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self portrait - circa 1996


Clarence the cardinal holds special meaning for J.J. Cardinal's owner

Northern cardinal carving by Clarence HillIn 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 & nature store.

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.

Louise Dawson
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

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J.J. Cardinal's Wild Bird & Nature Store ®
12830 S. Saginaw St., Grand Blanc, MI  48439  810-695-8733
11/02/10 illustrations, text & fun © J.J. Cardinal's 1992-2011
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