2018-05-23 / Editorials

Little guy. Big heart.

Alex McRae

Problems followed Clyde Zachary around like they were chained to his leg. Clyde’s biggest problem was school. He barely passed his tests and never got around to turning in his homework. His teachers called him lazy. Some of his classmates called him “slow.” Clyde was neither. His problem was being busy. Our family had just moved to town.

I was in the fifth grade and hadn’t made any close friends, but recognized Clyde as one of my classmates when he rode by on his bike. He asked if I wanted to ride with him and I said sure. He said he could only ride a minute because he was on his way to the grocery store to get some things his mother needed for supper.

Clyde said he had three brothers and one sister. He was the oldest boy. He told me his mother cleaned and sewed and did laundry. He didn’t mention a father and I never asked.

Clyde and I always hung out at school, but the other kids politely ignored him. I thought it was unusual that the classmates he’d known all his life chose to keep their distance.

I managed to make some new friends, but always stuck with Clyde, too. I couldn’t understand why the other kids seemed to avoid him. I finally realized Clyde suffered from social shortcomings.

His “slowness” in class and failure to turn in even one homework assignment made people uncomfortable. Another problem was his wardrobe. Most students had a few changes of clothes and at least one “nice” outfit for church.

Clyde showed up for school every day in a pair of patched jeans and a t-shirt. Clyde was poor. And “poor” was a social sin he couldn’t overcome.

Toward the end of the school year he invited me to spend the night at his house. I said, “Sure.” From the time I got there until the time we went to sleep, the place was a madhouse.

Clyde’s mother spent her time ironing clothes she had washed for somebody else. Clyde and his sister did the household chores, served a meal and tried to wrangle the three younger boys, who never stopped talking, chasing or wrestling around on the floor.

Clyde’s home was tiny and tight. His mother and sister slept in the lone bedroom. Clyde and his three brothers slept in what used to be the dining room. The space was packed with three single beds pushed side by side to make one large bed.

All four boys shared the sleeping space. I made five. Nobody complained. When we hit the bed that night I was worn out. And I knew why Clyde never had time for homework — or anything else.

The next year we started junior high. I got interested in band, but Clyde found another outlet. He was small, but he was tough and he could fly. The football coach loved him. His teammates became like family. He even got a new shirt — a football jersey he wore to pep rallies on Friday. When he ran the ball, the students who once ignored him cheered.

After the games, he headed back to that cramped little house and did his best to hold his fragile family together. I have no idea what became of Clyde Zachary, but I’ll never forget what he taught me about being “poor.”

From the moment we met, all Clyde could offer me was friendship. And for as long as I’ve lived I’ve never forgotten how much that simple gift meant to a new kid in town.

Alex McRae is the author of There Ain’t No Gentle Cycle on the Washing Machine of Love. He can be reached at: alexmmcrae@gmail.com

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