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Tales of a Hay Hauler: The yard bird

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Published on 30 October 2017

Way back when the world was still drying up after the Great Flood (as I usually begin stories I tell to the grandkids), I met a fellow named Clark Draper.

He and I were both still young, both with very young families and both self-employed. Clark was in construction; I had an enterprise with more “pull.” I was in the dairy business at that time.

Standing at 6 foot 4 inches, I was about a foot taller than Clark, but other than the times I’d hit my head on something he hadn’t even seen, that size difference never mattered.

Clark fit nicely in a 1960 Ford Ranchero car/pickup vehicle. It was built on the compact Ford Falcon platform, the car/pickup blend being what the Australians refer to as a “Ute.” My full-sized cars, vans and pickups left me grumbling about never having enough leg room. Clark laughed at me when I did.

I was at Clark’s place one day and, for whatever reason, had followed him into his house. He spied a platter of cookies and, without asking, handed me a couple. He said, “I wonder what kind of cookies these are?” He bit into one and called out to his wife, who was out of sight somewhere in the house, “Hey, these cookies are kind of hard.”

The reply came instantly. “Dip ’em in milk and shut up!”

Clark looked at me nonchalantly and quietly said, “I guess they’re ‘dip ’em in milk and shut up’ cookies.”

In my early teens, I ran for a while with some fellows whose favorite pastime was to see how colorful and profane they could be. When I realized I was starting to talk like they did, I dropped the group and cultivated other friends.

Unfortunately, my vocabulary was tainted – and to this day I haven’t gotten it all out of my system. I can generally keep from embarrassing myself and others when I’m with people, but it’s still a thorn in my side.

That’s one of the things Clark was on my case about. Once he heard me call something a “yard bird.” He asked me why I used that term. I told him I thought it sounded better than the other four-letter kind of bird I had been describing.

Clark’s dad had been in the military and told Clark a “yard bird” was, as it had been used in the military, a person who had never seen any action (never been out of the “yard”) and was forever running his mouth about things he had never experienced.

Clark had served a mission for his church in Mexico and came home speaking fluent Spanish. One day at my place, Clark had a younger brother with him. The brother popped off about something, and Clark said, “Curb your tongue, knave.”

The brother told Clark not to say things to him in Spanish he knew he couldn’t understand. Clark replied, “Don’t accuse me of speaking Spanish to you just because you can’t understand ordinary English.”

We were neighbors only a few years before a move separated us. I still saw Clark off and on over the years. Clark was prone to buying a house with “potential” or a bare lot and build a house on it.

He didn’t have to travel to the job site because, as soon as the house had plumbing and doors, he’d move into it. I was sure his wife, Vicki, was going to kill him because just as soon as one place was complete, he’d sell it and move into another adventure.

It seemed like Clark never stood still. If you needed a conversation with him longer than one requiring a “yes” or “no” answer, you had to follow him about because he had to be doing something.

A few years back, my brother, who still lives in the community Clark did, informed me Clark lost a leg due to diabetes. My brother told me he thought he had run his mouth when he shouldn’t have.

As Clark was recovering, and getting proficient at using crutches, Lyle asked him, “If someone stole your crutches, would you be ‘hopping mad’?” Clark just laughed.

I visited Clark again just a few months ago – and I’m glad I did because Lyle sent me his obituary a few days back. Clark had lost both legs but, during the previous visit, he was healthy and chipper. He said the best day of his life was the day he climbed into his old Peterbilt dump truck with both artificial legs and was able to haul some dirt.

On our last visit, he was upset because the mobility cart he liked wouldn’t work. I helped Vicki change the battery to another cart – then, mobile again and while we visited, Clark went to the computer and ordered the parts his favored cart needed.

As our Thanksgiving holiday approaches, perhaps it’s in order to remember individuals we’ve had the privilege of walking with and giving thanks for what they’ve taught us, to be thankful for the honest correction we’ve received and to witness that someone can be miserable and still be pleasant.

If there’s a “Clark Draper” in your life, let them know that they’ve had an impact on you. Rest in peace, my friend.  end mark