|In the spring of 1992 our fledgling business, J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird &
Nature Store, had only been open about four months. You've probably heard the saying made
famous in the movie Field of Dreams, "if you build it, they will come."
Well, the minute we opened our doors people came streaming in trying to sell us
something, and because my husband worked in sales and often came home after a long day on
the road feeling rejected and unloved by the way prospects had treated him, I always
treated the salespeople who visited the store with the courtesy and respect they deserved,
and gave them enough time to present their idea or product, before I told them "no
thank you" (or sometimes "yes").
One day, a tall gray-haired gentleman
came into the store. I remember the day well because we were having our "Grand
Opening" week. The weather outside was not cooperating and we were receiving several
inches of snow. He was the first visitor of the day and was carrying something in his
hand. I had never met him before and because of his professional demeanor I thought he was
another sales person. He offered his hand. His handshake was warm and dry, and his skin
was soft. His eyes were kind and as he shook my hand he told me his name was Clarence
Hill. He then presented me with a brown lunch bag.
I took the lunch bag and carefully opened it. Inside was a full-bodied, hand-carved and
hand-painted northern cardinal; it was attached to a natural twig branch and was mounted
on a thin base of walnut. It was lovely. I was speechless and didn't know what to say. I
didn't know if he wanted to sell it to me or if he wanted me to place it on display and
try to sell it for him. If it was something he wanted me to sell, it was so fine a piece I
knew it would be better represented in an art gallery, not this little bird feeding &
Clarence saw the puzzled look on my face and explained that he was a hobby wood carver.
I asked him what he wanted me to do with it. He said the bird was for me as a
congratulatory gift for having opened my business, J.J. Cardinal's. I again was
speechless. Clearly this had taken him quite some time to make. He then went on to say he
had started Hill Funeral Home in 1946 here in Grand Blanc, and that he knew exactly how
daring it was to go out on your own and start a business, and how hard I worked. I thanked
him profusely, we shook hands again, and for the past 19 years that little cardinal he
carved for me has graced the sofa table in my living room. And every Christmas it gets
decorated with pine boughs and pine cones, and I think of Clarence.
on behalf of the the Naturalists at J.J. Cardinal’s
Clarence Hill was a pillar in our community and he
helped many people in their most trying time of need. He was also a tireless supported in
our community and volunteered countless hours for a variety of organizations. He died in
2008 at the age of 93.
This article was also published at the Flint Journal online website: http://www.mlive.com/grandblanc/index.ssf/2010/12/clarence_the_cardinal.html