He was sitting alone at a table for eight; obviously seven diners had left for some place, somewhere, someone. He sat with elbows on the table, chin lowered to his chest. I was reluctant to speak, but I quietly asked, “Mr. Hamm?” He raised his head and graciously replied, “Yes, Clarence Hamm, H A M M. Please sit down.” And he added, “It is my birthday, and it is also the day I lost my wife, Ruth two years ago. And do you want to hear something special?: I nodded. “I sang at her funeral. Some people thought it was odd.” He searched my face hesitantly for my reaction, and when I replied with, “I think it is beautiful, and what did you sing?” Mr. Hamm responded with, “Do you want me to sing it?” I answered, “Please do.”
Then and there, in the dining room at the Touchmark, Mr. Clarence Hamm sang softly and tenderly, “I’ll be loving you always” just as he had said good-bye to the love of his life with whom he had shared 66 and a half of his 87 years. I was visibly touched. My friend broke the tension with, “So I tell people I am Ruthless, but I am harmless.”
Moving along, I learned that Clarence Hamm had met Ruth at a church party when she was 16 and he was 18. He later learned that when Ruth was 12 years old a fortune teller had told her she would marry a man named Clarence and that Ruth had told her mother later that day, “I have met the man I am going to marry!” However, Uncle Sam had other plans for young Clarence and he was whisked off to a plant where certain products were made that were being used in a place called Vietnam.
Ruth pursued Clarence by writing letters and their courtship was mainly by mail, but the two were married on Christmas Eve in Seattle, Wash. I inquired as to the qualities which contributed to the length of their marriage, and his response was a firm, “I have had a wonderful life, even though there were both hills and valleys.” He hesitated and then he explained that he had chosen to be a pastor and served as such for 30 years, although in order to take care of the four little Hamms — three girls and one boy — he had to work sometimes at three jobs. His job as a minister of a small church paid just $25 a week, so he then worked part-time as a machinist and was also fortunate to add a third job at a local post office, which he maintained for 29 years.
One of the valleys in this wholesome marriage was the negative health condition of their son who required a kidney transplant. They were deeply grateful when a teenage boy volunteered to provide the kidney, and their son is alive and well today. The event left painful scars when the Hamm family learned the young man who had donated the kidney had participated in a grocery store hold up; the young boys returned their ill-gained loot, but the victim of the robbery chose to pursue the crime. The youth who had benefited the Hamm family used a gun he had received for Christmas to take his own life.
Mr. Hamm appeared pensive for a moment before he slowly added, “ . . . and then we lost a grandson . . . our son lives in Boise, Idaho, and you remember those forest fires? Well, my grandson didn’t make it out. But I have been sustained by a deep faith in my Lord and He has given me peace, and a gratitude for all the good things I have experienced. I have had a wonderful life!”
Moving on to the “mountains” in his “good life” I asked Mr. Hamm if he had any particular hobbies and he repeated that his church and church activities were uppermost in his life and had given him strength and balance. Also, he declared with great enthusiasm, “I sing! My father and my sisters sang in church when I was growing up as a poor country kid down in old Kentucky, and I still sing, and my daughters sing. I’ll sing anywhere, any time. I’ll sing at the drop of a hat. I don’t care if people laugh.”
I admired his exuberance and his defense of his passion for singing and remembering his singing at the monthly resident tea. I reminded him that when members of his audience were smiling they were smiling with him and not at him. I have a feeling in future events at Touchmark there will be many guests “dropping their hats” for the pleasure of a favorite song request. We hope Mr. Hamm will keep singing and keep the audience smiling because it is quite probable that our singer has touched a tender chord of remembrance in their own lives.
“So, please, sing it again, Mr. Hamm.”
JIMMIE J. COOK is a resident of Touchmark at Coffee Creek in Edmond. A longtime newspaper columnist in her hometown, she will occasionally profile local residents who reside at Touchmark for readers.