In Celebration of the Life of My Uncle, Clinton Samuel King, Jr., May 4, 1928 to November 2, 2012
Written at home at Rough Rock, March 6, 2016
The Story of the Life and Love of a Self-Made Man and How to Die at Peace
My mother, Ardis King Hyde, descended from early Northern California pioneer families. Her parents, Clinton S. King and Elsie Van Maren King both had grandparents who owned large ranches in the Sacramento area. The Van Maren ranch consisted of 640 acres of what is now Citrus Heights. Van Maren Boulevard is a familiar Sacramento thoroughfare.
During the Great Depression, my great, great grandfather named Greenback Lane, another major artery in that part of Sacramento. Greenback Lane originally was the ranch road into the main house, which stood where a shopping mall does now. My great, great grandfather said at the time that because his paper dollars were worth so little he might as well use them to pave the lane. “I could just as well call it my Greenback Lane,” he said, and the name stuck.
Mom’s Dad was actually Clinton Samuel King the second, or Junior, but he never went by Junior. Mom was the oldest of four children, three of which were boys. Mom’s oldest brother, Clinton S. King, truly was the third, but he went by Junior. Clinton S. King, Jr. was three years younger than mom, Nick was five years younger and Van was 13 years younger. My mother passed on at age 74 in 2002, which was a surprise. We all expected her to live much longer. Same goes for two out three of my uncles who both passed on in 2012: Nick in April and Clint in November. Van King is my mother’s only sibling left, my only living uncle.
I wrote a tribute to my Uncle Nick in 2012, but I have not had a chance to write one for my Uncle Clint. For a while it did not fit into the flow of blog posts. For longer I was not sure what I wanted to say. We all had a family disagreement over the family cabin at Lake Tahoe and Uncle Clint and my parents were on opposite sides of it. Grandma left the cabin to her four children to keep in the family and enjoy in perpetuity. However, two of the four siblings, Uncle Nick and my mother never used the cabin and paid part of the expenses. Eventually we all agreed Uncle Clint would buy out his three siblings.
After Grandma, Grandpa and my mother passed on, Uncle Nick and Dad needed the money from selling the cabin. Uncle Van was torn on whether to sell his portion or not, but finally did. Uncle Clint was irate with us for wanting to sell and for forcing him to buy us out. From our perspective, paying for even a small portion of the expenses and having the extra headache was draining. Dad and I were looking at possibly spending $4,000 to $6,000 a month for a live-in caregiver or to place him in a home.
In the end, it turns out that Uncle Clinton S. King, Jr. was the “bigger man” of all of us. He also could fortunately afford to be the bigger man. He worked extremely hard his entire life so as to have enough money to pay for what was important. To him, family was everything, as was the shared family cabin with so much family history. Even after the dispute over the cabin, we kept in touch with Uncle Clint precisely because family was important to all of us. In the end, Uncle Clint was right not just about the importance of family, but about the cabin as a meeting place for the family. The ownership of the meetup space now no longer shared, the family has dispersed.
This has been the saddest outcome of the dispute. Uncle Clint was angry about the cabin for some time, but he never quit treating us like family if we called him on the phone or otherwise needed to communicate with him. Some people in our family and others profess to rate family as a high priority, but at the same time seem to be almost looking for a reason not to keep in touch. Some people dislike their families, or rather, they are put off by the traits in themselves they do not like that run in the family. Some people mistakenly believe they can leave behind their own flaws in common with others of the same blood by cutting all ties. Some people may need to do this in some families to avoid further wounding, but many only make wounds deeper by disavowing their families rather than looking inward to work on themselves. Every flaw I have seen in family members, when I look closely, I have found in myself. Similarly every character trait other family members find unattractive in me, I notice they have in themselves, sometimes in a more severe form. The goal in life is not to change family members or even ultimately the world, but for each of us individually to improve the world by changing ourselves. When I change the world changes.
After my father passed on and I was the last on my side of the family, the wounds were slow to heal, but in time Uncle Clint and I became nearly as close, if not just as close, and in some ways closer than ever. I remember my Uncle Clint, on the whole throughout his life, being supportive, wise, fun and inspirational, more than anything else. He had a strong personality, a powerful will and was a formidable opponent, but he also had a big, soft, generous heart that held a special place for any of his blood kin and for people in general.
Uncle Clint, like my mother and my other two uncles, was hard on his own children, my cousins. He could be critical, and though this was sometimes cutting and hard to take, it was never meant to be malicious or to tear people down, but was motivated by him wanting his offspring and the rest of us cousins to be better people. He was just as hard or harder on himself. Self-discipline was one of his strengths. He was a self-starter and a self-educated man. He was an expert witness for the State of California and in other cases that needed a solid professional engineering opinion. He had a reputation as a pillar of his profession and as a community leader and philanthropist in Northern California.
He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in civil engineering and served as an officer in the Korean War. As a registered engineer in both California and Nevada, he led studies and construction planning for drainage and flood control that continue to operate and set precedent today. He worked beyond California and Nevada throughout the West in planning military installations and military bases. He was a founding partner of Spink Corporation and later spent 22 years in private practice.
He was always physically active with presidential and other leading roles in such organizations as the South Hills Racquet Club, the Bing Maloney Golf Club, Kiwanis, the Sacramento Swimming and Diving League, Sacramento Pioneer Association, Del Paso Country Club, the Crocker Art Museum, the University of California Alumni Association and the Arden Hills Swimming and Tennis Club.
Uncle Clint started from humble beginnings as we all did, but he became a self-made man. When Sacramento was still a small city, with the old downtown fairly run-down and a little rough as neighborhoods go, my uncle, out of sheer love for old buildings, bought a historic Victorian mansion at a low price. He began to tear out walls, refurbish and refinish the old Victorian that he called “Vickie.” He did all of the work himself, nearly always by himself. He sanded floors, rebuilt historical banisters, moved doorways and remodeled the mansion into seven beautifully appointed, contemporary, yet historically interesting apartments.
At the same time, others began to renovate buildings in downtown Sacramento. Uncle Clint gradually bought a few more Victorian mansions to remodel into apartments. Sacramento was one of the earlier economic turnarounds of a downtown city. Rebuilding downtowns became a trend and then a nationwide phenomenon that continues today. Over the years my uncle gradually moved from middle-class neighborhoods into upper-middle class neighborhoods, until eventually, the last 20 years of his life he lived with his third wife Aunt Charla in a tasteful villa in Fair Oaks on the bluffs overlooking the American River Parkway. He had outlived two other wives: Aunt Shirley, the mother of my cousins, and Aunt Lou. All three of these great ladies were good aunts to us cousins.
Uncle Clint and Aunt Shirley often hosted our Thanksgiving gatherings of the whole family including my mother’s three brothers, spouses and my 10 cousins, later 14 cousins. When Uncle Clint was married to Aunt Lou, the tradition continued. Each of my uncles and my mother took turns hosting the big Thanksgiving gathering, but Uncle Clint and Aunt Lou hosted it the most often. Later when Uncle Clint and Aunt Charla lived on the bluffs in Fair Oaks, we did not have the large family Thanksgiving gatherings as often, but they hosted more than one family get together including a smaller family reunion. When we had big family reunions with all of my second cousins and relatives, we had to rent larger venues because the numbers attending were in the 100s. We went to one big family reunion at the Lewelling Ranch in St. Helena. The Lewellings are semi-distant relatives of the Van Marens and thus the Kings and Hydes.
Uncle Clint told stories at these events and was often in charge of the BBQ or other key aspects of meal preparation. He worked the hardest on any collaborative project. He and Aunt Lou invited us to visit a number of different golf resorts he had shares in. Later he and Aunt Charla bought a golf home on the big island of Hawaii on the Kona Coast where my parents visited them. I remember Uncle Clint most as a good life coach. He always had the best advice and moral perspective on many situations. His business savvy and street smarts made him the kind of man any young man would feel proud to have as an uncle and be happy to spend time with having some of the self-sufficient mindset rub off.
As a boy and as a young man, I was most fortunate to have Uncle Clint for guidance. I remember him talking to me about how to choose a college. He asked a lot of questions before giving suggestions. I remember him being highly interested in my experiences while I was away at boarding school from 10th through 12th grades. I did not see him often during this time period, but he wanted to know all about it when I did see him. He always took an interest in people and his own nieces and nephews in particular. He would ask us questions that nobody else would ever think of that made us understand how much he cared. He would then offer some wisdom regarding his own experience that related to ours. He knew how to laugh and have fun, especially in a gathering of people. All my uncles were fun when we all came together. We cousins had a special bond because during our younger years we saw each other much more than most cousins do. This was good for me as an only child growing up in the mountains.
Growing up my parents chose not to have television in our home. I could not wait to get down to Sacramento to visit Grandma or one of my uncles to watch TV. Uncle Clint was generally not much for TV, but he sure liked his sports. He would talk about football, basketball or baseball, whichever was in season with his sons and daughters and our other cousins. Uncle Clint’s son, Clinton Samuel King IV was the oldest cousin, eight years older than me. He also mentored me a lot in life, as well as wrestling me down a few times when I was a bit too much of a smart aleck. Uncle Clint passed his wisdom down to me and to the other younger cousins through his son too. All of us who knew Uncle Clint have a bit we learned from him that we pass along to the world. Uncle Clint helped me learn to be stronger, warmer and more forgiving to people.
Uncle Clint died of cancer. When he became ill, he “mellowed out,” took fewer things personally, forgave people easier and let go of most situations that he did not feel right about. He lived the end of his life surrounded by love and family. This was his greatest wisdom and made it easier to take the pain he endured at times before he passed on. He was not peaceful about dying, he resisted dying until the end, but he was at peace about the people in his life. Now I miss him and think about so many more times I wish I had spent time with him, but I also am grateful we had the good times we did. We could have lost that time if we had not let our differences go. Many families lose each other completely through selfish disputes and arguments over who is right and who has done something wrong. Holding onto grudges ruins lives in many ways, not least of which is making the grudge holder miserable at least subconsciously where it does the most damage to health. Staying angry at a relative is like taking poison and hoping the relative will suffer.