There are a great many basic facts about a person’s life that you often hear repeated at a time like this. You hear, for instance, that the woman we knew as Linda Clark came from a large family, including her twin sister and three brothers. That she met Dan, her husband of 42 years, because his sister played bridge with her parents. You hear that she worked at AT&T and at the school libraries in Andover and here in Buxton. You learn that she belonged to the Pythian sisters, the Congregational Church, and that she was a Cub Scout Leader. And that she knew tragedies in her life, including the loss of both an older brother and her beloved son. But none of these facts really tell you who she was.
In coming here today to remember Linda, there are a lot of people who will be referring to her as “Mom.” She only ever gave birth to Heather and Bryan, but the truth is, she mothered a great many more people in her life. Every kid who came through her door was basically adopted on the spot. Some adults were, too, as well as a variety of animals. If you were a stray person or a stray creature, you were welcome. Her door was always open, and Bryan’s and Heather’s friends and acquaintances learned that they always had a place to stay if they needed one, whether it be overnight or for a weekend. Or, sometimes, for a month. Or maybe even the whole summer. Apparently, the words “please go home now” and “surely your parents must be wondering where you are” were not in Linda’s vocabulary. As far as she was concerned, they were all her kids, and as any conscientious mother would do, she fed them, gave them money to return home if they needed it, and on at least one occasion posted bail. It didn’t matter whether she’d known them 15 years or 15 minutes: they were all hers to look after and talk to.
And oh, did she talk to them. She talked to everyone. Family, friends, passing acquaintances, and random strangers she ran into at the mall—every person she encountered was an opportunity for her to make a friend, have a conversation, and display her family photos. Her wallet was always out so she could show off the pictures. She made sure everyone she knew, and quite a few people she didn’t, saw the photos of her beautiful granddaughter Trinity. This heartwarming habit only got to be a problem when she was in movie theaters or guided tours, because even then, Linda tended to supply the dialogue.
Her open heart and open door policy did serve her well on occasion. For example, there were the three Phillips boys who lived next door to Linda, Dan, and Heather, who was then only about 2 or 3. Linda had a habit that the Phillips boys greatly admired: with such a small family to feed, she commonly would make a much larger cake than strictly necessary and bring most of it over to the Phillips’ house to share with the boys. It was never fully recognized in the Clark house just how much the Phillips boys valued this generosity until the night the boys were barred from attending their parents’ party — a party to which Dan and Linda had been invited. As Dan and Linda approached the house to join the festivities, the boys leaped forward to open the front door for them to enter. Only later did Linda learn that the reason for this chivalry was that the boys, having plastered the door to the house and the doors to all of the visitors’ cars with mustard as a prank, were making sure that their source of chocolate cake remained uninterrupted. They did not want to get on Linda’s bad side.
It was generally understood among those who knew her that getting on Linda’s bad side was tough to accomplish — she had a tendency to see the best in everyone — but if you managed it, you’d better watch yourself because she never forgot anything. She could look at a photo of herself at about age 7, standing stiffly next to a boy with a scowl on her face, and tell you that the reason for the scowl was because that boy, Bobby Minott, had put burdocks in her hair so often that her parents had finally cut it short, and she had been forced to pose with him in that picture even though she was really, really mad about the haircut. And it’s not hard to recognize that she was still really, really mad about the haircut 50-odd years later.
Her phenomenal memory was accompanied by a gift for organization. She was a natural project manager who took it upon herself to organize activities and events for both her family and her community. Back before fireworks became as heavily regulated as they are today, Dan and Linda used to set up fireworks shows in Thomaston, Wiscasset, and Hollis. Dan was the one who lit the rockets; Linda was the one who sorted them, decided in what order they’d be shot off, and handed them, one at a time, to Dan from the back of the truck where they were neatly arranged prior to the show.
In addition to being organized, she was also incredibly practical. When Dan took her on a roadtrip to Dover Foxcroft for their very first date, it wasn’t the fact that he whisked her away in a white 1964 Corvette that caught her attention — no, what made Linda decide that very day that Dan was the man she’d marry was one very simple thing. On the way home, he pulled into a gas station, not because he needed gas, but because he realized that Linda really needed to use the restroom. Fancy cars weren’t going to turn that girl’s head — what mattered to Linda was that she’d found a man who could tell what she needed without her even having to ask. It’s no surprise that having found him, she stuck by him through thick and thin for more than 40 years.
But never let it be said that an organized, practical person doesn’t know how to have fun. While working the night shift at Toys’R’Us in the late 1980s, Linda and her coworkers had a great deal of fun, “testing” the toys as they were delivered to the store. Bike rides and games of laser tag were apparently a common feature of Linda’s nights at Toys ‘R’ Us.
Of course, there were certainly many times in Linda’s life that fun and games were not center stage. Raising a son with hemophilia, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, is a test of the strongest spirit. Linda had already seen hemophilia’s toll on her own family with her older brother’s passing; now she had to watch that same painful legacy unfold for her son. Most of us would be unable to surmount a challenge like that, but Linda passed that test with flying colors every day of Bryan’s life, and even after his death. As many of you already know, the very first thing Dan and Linda did following Bryan’s passing was to donate his factor to a camp for children with hemophilia in the Dominican Republic — a donation that was, by coincidence or possibly by miracle, exactly the amount the camp needed to keep from shutting down its season. It is this generous spirit, the impulse to give to others, that we will all miss most.