Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Denise Clay


Her Dad Charles Reed Clay

Charles’ Swan Song

My dad, Charles Clay, was a larger than life figure in my life. He was a World War II veteran. He was also the life of the party. He had an abundance of friends, a large and loving family, and was respected by those who knew him. He was caring and strong. He was disciplined and a free spirit. He was the smartest person I knew. He always had a rational answer to any question I posed and helped me solve many of life’s mysteries.

My mother died young, from breast cancer, and my father no longer had a buffer between he and his 13 year old daughter (me). He had to deal directly with the outspoken, independent, strong willed image of himself. He didn’t remarry until I was in my 30s. Little did I know, he wanted my approval on his chosen mate. Looking back, I took that as a sign of the respect he had for me.

My father had a great singing voice. I was told that he sang in the church choir as a boy, but I only heard him sing in the shower. He would bellow the songs of his youth. His favorite singers were Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls. I would listen intently to the lyrics, not really understanding the message. I specifically remember his go to songs, Straighten Up and Fly Right by Nat King Cole, made me laugh and St. James Infirmary by Lou Rawls made me sad. He thought Billie Holiday was one of the most beautiful and talented women in the world and Dinah Washington’s song, What a Difference a Day Makes, tore at his heartstrings.

The years passed, I went on to college and moved away to attend graduate school. While we lived far apart, my relationship with my dad remained strong. We talked on the phone weekly and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit with him often and keep tabs on him as he aged. Eventually, Alzheimer’s dementia took my dad away from me, but it didn’t take his song. Singing became the way he communicated. I would ask, “How are you feeling today, dad?”. He would bellow….”I’m feeling fine”, in a strong baritone voice. As time passed, he would answer every question with a song. My dad thrived with Alzheimer’s for 12 years and died in 2018, at the age of 91. I miss him very much, but I still hear him in song.