Clarence was the handyman at Sunny Oaks a hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where my father sent me every summer after my mother died. He knew the owner from volunteering at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Brooklyn. I loved going to the mountains, where I had little supervision and could spend my days swimming and rock climbing and nights talking to Clarence. He was from the south and came up north to Philadelphia with his wife Theola and their son Willy.
Clarence was a very religious Southern Baptist and I considered him to be my second father. Every night we would sit out near the shed on a bench near where the garbage was kept and he would tell me stories about his life down south. Once, Clarence asked Theola to comb my hair; which was unruly and unkempt. “Every little girl has to have someone comb their hair real nice and you have such pretty curls” Theola took me up to the attic room where I stayed and spent what must have been hours, combing out the knots. When she was satisfied we came back to where Clarence was sitting and I remember him saying, “You sure are pretty.”
During the winter, I missed Clarence so much and when feeling poorly, I would cry for his comforting presence. I looked forward to seeing him every summer, and our talks sitting on the bench near the shed where the garbage cans were kept. When I was thirteen, Clarence told me that we could not sit together anymore because people would talk. That summer Sunny Oaks lost its luster, and I never returned or saw Clarence.