A Good Person in the World / by Rebecca Tillett

Recollections of my father from a relative:

I wanted to talk about what I remember about your dad. As you said, Bob was a hard one sometimes, from what I knew of him. I can’t imagine what it was like to be Clay growing up. Have you read Into the Wild by Jon Krakuer? It always reminds of Bob and Clay – strong fathers. The few times he came to the ranch, they stayed with Lloyd’s side of the family (to be fair, possibly because my mom is a horrendous housekeeper). Clay always seemed very sensitive and artistic. He was nervous at the ranch and I remember him sitting leaned back and scooted down in an easy chair with a vinyl cover, thrumming his fingers against the armrests. He also cracked his knuckles all the time. I remember his voice so well – kind of like Bob’s but softer, more deferential. My mom was hit or miss with the cooking, and one time Clay came down and made macaroni, which my brothers Jim and Rob and I ate too. Oh, my gosh. I was totally impressed! I know he and Jim hung out a lot when he was up. They had similar interests, I think. And then once when I was very young we took a trip down to Mexico and on the way stopped at Bob and Geri’s. Rob, Jim, Clay, and I ate sandy sand crab in the kitchen and drank red kool-aid and laughed so hard it came out our noses. That was the time that they turned on the black light and scared the dickens out of me. When was your dad born? 1961? 1963? It seems like he was a little older than Jim, so at least five years older than me, if not 7 or 8.

The world must’ve seemed such a hostile place. It’s no wonder he could barely contain his rage and he tried all the ways he knew how to escape. Gosh, it’s amazing he held it together as much as he did. Yet you see him in photos and he was such a handsome vibrant person. My mom said that he had such potential, creative and artistic and otherwise. I remember him as having such a sense of humor, such a wry wit.

But what it all did to you. Oh my gosh. You know, I often talk to Steve, my husband, about this type of thing. A person can be a good person in the world and do good things and many people can look up them, or not, and then they can still inflict irreparable damage on those they love. The fact that a son or daughter is harmed does not obviate the fact that the parent was a good person. Two seemingly mutually exclusive ideas can be true at the same time. And like you, my husband is my saving grace in so many ways. He “saw” me, you know? Gave me respect. Saved me in so many ways. Which is not to say we don’t have our problems, but I think we’re good for each other in so many ways.

I’m always trying to figure out why people do the things they do. To them, even the most egregious things seemed perfectly rational, or they seemed desirable, or they seemed necessary. I think that’s why I’m a writer, trying to figure people and the world out. Why does a serial killer kill? Why does one stranger reach to another? Why do a husband and wife do those small violences to each other? I’ve spent my life trying to figure the Ranch out and the ways it’s all screwed me up. I’m going to write a memoir about it someday, and all my writing is sort of prep for that, in a weird way. I finally tried to begin it last winter, but I just couldn’t. That’s what writing is for me, too - keeps me from going over the edge, you know? I suspect your art is that for you. —Tamara Linse