk bone dog biscuits out of his pocket and asked if he could offer them to my pets. "I heard tell you had dogs and that you're buildin a fence. Okay to give 'em a treat?"
Of course it was okay and it was the beginning of a love fest between our elderly neighbor and the dogs and all the animals to come.
The covered dish was a tuna noodle casserole ..."the only thing I can cook that I don't burn..." The road map was to help us find our way around God's country and the deck of cards were for a game to be played later... "if you got a mind to lose a buck or two."
A close and solid friendship was born that day. Patty was a former Marine and tickled pink that Cowboy was a Naval officer.
"You used to be a SEAL?" he asked, scoffing at the thought. "We Marines never stop being Marines, boy. You left the SEAL Teams cause you got soft?" he teased.
Cowboy retaliated. He picked the man up and held him over his head and told him he could hold him like that till Hell froze over.
"Patty laughed. "A SEAL oughta be able to do that with only one hand, squid."
Born in 1909 in rural Mississippi to sharecroppers, Clyde Jeremiah was a middle child ..."so many brothers and sisters I can hardly 'member all their names. Don't think my ma knew them all neither."
He dropped out of school in fourth grade and worked the land with the rest of his family, barely eking out enough of a living to put food on the table. At 16, he married his childhood sweetheart and the two of them moved to "town."
"My Willa," he sighed. "She was the prettiest thing this side of the Mississippi, probly the other side too. She was a little bit of a thing but anybody that knew her didn't cross her. She had a temper that could bite you on the ass and knock you into next week if she had a mind. Lord knows I loved that woman."
"Went off to war in the 40's. Went here and there and ended up in a little town in Germany. Saw some God-awful things, men and women and younguns about as skinny as a pole. They was locked behind barbed wire and such and when we tore down that barbed wire, we gave 'em food and water and just 'bout everything we owned includin our spare uniforms. Never saw nobody, not even a dog, that hungry or scared before in my whole life. Just 'bout broke my heart."
"Me and my Willa, we didn't have much," Patty reminisced as he tended to do when he came for dinner. "But we were free and that war over there was 'bout being free. When I came home, I worked the migrant fields, followed the crops from down in Florida all the way up to Virginie a-ways and back down again. That woman of mine followed me everywhere, stuck with me through this and that and 'bout everything in between. I just 'bout did myself in when she passed on. Had one of those lumpy things in her chest. Went to this doc and that one. They did what they could but it was bigger than she was and that was that."
"Didn't like livin alone. We had a youngun of our own - little girl that wanted more than we had to give. Sent her to go live with my kin in Mississippi. She growed up to be one of those God-fearin, Bible-thumpin women. Each to their own," he sighed.
"Joined up again and they sent me to Korea. I was one of the oldest there, in my 40's then and surrounded by a bunch of freckle-faced kids. The Corps was good for me - good *to* me, too. Gave me a chance to learn what I needed to know, promoted me, more pay, more of everything. Even got me a bunch of pretty medals just for doin what I was supposed to."
"Willa, she always says to put some money away for a rainy day so I did. Didn't need much for m'self. Invested a few dollars here and there in the stock market. Somebody told me to look at this and that and I picked the stuff that folks need, the stuff that folks use every day. Did alright for a farm boy with no learnin behind me. After a while, got me a bad feelin 'bout a couple of my investments and got out before they went bust. Was downright lucky, you ask me."
"Then that LBJ fella got into the White House and there we was, stuck in Viet Nam. I tried to re-up but the Corps said I was too old. So I started moving about the land. Got me a job here and there - was good at managing folks to do what they was hired to do - after a while, I moved on. Made it to God's country. Took some of that money I made out of the stock market - had some of that fancy tech stock. Sold a bunch before the market went down the toilet and bought me this here house before the builder found out he could get a lot more for the rest of them."
"Then you come along, girlie," Patty laughed. "And lookee here what you did. Had a reason to get up in the mornin and watch you make them doggies behave. I see you up in them trees now and again and that sailor of yours a-yellin for you to come down. Watch him chase you about the yard, makes me 'member how I chased my Willa when we had a yearnin for each other. Good memories, those are. Love to eat at your house - you're almost as good a cook as my Willa was. And," he teased. "Love to stay up late and watch you dance buck-ass naked when the moon is full and high. You make me 'member what it's like to be young again. I thank you for that."
Cowboy spent a lot of time with Patty. They exchanged war stories and had serious discussions about military matters, whether our military should be involved in various foreign situations. They were in agreement that we needed to maintain a strong presence in NATO, that we needed to be there if our friends and allies were in trouble, that peace missions and humanitarian missions were vital.
Patty loved our animals and the feeling was mutual. Our dogs always gravitated toward him when he visited, our cats always eager to sit on his lap. Animals seem to know when a person appreciates their company or is in need of companionship and affection.
For his birthday one year, we bought Patty a computer and brought him into the Internet world. Cowboy set it up for him and showed him what he needed to know to get started. In no time he was emailing me, always letting me know when the moon would be full and if the weather would be mild enough for me to dance. Now and then he'd email a suggestion for supper and that he'd be willing to sample it if I had a mind to make it. I always had a mind to make it.
He discovered "Google" and "Wikipedia" and those sites took him places he'd never been and let him explore things he never would have known otherwise. It was a new world for him. He didn't drive but he could bank and shop online and he continued to be independent which was extremely important for the proud man.
Our friend David, an active duty Marine, became a regular in Patty's life. They shared war stories, battle strategies and mostly, their commitment to serving our country. They also played cards and David almost always won until I taught Patty how to cheat.
"How'd you learn to keep a Poker face when you do that?" Patty asked, dumbfounded that I had slipped the cards I wanted under my sleeve while he watched and he didn't see me do that.
"That's nothing," Cowboy groaned. "You ought to see her pick locks. Don't know why she hasn't been arrested yet."
Patrick, our young friend, spent hours with Patty. The boy and the old man - such a wonderful combination. Whenever I went next door to bring those two a snack or tell them to come back to my house to eat, I'd hear laughter, see their heads together. Seeing them together always made my heart feel full.
Patty spent days with me when Cowboy was at sea. His quiet company when I was working in my studio - his funny and sweet tales of "courtin my sweet Willa" and all her naughty ways. "I 'spect I was the luckiest man in the world to be hitched to that gal."
I 'spect he was, too.
When Bull came into our lives, Patty took the 6-foot 8-inch Marine in hand. "Now that's a Marine!" he exclaimed when he saw Bull the first time. You from Texas, boy? I hear tell they grows them big in Texas."
""No sir," Bull's grin grew wider as he sized Patty up, an average sized Marine but one with a proud military record. "My folks are from Arkansas."
"That so?" Patty raised an eyebrow.
"Well don't be tellin the whole world. Not sure the good óle U.S.A. ain't gonna take statehood back from that country place. I hear tell you folks down there eat just 'bout any critter that crosses the road."
Bull agreed, telling Patty that his mama was famous for her possum pie recipe. Patty solemnly agreed that those Betty Crocker folks oughta get a move on and grab it before Pillsbury or Nabisco found out about it. Bull laughed and so did Patty and from that day on, Bull went out of his way to see to Patty's comfort.
There were a few medical scares over the years, Patty's lungs were weak - one collapsed once and put him in tremendous pain. Fortunately, he wore a medic alert chain and pressed the button. We accompanied him to the ER and stayed until he was stable. It was David who spent all his off-duty time at his bedside, brought him home, hired and paid for the male nurse Patty needed for a few weeks. Between David and Cowboy and Bull, Patty made it to all his medical appointments. He groused about all the assistance ..."ain't necessry to make a fuss" and ..."it's not like I'm missing body parts so don't touch unless you're pretty and single and 100% female." "...Been doin for m'self my whole life. Don't see no reason to stop now."
Cowboy ignored his rants; David ignored them, too. But Bull with his soft heart, tried to reason with Patty and when that didn't work, he threatened to send his mama up from Arkansas and he promised that she would make him that "possum pie" every day until he let them help him get back on his feet.
Patty caved. The thought of a woman from Arkansas in his house fussing over him and cooking God knows what... that was too much for him to bear. In later years he let us do whatever we needed to do to see to his comfort and well-being.
Near the end he was too fragile to move around much. He had a nurse taking care of him 24/7 but we took turns staying with him anyway. We all said what we wanted to say and with God's grace, he joined his beloved Willa one evening in his sleep, the most peaceful way to pass on.
Cowboy saw to the final details - his will stipulated that everything he owned be liquidated and the funds donated to the Navy & Marine Foundation. His medals for bravery had been tucked away in a dresser drawer and like many proud military veterans, he didn't want a fuss made about them or a discussion of what he did to earn them or what each one of them were for. He stipulated who they were to go to - Cowboy, David, Bull and young Patrick were the lucky recipients - reminders of the proud man, his many accomplishments and his deep and lasting friendship.
He could have been buried at Arlington National Cemetery or at our National Cemetery in Tahoma. He chose to be buried in rural Mississippi in a plot next to his Willa. Cowboy saw to the details and we attended his burial. It was hard to say goodbye.
Memorial Day is one more day to remember those who fought on behalf of our country. I have sweet memories of Clyde Jeremiah Patterson. Cowboy and I will miss him in our lives.