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  Texas : Features : Columns : N. Ray Maxie :

Mayo, Leo and Cleo Clark
- And the Polly Parrot

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
My mother is a descendant of the very large Clark family in South Louisiana. She was born at Starks, Louisiana, in Calcasieu Parish, to William O. Ridgway, a Civil War Veteran, and wife, Addie Clark, on July 28, 1913. Mother's grandparents were Alexander L. "Babe" Clark and Celia Ann Ashworth Clark. Addie Clark had twelve siblings, of which her youngest brothers were Mayo, Leo and Cleo.

It seems that for many, many years in South Louisiana, almost every Clark descendant has produced a large number of offspring. Thus, you can readily see that after a couple of hundred years, the bayou grande' and swamplands around those parts are awash with Clarks. All those are descendants of Nicholas Clark in Ireland about 1730 to 1750 and son, Patrick Francis Clark coming over to Maryland before 1760.

Of my grandmother's youngest brothers, Mayo, Leo and Cleo, Mayo is the one that I knew best. He was my great uncle and lived with my family in Northeast Texas for many years. Mayo was a hard worker, as people had to be back then. He never had a car and couldn't drive. Throughout all those years, I thought the three brothers were triplets. They weren't, but were born in close consecutive years. As adults, Mayo headed for Northwest Louisiana and Cass County in East Texas, along with his sister Addie. Leo and Cleo stayed down in the bayou country of "Dear Old Louisann."

Later on in life, grandmother Addie, for several years, kept a (Polly) parrot. The parrot would always sit on his stand out on the front porch. When he saw one of those boys approaching the house, I am told, he would always say, "Mayo, Leo, Cleo. - Mayo, Leo, Cleo". Although they weren't triplets, the parrot could not tell them apart and by calling all three names, he was bound to get it right.

Grandmother Addie did clothes washing and ironing for the public. She did a lot of laundry on her back porch and out in the back yard. She used a cast iron washpot and galvanized tubs. The water was heated with firewood under the washpot and an old metal "scrub board" was used to scrub clothes. While she was working the parrot was on the front porch and as friends or neighbors approached the house, I am told the parrot would say, "Addie's out the back. Addie's out the back." Timely, telling information and a very friendly greeting for all visitors.

Uncle Mayo (Unkie, we called him) had worked in the Rodessa oilfields of Cass County for a long time and one day a big stack of steel tubing, the four inch drill stem kind, broke loose and rolled. The heavy pipes rolled and scattered very quickly. Some of it rolled on his right foot and leg, crushing it. He was never the same after that accident. For evermore, he was crippled and walked with a very pronounced limp. Although he could get around pretty well, being crippled and handicapped, he was thereafter destined to do manual labor for friends and relatives. Sadly, my folks noticed that after his accident, Unkie liked to be left alone a lot. He became sort of a loner, favoring animals and nature over people.

Several years later, my father bought a Sulphur River bottomland farm in Bowie County Texas. That farm was not far from DeKalb and was some 50 to 60 miles north of our home near McLeod. It was on that farm "Unkie" worked for the next 15 years. He liked the farm life. He lived on the farm alone and as the "old timers" used to call it, he "batched", short for being a bachelor. He had an old wood burning stove for cooking and heating. He ate lots of shredded wheat and tried hard to teach me to like that stuff. Blah!!! That was long, long before the bite-size sugar coated kind we eat today.

I recall very well, my family driving our old 1939 Chevrolet pickup to that farm to work and manage it. Sometimes we went about every other weekend. As a child, I have a lot of fond experiences there; many of which I am sure helped point my life in the right direction. In that post-depression era, we learned very well to, "Start from where you are; Use what you have; And do the best you can."

Upon arrival at the farm one weekend, we learned that Uncle Mayo had caught "Manny" (that was his nick name for me; meaning a manly child) some baby squirrels. He had retrieved them from an old hollow tree he had cut for firewood. We later took the four little squirrels home with us and my dad built a cage for those frisky little rodents. We raised all four and tended to them very well for several years. Then one day my sister forgot to close the cage door and all four squirrels escaped. The bushy tail critters remained nearby in some trees for several days, readjusting to their freedom. We tried in vain several times to catch them again, but eventually they wondered off, back into the wild, never to be seen again.

Uncle Mayo Clark was the best uncle I ever had. He died in 1954, leaving my family with tremendous loss and sadness. He was truly a friend and the first person ever to teach me simple things like, "Manny, if you break it, fix it." Or, "If you mess it up, clean it up." And, "Save your money and watch your friends." Or, "What goes around, comes around." Or, "Every tub must stand on it's own bottom." And, "Don't cross your eyes like that, they might freeze that way." I fondly remember whenever he was asked how old he was, he simply replied, "Old as my tongue and older than my teeth."

Even to this day, some fifty-five or more years later, a great many of those wonderful childhood memories clearly linger with me. Unkie's birthday was on May 10 and each year that it rolls around, it automatically pops up in my mind. You can tell I still miss him! Can't you?

Long may some of my earliest and fondest memories live.
N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray"
December 15, 2005
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