The reason I started this blog was to share memories of growing up in a small town and the connections I made along the way so the generation coming after me can know my family history. So you should know part of my history parallels another family’s history who lived just down the street . I’m calling it The Clampitt Connection.
And the reason was simple – birth order.
When the Vances moved to West Point in 1960 the Clampitts were already established there. Our oldest boy at home was Dale and he was 12 or so at the time. Across the street and down the block were twin brothers Ronnie and Donnie Clampitt. They hit it off immediately. They were the best of friends and did everything together – play sports, camp out, get in trouble, sleep overs – everything. They would sleep on the picnic tables at the park. (I think they did more running around than sleeping). They were inseparable from Jr. High thru High School. Ronnie told me he wouldn’t have made it through school if not for copying off Dale’s papers. Dale joined the Marines and could’ve gotten out of going to Viet Nam because his time was served but he volunteered to be part of Recon and went to war. Ronnie and Dale had been dating sisters and it was pretty serious. In June of 68 Ronnie married his girl. 3 weeks later everyone got the news Dale wasn’t coming back. Ronnie & Donnie will still tear up if you mention his name.
Bill was 6 years younger than Dale and right down the street was another Clampitt brother the same age, Gary. They played together and hung out a lot but Gary was more into sports than Bill was. Bill made his mark in other ways. In fact, he made a couple of marks, one on Debbie Gutting and another on Rod Homan with his BB gun. I’m sure Gary witnessed several shenanigans that he could tell you about. I know because 7 years later it happened again.
I was born in 1962 and met Les Clampitt in preschool which for some reason was in Carthage. We were also babysat together by an old woman who lived next to the grade school and by Marge Tharpe. I wouldn’t say we were inseperable but we always got along. We played ball together from 1st grade on. Whatever ball there was, softball, wiffleball, basketball, football, Indian ball and Kick the Can – which involved kicking a rubber ball. I will confess I was ornery and mouthy and got into plenty of trouble on my own but I got into MORE trouble simply because Les would say 2 words, “Do it!”. That was it. That was all the encouragement I needed for taking something that didn’t belong to me or doing something I shouldn’t be doing. And he knew it. He knows more crap that I did then I even remember.
You would think with the 3 sibling connection that we might have hung out together as families. But we didn’t. I guess it never came up. They were just down the street if we needed anything. Mom and Dad always gardened and took pride in the produce. Eileen and Arlo were the same way. I ate over a few times and watched ball games. If the Cubs were on they all gathered around the TV. It was sacred. And if I ever complained about a meal at home Mom would always say, “If you don’t like it why don’t you go see what the Clampitts are having”. I must’ve heard it a hundred times growing up. We found out later that Eileen would tell her boys something similar.
Ronnie was my softball coach in Little League. When I almost cut my thumb off with a power saw and couldn’t play in the tournament he came for a visit. I think it was the first time he had been in our home since Dale died.
Eventually, the house the Clampitts lived in grew too old or something because they moved away…right across the street. Now they were on the same side of the road we were, exactly one block away. Instead of walking down the sidewalk I would cut up the alley to get to their house.
When you are young you tend to be naive about the world. I didn’t give much thought to the future or even considered how things could change. The grade school and ball diamond would always be there. Parents would stick around. And friends don’t move. But the grade school was torn down, the ball diamond is in weeds and our parents died. The Clampitts remained.
I moved away in 1980. I moved back into the area in 1989 then left for Michigan in 2001. I can go years without seeing or hearing from any of them. Whenever I came back to West Point I usually ran into one of them. And it’s like bumping into cousins. I haven’t been to town in 15 years but circumstances will bring us back together and we will chat about the old days and swap stories like they just happened yesterday.
I think the best way to sum up the relationship is this; My Dad was the first parent to die in our families. I remember standing in our kitchen. Eileen walked in with a covered dish, kissed my Mom on the cheek and started to walk out. She turned and said, “If you need anything at all I’m just down the street”.
Yes she was.
The top photo is Dale between Ronnie & Donnie. Dale said he was “a rose between two thorns” and that’s what the photo came to be called. It hangs in the hall of Ronnie’s house.
The 2nd photo is of me and Les from 4th grade in West Point grade school