“Hell’s bells and panther tracks!” he would say when suddenly surprised, whether pleasantly or not. My grandfather was a walking dictionary of sayings and an endless volume of amazing life stories. When you start your life at the age of 4 in the middle of the San Francisco earthquake, this might be a good sign that you’re in for quite a ride. And my grandfather’s life was just that. But there was one story in particular which I recall that my grandfather had such a twinkle in his eyes when he told me. It was a story that began when my grandfather found himself at a lookout point in Australia. He said to me:
“…there I was, a middle-aged man all alone at a lookout point in Sidney Australia taking time away from duty when suddenly a voice called out my name. ‘Clifford!… Clifford Barth!… is that you?’. Now who on earth could possibly be calling my name at a location half way around the world from the place I call home? I know absolutely no one here. So I answered ‘who wants to know?’” And the man said his name. My grandfather said he didn’t recall the name and scratched his head, at a loss and feeling quite impolite to not have remembered. “I’m sorry,” Clifford said, “but I don’t recall who you are.” The man then responded in a quite excited voice “I was in the orphanage with you in San Francisco. We were about 8 years old and you sat at the back of the class and I sat in the front. One day I was sucking on a prize marble I won earlier at recess and it lodged in my windpipe and I suddenly began choking. I couldn’t breath and I turned blue! The teacher took me and held me upside down by my feet and shook me. Nothing was working and I thought I was going to die. Then suddenly, you ran to the front of the class and punched me right in the chest. The marble popped out covered in spit and rolled across the floor. You saved my life, Clifford. Now do you remember me?” Clifford did remember. And he was so amazed that this man in his late thirties halfway around the world remembered him and that story from so very long ago.
I am so proud of my grandfather’s life and his great talent at telling stories. I can only hope to preserve the story in a way that does his recollection justice.