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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

No. 34 “Why don’t you fly somewhere before somebody shoots you?”

Cletus Rose, standing in front of a drawing of his parents.

Cletus Rose was a “renaissance man.” He could do almost anything, and some of those things he did exceptionally well. He was a carpenter, painter, plumber, electrician, roofer, cabinet maker, architect, engineer, and boat builder. He designed and built houses and shops from the ground up, including cabinet work that was as much artistry as carpentry. He worked side by side with Brady Lewis in building some of the Island’s most distinctive vessels. But he was a boat craftsman in his own right, building everything from large trawlers to small skiffs.

He was a musician and singer, and with a chorus of his girls, could entertain and inspire an audience or a congregation. He was a devoted family man, close to his parents and siblings, and idolized by his wife and daughters. He was a leader in his community and church. Rather than relying only on group and community efforts, he frequently took the initiative to do things on his own. Like his father, George, before him, he often took upon his own shoulders to help a man or a family that had fallen on hard times.

But what was most memorable to many about “Brother Cletus,” as he loved to be called, was his essential kindness and goodness. Everyone who ever knew him has their own stories that are a “window to the heart” of his unbounded compassion.

Clem Will Jr. (Bud), his nephew, often tells that while working with his uncle on a job site in the western part of the county, he chose “not” to ride with him back and forth to work. This was not because he had his own car, and not because of any scheduling conflict, per se. Rather, Bud eventually determined that he could get to and fro quicker on his own, even if he himself had to hitch a ride. His uncle Cletus, he learned, would pick up every hitchhiker he saw, and then take them wherever the “bummer” was going, even if it was far off the path to their job. “I would be back and eating supper,” Bud remembers, “long before Uncle Cletus would ever make it home.”

In the heyday of his time as a carpenter and boatbuilder, Cletus acquired a collection of specialized tools that was the envy of other less successful journeymen. Knowing of Cletus’ good nature, his friends often prevailed upon him to borrow one or more of those tools to work on some temporary project. But, many times, temporary turned out to be permanent and the borrowed items were never returned. Eventually, feeling shame or guilt about their failures, some of the borrowers seemed to avoid being with or even greeting Brother Cletus when they approached him on the road or at the store. Even though the knew full well that he would never mention it, they preferred not having to come face to face with a reminder of their own failure to keep their end of what had been a very one-side bargain to begin with.

Just sensing their hesitation even to greet him was more than Cletus could bare. To remedy the situation he made a preemptive gesture of forgiveness that, he hoped, would remove any misgivings among his friends who had “borrowed without returning.” He posted a sign in the local store, telling everyone who still might be holding on to any of his tools, that the items were henceforth theirs to keep, with no hard feelings, but on one simple condition. He asked that they be his friends again when and wherever they saw him. He couldn’t bare the anxiety of feeling that anyone would not want to greet him over something as menial as a drill or router.

My own personal favorite story of Brother Cletus’ personality, and one that combines his talents, his attention to detail, and especially his gentle nature, is of the time he tried his hand at duck hunting. Having heard his friends extol the joys of stalking and bagging waterfowl in the marshes off the Banks, he determined one summer to be ready that fall to become a hunter with the best of them. He built himself a “duck blind” on the edge of a marsh that, according to those who saw it, was more like a home than a blind. He acquired  different shotguns that could be used for the various types of shooting that he planned. He carved and painted several bags of working decoys, of many different species of birds, to make sure he had the right ones when the time approached. He acquired the necessary licenses and permits, and outfitted a skiff so that he could transport his equipment to and from the Banks.

Eventually, all that was left was for the season to open and the hunting to begin. On the very first day, as the sun rose over Core Banks, Brother Cletus was sitting alertly in his decked-out duck blind, shotgun on his shoulder, decoys on the water, and with his skiff hidden in the marshes. On the break of day a “paddywack,” one of the smallest of the duck species, landed at the very foot of his blind and began to swim among his decoys. Very gently Cletus steadied his gun on his shoulder and looked down the barrel at what was going to be the first prize of his career as a hunter. But, according to the man whose hand was on the trigger, the small bird turned and looked him squarely in the eye, and then even tilted his head ever so slightly to the side. As the hunter gazed into the miniature eyes that were staring into his own, the finger he had on the trigger began to go limp. Within another moment he had dropped the gun from his shoulder and just stood up and stared back at the bird for a few seconds. Finally, his inner self having overcome his desire for the sport, he started waving his arms and hands and shouted, “Why don’t you fly somewhere before somebody shoots you?”

Within a couple of hours, the decoys had been gathered, the blind had been dismantled, and along with his guns and equipment, all that he had was loaded on his skiff and headed back to the shore at the landing not far from his home. He never again ventured to hunt for birds. More importantly, he never lost the caring compassion that made him a failure as hunter, but a “Prince of a Man.”