In my years with Cliff, I’ve seen this happen numerous times in public places.
A tearful child will walk up to him and announce: “I can’t find my mommy.”
Cliff gets down on his knee and says, “We’ll find her.” Then he takes that small hand and looks for the information counter or customer service. Cliff stays right there, holding on until the mother arrives.
He never knows these children. He doesn’t wear an official badge.
They see him and know he’s the guy. It’s some kind of attraction thing, a nameless but constant lifeline to seekers of all shapes and sizes.
Shortly after we moved here, he tackled the picket fence. I call it the infinity fence because he can never get to the end of it. There’s always one more rotten rail or picket to replace. No matter how long he paints, there’s a missed edge that requires attention.
One afternoon a local we didn’t know stopped by with his grandson. “Need a hand?” he asked, as Cliff struggled with the new gate. Over two hours later, Darrell, Hayden, and Cliff were finished (and friends for life, by the sound of all the good-natured joking). Cliff asked, “What do I owe you?”
“Nothing,” Darrell said. “Consider it your Welcome to Milan gift.”
He’s returned several times to help with difficulties that crop up in a 150-year-old house.
He was here once to relocate two doors, but it ended up involving mice.
I don’t know how long they’d been around when I finally spotted their presence. Cliff was running errands, so I asked Darrell if I had guessed correctly. He agreed and looked in the basement for a nest, thinking they were climbing up the wall into the kitchen.
“Set some traps and get rid of them,” he said casually and turned to leave.
“I don’t want them to die,” I replied, the tears starting.
He turned back and changed his tone. “Now, Karen, I know you write children’s books and want to make friends with the mice, but that can’t happen. You don’t want them to settle in and have babies.”
So I told Cliff, who headed for the hardware store. He did not return with mousetraps. He bought a contraption that lured them in and snapped its doors shut so he could release them unharmed.
Night after night, it worked like a charm.
When we reported our successes to Darrell, he slyly asked, “Are you marking them? It might be the same darned mouse over and over.”
When Cliff related all this to Maggie and how he took them to the creek at the bottom of the hill, she was amused and created a scenario about their encampment in the woods.
“Look! It’s Aunt Louise come home to us!” they’d shout, leaping up from their tiny campfire.
“Who’s that man?” they’d ask.
“I don’t know, but he has Ritz crackers!” Aunt Louise would explain to a chorus of ooohs. “Under his sink is a cottage where you can get peanut butter. You reach for it, and the doors shut tight so you can eat in peace and get a good night’s sleep.”
They nod enviously.
“Then he wakes you up in the morning and carries you home!”
They ask how to find this storybook place.
“I’m not sure, but you have to climb a hill,” she replies.
I don’t know if mice distinguish north from south, but they could end up at Marcia’s instead. She can get Ritz crackers and peanut butter.
But she won’t have Cliff. To the everlasting regret of those dreamers at the encampment.
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