This can’t be happening, I told myself. Clayton seemed to have been around forever. Not only that, but part of me hoped and prayed that he would live forever. You could almost drown in his ocean blue eyes, and his smile would knock you to the ground if you weren’t braced. He seemed as stable as Christmas itself.
Rumor had it that the elderly gem of a gentleman had deeper pockets than Santa, and that he dipped into them whenever his heart sang a sad song for someone. That turned out to be quite often. I heard that Clayton had helped a family buy a house, and that he bought cars for others in need. Sometimes I wondered if he was too generous with his money, but I guess that was his own business. I used to worry that people would take advantage of his humongous heart, which seemed to take up most of his body.
Clayton’s heart danced to a distinctly different drum beat—the drum beat of love. His passion was serving, and he threw his soul into the eight private food banks that he ran. Dawn was still asleep when Clayton crawled out of bed, ate breakfast, and drove his older Mercedes to Costco, Albertsons, QFC, and other stores to pick up day-old food to deliver to his beloved food banks. Day in and day out, for years and years and years, Clayton delivered food and operated (with the help of other generous volunteers) the food banks. One summer George asked him if he was going on vacation, and he responded, ”Who would pick up the food?” Then he dashed off into his sleigh—I mean his old Mercedes, and gallivanted off to the next stop.
Maintaining eight food banks kept Clayton busy, but he still found several hours per week to transport people with MS and cancer to their medical appointments. He also volunteered at his church.
Shortly after 9/11, I asked Clayton, “Do you ever worry?” He smiled, answered “No,” and pointed up to heaven. I breathed a sigh of relief as I remembered that even when it doesn’t seem like it, God is in control. And in the end, the good guys and gals always win. The deal is that sometimes we have to wait.
One year Clayton decided he wanted chicken and dumplings for his birthday dinner and asked my mother-in-law, Dorothy, to cook for him. I used to tease her, saying they could get married in her glorious back yard, and her daughters and I could be the bridesmaids. She turned redder than Santa’s suit and insisted they were just friends. But I often saw heart-shaped sparks in Clayton’s eyes when he delivered food to Dorothy’s garage, which housed one of the food banks.
I don’t have many heroes, but Clayton was certainly at the top of the short list. So the summer before last, when a friend called to say that Clayton had died in a car accident, I stopped breathing for a few seconds. I couldn’t believe that the stop button was pushed on Clayton’s life. The accident happened on a major road in front of a QFC, and he died upon impact. Food was scattered all over 124th Street. Costco poppy seed muffins, spinach, lettuce, oranges, potatoes, and chocolate cake with creamy frosting decorated 124th like snowflakes falling at Christmas. Clayton had been on his way to zip in and pick up a woman to drive her to cancer treatment before delivering the food to his next stop. But of course he never made it because he took a detour to heaven.
We pray that you will embrace the true meaning of Christmas. And remember, Clayton was right. We have nothing to worry about because God has given us a perfect gift. The paradox is that it was not wrapped in a Nordstrom box and placed under a tree. It was actually a baby-man-God wrapped in swaddling cloth and placed in a manger. That is truly the greatest gift of all. May you be a gift to your friends and family this Christmas and forever, just as Clayton was a gift to all who were so blessed to have known him.