Saturday, January 26, 2013

Clifford Kocher-Rest in Peace

I don't remember the first time Cliff came into the bakery.  Was he on his bike?  Or with our friend Janie?

I do remember he liked the spelt milk and honey bread.  And more than that, the spelt pound cakes.  And spelt chocolate chip cookies.

As with most of my customers, we would strike up a conversation if there weren't too many other customers around keeping me busy.  I recognized his accent and discovered he was from New Jersey, like my late husband, Philip.  He spent his career working for Mars, the candy company.  We would share stories about how few people realize New Jersey is a beautiful state.  How sad it is to see it get overcrowded and too expensive for living.  How we both sure do love the big open mountains here in the Big Bend Region.

Before too long, there would be a dribble of customers coming in, letting me know that it was upon Cliff's recommendation.  He told everybody he knew to come buy my bread and cakes and cookies!  He was living a very simple life, in his early retirement.  Didn't have a car here.  Walked everywhere.  Or bicycled.  Volunteered at the food pantry in town.  Helped at the library.  Did this and that for a couple of churches.  Did landscaping for his church, all at his own expense.  And would bring his cash and buy as many cookies, pound cakes and bread as he could afford at the time.

Sometimes he would come in and tell me he was getting ready for his periodic hike around the Rio Grande, in the Big Bend Ranch State Park.  He would buy up the pound cake and chocolate chip cookies and tell me that would nourish him on his hike!

I really don't know much about Cliff.  I never saw him outside the bakery.  We never spoke for hours.  There were others in town who were his close friends.  Who shared holiday dinners and long hikes.  But when you see someone almost weekly, when you know they care deeply about the success of your business,  and ask about your children, you feel like you have a friendship.  It may seem crazy, but the sweet friendships I have with my customers is a very powerful thing, and makes it worth the effort to get up in the morning.

So when Janie came into the bakery early one Tuesday morning, when Holly was here, tears in her eyes, I knew something was wrong with Cliff.  She told me he was planning a New Year's hike, as per his usual.  He was a very experienced hiker.  Not new to the area.  He hadn't come back when he said he would.  His rental car was found abandoned.

We cried.  Knowing that a week out in the desert, especially with the cold and snow, meant that he was probably long gone from this world.  There was a search.

As I worked in the bakery, I spoke to Cliff in my head.  Told him how glad I was that he crossed my path.  Let him know how thankful I was for his dedication and support of my business, not to mention all the other little things and big things he did to serve a community that had not brought him up, or even been home to him for long.  At some point, I think I did a little stomping about, mad at God and circumstances, mad that no one knew where to search, that perhaps he was injured and in pain, suffering before his death.

A little voice, Cliff's voice, came to me, telling me that his last view was absolutely beautiful.  As most of you know, I have a pretty powerful imagination, so don't think I am losing my mind.  I don't know anything about the spirit of a human, even though I believe we each have something that makes us us.  Something that can't be seen under a microscope.  Something that goes away when we die.  I am okay with hearing someone's voice in my head and not questioning, as those voices never tell me to go jump off a bridge! or hurt anyone!

I heard his voice, could feel his smile, and my stomping mad calmed down, and peace came.  With it grief as I pondered his absence in our town.

Days later our mutual friend came and told me Cliff had been found.  Leaning back against a couple of rocks.  She said he looked as if he were alive, sitting down to enjoy the beautiful view.  He had fallen from a cliff, we had that big snow, you remember?  He had a broken leg.  I hope he did not suffer long.

There will be a memorial service for him today.  I don't think I will be able to make it.  But it was important for me to remember Cliff to you.  I am glad he came to Alpine to enjoy his retirement.  I think he made the most of his life.  He gave much to others.  He had a hearty appetite for Spelt Pound Cake and Spelt Chocolate chip cookies.  Many of his new friends here in Alpine and the area will miss him greatly.


Roger said...

I worked with cliff in nj ,and your words further validate cliff as a wonderful person who had some basic morales which you hope will influence others in this world. said...

Thanks for your comment, Roger. I think Cliff left behind a much larger influence than he ever dreamed.

Polly said...

I am sorry to hear about Cliff, but I love your description of him and his simple life. I love the impact he had on people...a testament to the importance of the way we live. The 'little things' matter.

Jim Grieshaber said...

Ginger, thank you for that wonderful tribute to Cliff. He was a great guy.

I just heard about Cliff’s death through the M&M Retiree Newsletter. I’m very sad to hear of his passing. Cliff and I had many fun times working together in the Packing Room at M&M on the ‘systems’ job. We talked about our shared interest of the southwestern U.S., particularly Colorado. He told me about Black Canyon of the Gunnison an area near Montrose, which I have now hiked twice. It is distressing to hear that he died at such a young age; however, the situation is best summed up by Nancy in a post on another site who said, ‘…Cliff died doing what he loved in an area he was very happy…’

Jim Grieshaber 01/03/13