Cheryl Hughes: The Clarks
Garey’s grandmother and grandfather raised eight girls on a small farm in Corner, Alabama. Clara, the oldest of the eight, passed away in the mid 1980’s. She would be over 100 years old today. Garey’s mom, Aggie, will be 90 this year. The family lived through the Great Depression, their dad’s only means of support coming from whatever he could get from the land. And yet, in the whole hardscrabble process, every one of the girls graduated high school. The parents valued education and passed that value on to their children, who in turn passed it on to their children.
My mother had an eighth-grade education, her mother finished only the second grade. My dad had an eighth-grade education, as did his mother. They didn’t have it any worse than Garey’s mom’s family did, but they didn’t value education. My stepmom was embarrassed by the fact that she didn’t finish high school, and she genuinely wanted better for us. My dad had that attitude you often find in the under-educated: “I’m just as smart as anybody else, probably smarter.” He did little to encourage us to further our education.
My oldest sister, Marsha, is the person in our family that encouraged the rest of us to finish school, and to go even further on to college. I called her this weekend to ask her why did she value education when we grew up with people who didn’t.
“The Clarks,” she said.
I’ve mentioned several times in this column how much I appreciated the five years of my childhood I spent in Mt. Washington, Kentucky. A large part of that positive experience involved the Clark family. Marsha met Coyla Clark when she started school in seventh grade. Coyla invited Marsha to church. Eventually, we all started attending, and that’s where we met the rest of the family—Milton, Mary and their four daughters, Alma, Nancy, Trudy and Coyla.
Milton and Mary were teachers. It was a given that their girls will go on to college. Marsha caught that attitude from them and passed that attitude on to the rest of her sisters. Marsha graduated from Mt. Washington and went on to college at Eastern Kentucky University. My parents moved our family to Taylorsville, away from the influence of the Clarks, but I never forgot them or what they imparted to me.
After I went off to college, I returned home one weekend to find my younger brother, then sixteen, talking about dropping out of school. “Dad said I could,” he said. I pleaded with my brother to finish high school. I can’t remember what I said, but whatever it was, he listened. He promised me he would graduate high school, and he did. The Clarks’ influence continued through me.
After I talked to Marsha about the inspiration she received from the Clark family, she sent me the following text: When Milton died, I wrote Coyla a note that essentially said, “Thank you for sharing your dad with me. You and your family gave me hope for the future when I had no hope.”
“Cheryl, keep hope alive. You never know when someone might be watching, needing hope,” she texted, “One of the things I say to my grandsons is, Walk with the wise and you will be wise.”
It’s so tempting to want to sit back and take care of just my own family, but then I remember the Clarks. What if they had done that? Where would I be? The human experience really is about the influence of one—one person, one family, one church, one community. There is enough. We can share.