Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Remembering John Clements

He was a sophomore in high school when he walked into my newspaper office.

Eager, enthusiastic and filled with self-confidence, he told me he'd be an excellent addition to my tiny staff.

To every item I threw at him... writing headlines, pasting copy on flats, making halftones, typesetting... he professed either an existing proficiency or a willingness to learn.

We agreed that he would come to the office after school three days a week and do whatever needed doing.

It never was three days. John literally became the indispensable right hand for all of us and he was there every day after school and often on Saturdays. He understood deadlines, learned everything we had to teach him and relished the pressure.

He managed to keep me from totally stressing out in a very stressful environment. His unfailing smile, his optimism, his we-can-do-this attitude lifted me up on the darkest of days. 

I missed him terribly when he went on to Rutgers in New Brunswick after graduating from Edgewood Regional High School as salutatorian with honors and a ton of awards. But in typical John style, he wrote often and turned up at the newspaper every weekend.

John lived with his grandparents in Medford, loving people who supported everything he wanted to do. So they happily agreed to allow him to have friends over for a New Year's Eve party on December 31st, 1978. He came bounding into the office with the news and with a wooden angel Christmas tree ornament for the tree in our foyer. Naturally, we would be happy to attend the party.

On December 29th, John let his girlfriend take his big old Chevy to a college interview. He drove her smaller car to Cedarbrook to visit his mother. He made it to the intersection of Tuckerton and Jackson Roads in Medford. Three men fleeing the police ran the light at a high rate of speed and send John's car 20 feet into the air. It landed on its roof. The men continued to attempt their escape.

John lingered in a coma in the hospital for a week at what is now Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mt. Holly before he died on January 5.

I still have a hard time writing about those days and the grief we shared with his grandparents for whom the light had gone out of their lives. I still choke up when I talk about John.

He was a young man of unlimited potential. He would have succeeded at anything he attempted and the world would have been a better place because he was in it. His teachers at Edgewood were lavish in their praise for him. Everyone who knew him spoke of his generous good humor, his dedication to his family and his love of The Journal. 

I think of John a lot, knowing how much he would have loved living in this time. He'd be almost 60 now, having fulfilled whatever career dreams he pursued, possibly raised a family and been a happy man just like he was a happy young adult. It saddens me to think of everything he missed.

We decorated the house for Christmas this past weekend. The tree is always the last to be finished and the last ornament to be hung is John's wooden angel. As he was hanging it that last Christmas, it fell from the branch and part of one wing napped off. John said it made the angel unique... an angel still smiling in spite of having a broken wing. 

So she hangs on my tree and reminds of me of John every time I look at her. I wish her were still here.


Monday, December 2, 2019

An impossible task

I need to make a list.
 Should be simple, no?
 I make grocery lists every week. I list to-dos on my calendar. I list the things I'm thankful for on a regular basis.
 I make lists of all my medications and the doctor visits I schedule.
 Easy then, right?
 Not this list.
 This year, my family has decided to stop buying for the sake of buying and do a Pollyanna, or for those unfamiliar with the term, a Secret Santa.
 We drew names at the Thanksgiving celebration. 
 Now Howard and I have to provide lists of what we'd like so whoever drew us knows what to look for.
 We like a lot of things we'll never use or simply admire for the sake of admiring them. 
 Like air fryers, universal chargers, slow cookers and air purifiers.
 But we don't want anyone buying any of those things for us.
We don't need anything. 
We have the home we love, all the bells and whistles we want in our cars and gadgets for smart tv's we don't even know how to work.
We don't really have hobbies aside from tv, gambling, reading and listening to music.
We don't even buy clothes for each other, let alone trusting others to get it right.
But we have to make lists.
Oh, and did I mention we can't ask for gift cards?
Nope, it's gotta be a thing... an actual gift of some kind.
So we are doing the only thing we really do well when it comes to requests like this.
We're procrastinating.
After all, it's only the 2nd of December and we have plenty of time.
Anyway, I've already bought my gift for the person I drew.
Can I be done?