William Charles "Chick" Clymer
He was gone before I was a teenager. Even so, I remember some things about him.
Chick (January 10, 1887 - November 21, 1847) was the brother of my grandfather Ray Clymer (Dada) and my great-uncle Albert Clymer. A thin, red-faced man, Chick lived at 931 West Morton Street, in the house that belonged to his mother, Grandma Clymer (Annie Ellen Schuel Clymer, a whole other story).
Chick’s large Adam’s apple bobbed prominently in his long, thin neck. The mottled red skin of that neck bore some resemblance to the exterior of a plucked hen. Such knowledge was not as unusual in a child at that time as it would be now. Besides, the Clymer family’s business was the Denison Poultry and Egg Company, and the men of the family all worked there at one time or another. As a child doted upon by her grandfather, I used to spend considerable time in the DP&E office, allowed to peck undisturbed on the typewriter keys with one finger or experiment with the noisy adding machines. To me, “Freddy the Fryer,” a DP&E brand name, was a character as familiar as Porky Pig, Mr. Magoo, or Woody Woodpecker. This was a family where, when you knocked on someone’s front door, it would be opened cheerfully with the greeting, “Come on in! There’s nobody here but us chickens.” Limp, plucked chickens were not a novelty in the homes of my relatives.
Chick’s niece Anne Goddard, her whole grown life, used to recall his nasal, nosed-wrinkled parody of Grandma Clymer's nagging: "Yšnh, yšnh, yšnh, yšnh, yšnh."
The house at 931 West Morton Street was old, big, and two stories tall, but Chick occupied a small narrow room on the ground floor, right in the middle of all the action, and close to the front door. His room was filled almost entirely by two objects, standing parallel and side by side: an upright piano and a single bed. There was a small aisle between them. Chick played ragtime tunes on the piano at all hours.
I used to think that Chick had never married, but after I was grown I came across evidence in an old Denison city directory to the effect that, at one time, he indeed had had a wife - briefly, I gathered. And he had had a real estate company on Rusk Avenue, posting a sign that read: “Best Land A Crow Ever Flew Over.”
To others, the central fact about Chick was that he drank. That is, he got drunk. A lot. When drunk, among other things, he would drive his small old black Ford around Denison dangerously. Sometimes he would hitch a ride on others' cars, standing on the running board the whole way. Upon arriving, he would lightly hop off, call out "Thank ya," and weave away.
owned a small house outside town on the old road to the Rod and Gun
the Denison Country Club).
One time, after my grandfather married his second wife, Irma, and they moved into the big fancy house with elaborate gingerbread trim at 1200 West Morton Street, Chick tethered his goat to a slender tree in the front yard there. It stayed there for a couple of weeks and ate a big circle in the grass around the tree. We always went to Dada and Irma's house for Sunday dinner after church, so I was able to spend some time with the goat in the front yard and observe minutely how the circle in the grass grew as the grownups lengthened the rope a little each day.
My great-grandparents, Mama and Papa White, who lived at 1013 West Bond Street, were the parents of Dada's first wife. That wife, the first Mavis, died when my mother Mavis was about ten years old. (That latter fact was why Dada, my mother, Aunt Anne, and Uncle Ray lived with Grandma Clymer, Chick, and Albert's family in the big house at 929 West Morton Street all during the Depression.) Mama White used to serve big meals at lunch even during the week, sometimes inviting me with my mother and others to join her and Papa White for such regular fare as mashed potatoes, boiled green beans, chicken and dumplings, fresh rolls, peach cobbler, and other old-fashioned dishes—food for which I must say I never have felt any great nostalgic longing. Their dining room was furnished in Mission oak. Sometimes they invited Chick to join us.
I remember one day at lunch at Mama and Papa White's house, Chick was telling a story and offhandedly remarked, "Now, when I was a little girl, it wasn't like that." My ears pricked up. "Uncle Chick, you were never a little girl!" I protested.
"Oh, yes, I was," he insisted.
of an age when I had just gotten all this gender stuff down pat, I went
bait. "Uncle Chick, you were not!
"Well, I will tell you," he said with utmost explanatory seriousness. "I kissed my elbow and that made me turn into a boy." The grownups had begun to snicker.
"What?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes. If you are a girl and you kiss your elbow, you will turn into a boy. That's what I did. It works." Then he added, "Try it. You can turn into a boy, too." Right there at the table, I tried to kiss my elbow. But I couldn't get my mouth that far down my arm. "Don't worry," said Chick. "Just keep practicing."
For the next few weeks, I practiced night and day. I thought that, if I underwent sufficiently rigorous and dedicated practice, eventually I would be able to get my mouth to the end of my arm and I would turn into a boy. But, to my sorrow, I never succeeded. Thus I had to content myself with living as a female member of the human race. Only later did I get the joke.
Note: Aunt Anne says that Grandma Clymer had a photograph of Anne’s father, Ray Clymer Sr., as a child, wearing long curls and a fancy suit. The photo was kept in a closet. Once Anne, then a child, came across the picture and said to her father, “You look like a little girl in this picture.”
Dada replied, “I was one. But I kissed my elbow and changed into a boy.”
Anne, too, did elaborate exercises trying to accomplish the impossible.
by Mavis Anne Bryant
Elaine Nall Bay
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