COLUMN SIX: Babe has left, yet lives on

BY SAMUEL PICCOLO
Special to the VOICE

Clarice Jacobs died last week. That in itself isn’t surprising: she had just turned 87 years old and lived longer than a woman born in 1930 might have been expected to. That she lived for such a time ought to console those who knew her and make her passing less difficult. But it is never easy.

Clarice, or Babe, as she was called by nearly everyone who knew her well, was born in Fonthill. She and her husband Gordon, whom she outlived by some 30 years, owned a fruit farm near Lookout Point Golf Club. After his death she continued to work that farm, and even in her 80s, and when she moved to Lookout Ridge retirement home she still rose early, keeping to farm hours.

I first met Babe when I was 14 and volunteering at Lookout Ridge, running a weekly ‘Wii Bowling’ league. Babe was there every time. Despite hardly being of the demographic featured in Nintendo’s video game advertising, she was a champion bowler. I still don’t know how she was able to take to the game so easily: she could curve the ball both ways and hit her shots with such nonchalance that, as she returned gingerly to her chair, her back bowed from so many years on the farm, I couldn’t tell if her sly smile was one of surprise or confidence.

When I graduated from Wii volunteer to kitchen employee, I saw much more of Babe. She was a pleasure to serve, of course, and even when the meals were not up to her farmhouse standards she would glare at those who complained openly and keep her critique to a sardonic quip after everyone had left.

Just because she didn’t go looking for trouble didn’t mean that she wasn’t pleased when it happened upon her. Babe could give it as could as she could take it, though no barb of hers could ever be taken seriously, since it would be inevitably followed by a smile. She particularly delighted in threatening passers-by with the scooter—or rather, tank—that she drove around in her final year. “Don’t think I won’t run you over!” she’d say. We knew she wouldn’t. And when I’d tousle her hair, which was shock-white and looked like whipping cream after she’d had a perm, she would only pretend to smack my hand away.

Babe was a Fonthill woman of her time. She grew up here during the Depression and the war, and she didn’t stop being from this small town when these things were finished. She once told me that she had never been further from home than Belleville. I don’t think that she ever owned a passport. But if we are to have faith that kindness and wit are universal values, Babe was the biggest cosmopolitan of them all.

It was easy to get Babe talking about the farm, and she was fond of recounting all that she did there. “It was a lot of work,” she’d say, “and it was good work.” Once, when I was describing the problem of squirrel infestation my father was having, she told me all that we needed was a good .22. “I used to have to take out raccoons and possums all the time,” she said, aiming an imaginary rifle and squinting one eye.

Her life could not have been an easy one, internally. In addition to her husband, two of her three children predeceased her. Sometimes she would sigh with a weight far greater than that produced by a poor lunch. She will be missed by her family—her remaining son and three grandchildren, of whom she spoke incessantly. She will be missed by her second family, at Lookout Ridge (especially by her dear friend Bill Nudds), where, like everywhere in the world, lovely people abound, but no one else quite like Babe. ♦

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