Every single one of us, filthy rich, dirt poor, those who push Wall Street stocks shouting at the tiny world around them, those who push Walmart carts through the streets all night mumbling curse at society:unless you have a special deal with God, you will die.

And the port of exit will be the same as the port of entry.  You did not pick the huge fleshy faces, whether they’d welcome you with honest laughter, or    light and darkhad no choice whose sunshine happy or stormunless you’ve got some special deal with God, stupendously popular, those who lurk in dark corners unnoticed; ugly sinner, or super saint.  will slip from our bodiesWe all will diewill go through it in one way or another. That’s why I guess I can imagine my mother-in-law just a couple years ago as she got saw behind that black curtain death, walk through it to the beyond. her first look at what’s nextI try to imagine her soul rising from its sleep. In bewilderment, Darlene Best shucks off her hurting, aching body, and gazes into her own eyes. its probably like awakening from a long hard dream. And then she turns.

In the room gazing at past hee as if she weren’t there are  four almost faded phantom figures.

Darlene Best  came into this world the same way she left it: too soon. Many premature infants in the 1930s were not expected to survive. The soft pink too soon infant had been cute but frail in physical health.

This weakness of body plagued Darlene in the form of arthritis, fibromyalgia, infections, and allergies which seemed to even manifest even to the last years of her life. She struggled to survive constant returns to the hospital:  her heart, her r blood pressure, her weakened cardiovascular system.

But it was her spirit God wanted to strengthen, not the mere vessel she’d been given to transport her through life. But as God is always gracious to those who serve him faithfully, Darlene now has peace and rest as well as strength, strength in a body that once tormented her but now is vigorously and permanently maintained by one of the trees of life in that great city being prepared for us continually until all of us are called by the trumpet and the command of Christ to come home.

Still, Darlene fought tooth and nail to remain here on Earth with those she loved. Many go willingly; Darlene took the horns of the altar and held on until her her children asked husband Clyde Best to give her his blessing, to let her go home.

Her body relaxed shortly thereafter, and she went home.

When we finally shed the old, imperfect, wrinkled skin of earth and see the husk of flesh we had to leave behind, will we know the answers to questions that have at times disturbed our minds? Why?

The wrinkled, bruised skin records on it all our heartaches and tribulations; not just the tattoos, colored pictures we think tell the story of our lives, but a culmination of the constant, gritty striving of youth against death.

Darlene’s eyes rest one last moment on the culmination of her life, but it’s not her wrinkled body she focuses on this time. She cannot feel it.

She can only watch with emotion as her husband Clyde touches her frozen cheek, concern in his eyes.

Her daughter Jan is still recovering from watching drawing her last breath, a puzzled look in her eyes.

Her only son, Don Best, whom she had scolded so often for his mischief, gazes thoughtfully upon his mother’s final seconds.

How grown he is. How had she not noticed? The quick, mischievous child is still there, but hidden by a thin mask. Age.

Only a mom could see it there, see the child that had caught her spanking switch and then scrammed up a tree to hide it; at the same time see the layers of wisdom that come with age.

Joyce, her youngest, scared already, feeling alone, only starting to understand her own loneliness after the business of caring for her mother. The adrenaline wears out Joyce’s face.

Sylvia Best, tired after a month of graveyard shifts at Darlene’s sick bed, now recognizing this long fight was soon coming to an end.

I myself wonder now at what she saw, what heavenly wonders she witnessed as she shucked off her pain, and clothed herself in a new lasting peace.

Truly there is a story in this scene: husband wanting to cry out after his wife, “return to me”; son, daughters? Well, there’s no shame in crying. Grandkids, great grandkids, siblings, friends?

That’ just it: time seems to slow when we mourn, so how has it rushed so quickly, when we relive such events in our minds?

But eventually those whom she has touched, will each be carefully set into a silhouette below her, statues placed by a steady hand into the final scene.

And all her world: her room, her furniture, her bed, her children — her precious son and her daughters, all others she says goodbye to — they’ll be one day leaving this Earth to join her: so who says you can take anything with you when you go?

Besides, through life’s journey she navigated the badlands. In the desert she fed everyone she knew from lean desert snakes and Mullegan stew.

In truth, her only victims were those who got in her way. And in the midst of this prayer warriors skirmishes, she left a wafting trail of dust that if followed could lead back to her…Yes, they return to her because they love her. She has created and nurtured them as only a woman can do. The evidence of her success irrefutable –in the scene now silent below her. There were many tumults, cold valleys reaching up into jagged hard to climb cliffs. Life’s rugged terrain bruised and

How? Why? The wrinkled, bruised skin records on it all our heartaches and tribulations; not just the tattoos, colored pictures we think tell the story of our lives, but a culmination of the constant, gritty striving of youth against death.

Joyce 598
Though often in pain, Darlene Best fought to overcome. She managed to live a full, complete, and purposeful life. She would be the first to say though she could only go forward by the power of her savior, Jesus Christ!

Darlene’s eyes rest one last moment on the culmination of her life, but it’s not her wrinkled body she focuses on this time. She cannot feel it. She can only watch with emotion as her husband Clyde touches her frozen cheek, concern in his eyes. Her daughter Jan is still recovering from watching her mother draw her last breath, a puzzled look in her eyes.

Joyce, her youngest, scared already, feeling alone, only starting to understand her own loneliness after the business of caring for her mother. The adrenaline wears out Joyce’s face.

Sylvia, tired after a month of graveyard shif

of one moment: the culmination of one woman, Darlene Best, at She arises from her sick bed. This time her spiritual essence only ascends, as she gazes at the twisted, broken husk beneath her, finally, already in her past. Timeless: the moment of birthing into eternity, finally. Peace.

The soft pink premature infant had been cute but weak.  This weakness plagued Darlene in the form of arthritis, fibromyalgia, infections, and allergies. She struggled to survive constant returns to the hospital over her heart, blood pressure; her veins propped up her rough, wrinkled skin.Darlene appreciated each moment she could spend with her family. That is why she never spent her birthdays alone. And she would not keep out of her kitchen no matter what day it was.

Frozen Rose 11.17.14
A rose taken by the beauty of frost

When we finally shed the old, imperfect, wrinkled skin of earth and see the husk of flesh we had to leave behind, will we know the answers to questions that have at times disturbed our minds?

How? Why? The wrinkled, bruised skin records on it all our heartaches and tribulations; not just the tattoos, colored pictures we think tell the story of our lives, but a culmination of the constant, gritty striving of youth against death.

Joyce 598
Though often in pain, Darlene Best fought to overcome. She managed to live a full, complete, and purposeful life. She would be the first to say though she could only go forward by the power of her savior, Jesus Christ!

Darlene’s eyes rest one last moment on the culmination of her life, but it’s not her wrinkled body she focuses on this time. She cannot feel it. She can only watch with emotion as her husband Clyde touches her frozen cheek, concern in his eyes. Her daughter Jan is still recovering from watching her mother draw her last breath, a puzzled look in her eyes.

Joyce, her youngest, scared already, feeling alone, only starting to understand her own loneliness after the business of caring for her mother. The adrenaline wears out Joyce’s face.

Sylvia, tired after a month of graveyard shifts at Darlene’s sick bed, now recognizing this long fight was soon coming to an end; I myself wonder at what Darlene saw, what heavenly wonders she now witnessed as she shucks off her pain, and clothes herself in a new lasting peace.

Jan pic
Above, Janice Best-Fuller hams it up with her grandson. It’s hard to find a picture of Janice, because she always seems to be the one taking the pictures.
Grandma's Birthday 2008 15
Here, my wife Joyce Best-Standeford discusses the day’s events after Joyce gives her the birthday gift of a new Kitchen Aid mixer. Birthdays were always special with the Best clan.
Clyde and Darlene - Copy
Clyde and Darlene take in a meal together at Applebee’s in Eugene, Oregon. They were always continually on the go, and loved to visit with family, take a meal with friends and family any chance they got.
Coast trip 2-22-15 (1)
Don and Sylvia Best above. They moved up from California to buy a manufactured home in our park and take care of mom and dad in their later years.

Truly there is a story in this scene:  the doting husband, pain of lost love in his eyes, children from quiet suffering on one side to all out bawling on other side: grand-kids, great grand-kids, brothers, sisters,  friends, each carefully arranged in the silhouette below her as if statues set in a scene. And all these physical objects, the room, the furniture, the bed, the flesh she’d given birth to and raised returning to her bedside to praise her for how she’d begun and then influenced their lives; where they sit right now, at her death, the past behind them a trail of dust that if followed could lead back to her…

Yes, they return to her because they love her. She has created and nurtured them as only a woman can do. The evidence of her success irrefutable – in the scene now silent below her.

There were many tumults, cold valleys reaching up into jagged hard to climb cliffs. Life’s rugged terrain bruised and scarred you, exhausted you, tried to break your will, condemn your spirit with guilt. Questions were always so clouded, fogged. We saw mostly darkness around us, constantly bumping, slamming into others who saw only the same – men like trees walking.

2-6-13 snow (5) Mom & Dad's house

This is a picture taken of Clyde and Darlene’s house a couple years before she died of cancer. We were used to everyone gathering around in their older, larger house, but still, even sick, her hospitality knew no bounds.




If I were to cease this biography of my mother-in-law right here, leave you with a very telling picture of the impact Darlene’s struggling, her gains in life, her losses. And that would be ok. But most of us have more than one story to tell. I chose to write this biography of this remarkable woman, Darlene Best, starting at the culmination of her life with her loved ones close around her.

I will now have to track her trail backwards, return with her to the beginning of her life as a premature, tiny, sickly little girl. As a writer I’m used to creating characters on a timeline from birth to death. The goal is to pack into the story, between beginning and end, as much characterization, plot, cause-effect, theme, setting-atmosphere, etc., as possible to sell the book.

Why take on this Herculean task? Because I want to learn: what drives a stubborn spirit to continue to struggle while other suffering people are jumping off bridges, drugging up to relieve their pain, or living life in a stupor of defeat, willing at least to see the life they never asked for through.

smith gravestone
For almost 80 years John Smith kept the secret of his past.  Darlene tried to break him down, get him to admit that Smith was a convenient but false name, but John Smith was evidently as stubborn as his daughter. He gave Darlene absolutely no clue as to who he had been and what he had done, any explanation of why he arrived in California with the clothes on his back, but not even a name or old relatives and friends to fall back on in rough times.

I want to learn: why does a small, frail woman rise up as a scrapper when the odds are against her and pain seems always to prevail? How does faith act as an empowering force for the good of one person? Is our 21st century society superior to early 20th century, for it’s on the spot Google learning, immediate social networking, and…well, instant gratification?

So that’s the reason we begin at the end of Darlene Best’s life. We want to see her beginning in full totality with the knowledge of how it’s going to play out in the end. Perhaps then, as we study the life of Darlene Best, our non-linear approach will give us insight into the cause and effect of a remarkably lived life.




Darlene Best was born ‘Darlene Smith’. The universal name, Smith, shrouded the already mysterious past: how had this Smith family wind up living in California? Why did Darlene have no uncles, aunts, grandparents, or even distant cousins on her father’s side? When did Darlene’s father, John ‘Smith’, decide to pack up and leave his siblings, parents, grandparents, and all the other interrelationships that act as threads to pull families together into a safety net?

Luckily, Darlene Best had close ties to an extended family through her mother’s side. These interactions taught her all she needed to know about keeping families together, drawing outsiders into the fold for a huge home cooked meal after Sunday church, volunteering her time to serve others, whether it is through Christian Ministries or community service.

Dad and his family
Not only did Darlene Best have her mother’s family to teach her to succeed and to nurture and mentor her, once she married Clyde and became a part of the Best clan she found a  ready to go just bring’em into the house, serve’em a good meal and congregate. Darlene never treated anyone to a meal who didn’t want to return for more.

What is it about fried chicken, sweet potato, apple and berry pie with iced tea that makes a Sunday afternoon couch nap seem like floating under Heaven on a cloud? I am married to Darlene’s daughter, Joyce. Darlene didn’t accept me immediately, arms wide open, into the family; she initiated me into the Best clan slowly, and starting with grits and ending with a specialty dessert of hers that everyone loved and could not get enough of.

Chocolate sticks. She had her own secret recipe for them, and it drove both kid and grown up hungry. Do you think it unfair for a cook like Darlene Best to use her kitchen skills to win you over? She in my opinion she was the last of the gunslingers; she had a skill and she used it for the sake of family.

Here is a video of Darlene Best’s daughter, my wife, celebrating her birthday. there is no doubt that each birthday and holiday when Darlene was alive would be spent in Darlene’s home, where family could gather. I think Darlene detested the thought of anyone being lonely. She was the perfect hostess.



Darlene’s father was a big mystery to everyone but his faithful wife, who was just as closed mouth about her husband’s past as he himself was, even after his death. Perhaps Darlene’s mother knew that her husband’s secret was his to either reveal or hide.

That John Smith divulged not one clue about where he was born, lived, who his friends and relatives were, whether they were out there waiting for him to return to them or if perhaps they were all dead; this stubborn tenacity, also a strength, or perhaps a weakness, in his children.

I will talk of the division in the Smith family unit later in this biography, as it is a large part of Darlene’s life. 80 years of secrets. Almost a century. In fact, by taking on the name ‘Smith’ Darlene’s father created a whole new family unit, separate from those who whatever type of environment he grew up in.

Otis or John
Above is Darlene’s uncle, Otis. If anyone aside from John’s wife knew who John was, it would probably have been Otis. John married Otis’s sister, so maybe the two men met up when  John hit town. Otis might have introduced John to his sister. Could be the opposite, John met her first and introduced him to Otis. Either way, John and Otis   hit it off.

What was probably an abstract thought to John Smith, a name he came up with perhaps while on a train pondering his future, with each year after taking on that name became solidified into a living, breathing society of its own. He started a whole new family, lineage. Out of an untruth, he created a truth so real it would affect perhaps hundreds of lives.

I mentioned the problems that genetically inherited stubbornness caused in some of his children, and on to his grandchildren and great grandchildren. The more solidified his family became; the more this stubbornness affected their lives, sometimes for the negative, other times for the positive.

Sometimes the lie that spreads takes on a life of its own, a heaviness that hangs over the future, threatening. Could it be that John Smith passed some sort of curse down to his children by running from his past? Many of John’s friends and family made guesses about where the tight lipped patriarch came from.

Of course if they’d known the ‘where’ of John’s mother and father, siblings, the network responsible for his upbringing, that would answer the next questions:  who, and why?

Was the family under some sort of curse? It was easy to say that it was. John Smith worked as a cobbler in his new life in California. He loved spicy food, and at some point in his life he’d learned to speak fluent Spanish. These are the only clues given by the tight lipped John Smith, but they were given unwittingly, and they came with no explanation.

What kind of incident causes a kid to run scared, change his name, shield himself completely and mercilessly from the ones he should have loved? There were many theories: Perhaps he was a famous gunslinger who had grown tired of living life on the run and so settled down into the family life he’d always dreamed of.

Maybe John Smith had left a gang of criminals, and in hiding from his fellow outlaws was forced not only to hide from a bad fate but to protect his family also by not associating with them.

What about the clues? John Smith loved hot, spicy food, and he spoke fluent Spanish. Maybe a person could pinpoint where he had been born and raised by those two clues. Spicy food, ability with the language of a country only hours away from his present city in California. Mexico.

How could it be a coincidence that John Smith had a love for spicy food and spoke fluent Spanish as well? Any friend or family member could easily assume he came from South of the border, and the assumption would be a likely scenario. But who could tell for sure?

John’s stubbornness, sometimes almost meanness, might have caused him to run afoul of the law. Perhaps he murdered someone, or at least injured them, and had run for his life, hiding himself in the much sought after richness of 1930s California.

It might be logical to assume that he had gotten into trouble with the law, moved to Mexico, where he picked up the language of Spanish through attrition, and developed a love of spicy foods. That he had abandoned Mexico for the United States once the heat was off, was not too far a stretch to go from that.

But why, how, where had he taken up the occupation of cobbler, and why did he stick with it despite the lack of money he made cobbling? What does a cobbler do? He builds shoes. Makes sense. Darlene’s father, John Smith, was a patriarch, a builder.

There is a certain toughness one must have to build shoes, to pound and shape leather into wearable and durable inexpensive shoes. And from what we know of the stubborn, tough patriarch, it seems in keeping with his character that he built or repaired shoes, put form and shape into them. After all, anyone who could leave his past and start a whole new family, practically an independent city, would have to be both tough and stubborn enough to see through what most could never see through to the end.

John Smith was strong. It takes strength to walk away from your parents, grandparents, all your aunts, uncles and cousins to start a new life. He was a forager, independent; I don’t think he ever looked back He must’ve been the type of person to see the future instead of dwelling on the past. His children must have respected him for making such a brave choice.

He kept the secret until his death, and his wife kept the secret until her death. I don’t think either of them ever thought their children would find out who John Smith really was. They couldn’t have seen that the 21st century held tricks that would expose his past.




The Otis Factor

The first and only time I met Darlene’s uncle Otis, it was at a viewing in the West Lawn Cemetery. Otis died about the same time I met Joyce. Clyde and Darlene, who seemed to go out of their way to help anyone in the family, even extended family, had finally taken Otis to a care facility where they visited him often until he died. They must have taken care of about everyone who had nobody to help them in the last few years of their lives.

I think perhaps it was good that I witnessed Otis at the viewing. It made him more real to me, not just a memory in pictures. The life that had passed him by included much the same life as Darlene had witnessed.

I remember watching a documentary about Chuck Berry and the plane crash that killed him. They exhumed his remains to move him closer to his home town. While they had him on the airport tarmac, they opened the casket to allow his son a viewing of the father he’d never met and had only seen in pictures and video and of course listened to from recordings of his famous songs. One of the documentary commentators noted this was the first time the son had ever seen his father in full dimension. All he’d seen previous of his father was in 2D. And there was a distinct resemblance of son to father, obvious to the commentator as he watched Chuck Berry’s son witness his father in a casket, a father he’d never met before. It seemed, the commentator said, a great relief to the son, a load off his shoulders, to finally see his father in real dimensions, real time.

As I peruse Darlene’s written records, news articles, tapes, interviews, or do a one on one with Joyce or another family member, I remember I can never get her story completely right. I can never display the life of Darlene Smith-Best with the force of weight one would view it if they could be there or watch it play out on a screen. However, I do as know this to be a serious duty, and I hope to raise these words before my readers high enough that Darlene would approve. Those with hope of rescue always tend to look up for an answer to their troubles.

I am very blessed to have known Darlene, and am more impressed the deeper I go into her past. I feel it part of my destiny to remember her with as much clarity and truth as possible, and to celebrate her life even as I record it.

I often wonder as I sort through papers and pictures of Darlene, some she has written, some I’ve transcribed from interviews I’ve done, how much of John Smith did Darlene see in Clyde Best, the man she chose to marry. Physically they look nothing alike. Did Darlene, as the cliché goes, marry her father? In my opinion, both John Smith and Clyde Best were very interesting people. They set their own rules for life and followed them as planned; they lived in the present; they followed and stuck to their own codes, never backing down. Whether that was a positive or a negative, I don’t know.

I do know that Darlene had a unique relationship to her father; John Smith always praised her for her abilities. This optimistic attitude she would rediscover in husband Clyde. John Smith praised Darlene for many things, whether her accomplishment was driving a car, getting good grades or any other good he saw in her. She appreciated this as she talked about him in later days.

Perhaps this praise for his daughter came from something in his past. Many wondered if John missed the family he had abandoned so much he had to have this attachment with her he had experienced in his own life before the trouble that came, whatever it was, caused him to yank his roots from the ground, forsake all he’d loved and known, and transplanted himself into a new world, a new town.

Some thought maybe he’d just seen too much abuse and vowed to never repeat that in his own family. The general consensus though was that John had to hide from the law, had sinned but been given a second chance to do right. It was unfathomable that a kid could just pack his bags, head of town, and never look back without some force or fear driving him to run.


‘Too’ Practical People

Is it possible for two practical people to be fully aware of the nuances or love between them? I see many similarities in personality between the two. Often, in my opinion, the more two people are alike the more chance they have to take each other granted, to think they understand each other completely when they can’t even understand themselves.

I believe both Darlene and her father were stubbornly similar. They both seem to have been other centered It is just my speculation, but I think the ‘other centeredness’ turned out to be good for one but bad for the other. This attention, focus on others made Darlene an excellent hostess. For her father this intense focus on others evidently caused him to turn away from people.

I think both Darlene and her father had a difficult time expressing their feelings to each other. That there was a strong emotional bond that connected them there is no doubt. Some of the things she says candidly in her notes show affection for her father that goes beyond probably than even she knew. In her words:

“When I was very young I always remember dad wearing blue jeans with a blue work shirt. I would recall how dirty his clothes got, because then he was working on a ranch. When he drove the caterpillar tractor he would come home so dirty his hair would be almost white; you could hardly see his eyes. In later years when we moved into town and dad got a job at the Pixley schools, he dressed nicely and in comparison never seemed to get dirty. It was an extreme change, and he was much happier; he would have to eat dirt anymore. With that smoking, and all the dirt he inhaled, he developed emphysema; at least these things were a contributing factor.”

This statement, at least to me, is very telling. The people, animals, or objects that had the most impact on us are the ones we store away to mull on later. Some of this redigesting of emotions has a positive effect on our lives; others are so negative we plug our ears with our fingers and shout, “I don’t care about the past at all!” Then we scream louder, “I could care less if he / she got ran over by a train and died. Don’t care one way or the other!”

I’m afraid we can’t just stop caring because we want to. Sometimes the most indifferent people are extremely disconcerted and angry inside but won’t admit it. The statement above made by Darlene in her journal reveals an emotion that resonates from her own simple words. Sure, it wouldn’t win an award for drama of the year, but in a way it declares her love for her father even louder than she could ever have declared it were she consciously attempting to.

“I always remember dad wearing blue jeans with a blue work shirt.” This tells us her focus was fixed on her father much of the time. That she is concerned with the shape his clothes are in reveal an almost mother like attitude. This focus on her father’s clothes would be hard to match in the modern world we live in, the 21st century. Kids are engrossed in television sitcoms and movies or video games. They have little time for family.

Colors seem to be a big factor in her evaluation of her father’s situation. She remembers him coming home almost completely white. “He would come home so dirty his hair would be almost white; you could hardly see his eyes.”

She remembers a crucial time in her life, when they moved to town and her father no longer had to toil in the fields and get dirty. His good fortune is a triumph for her. Definitely not the focus of one who only thinks of herself. This does not mean that she has done everything good in her life; we are all flawed. It does show though empathy for others you don’t often see in our 21st century rush to better our own situations.

Despite the fact that John Smith seems patriarchal, starting a new family, striking out on his own, I don’t see him as a dreamer in search of a land where he and his family could prosper. Having known Darlene over 16 years, I know that she also was no dreamer. They were visionaries, perhaps. Neither made whimsical decisions.

Fantasies about the future and exuberance about change don’t find the same status in the post-depression era where Darlene grew up admiring her father.  They may have found their way out in the movies, perhaps in Wizard of Oz or the soaps that would come later or the science fiction movies that gave those on the farms a chance to dream.

Practical considerations were appropriate for Darlene’s time, a steady movement in the direction they have predetermined for themselves to escape from poverty into the better world of the future. And the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Joyce 002


John “Smith’s” Uncurious Legacy

Being born premature seemed to cause a wave of extensive health problems for Darlene that lasted her whole life. Physically she was frail, small, though I personally have never seen her back down from a fight.  Darlene only knew her mother’s side of the family. Her father’s family remained a mystery to everyone, though she claims to have tried to get her dad to tell her the secret of his past.

If I know Darlene, she was relentless in her quest to break her father into telling her about his past.  “Dad, where did you really come? Who’s your Dad? Where did you grow up?”

She probably baited him for clues: “Was it by the sea or near the great Lakes or a big city like Los Angeles or Dallas or New York?” Despite the insistent pound, pounding on this drum day after relentless day, John “Smith” would never budge except to say he was from Tennessee.

It is hard to tell if Darlene was a people person blessed with at least knowing her mother’s side of the family, or if knowing her mother’s side made her a people person where she might not have been otherwise. That her mother’s family had an impact on her life, there’s no doubt.

Darlene grew up with her mother’s parents on one side of her house, and an aunt and uncle on the other side:

I had three cousins who were children of my uncle Ernest Wilkerson, and another cousin that belonged to my uncle Otis. Otis’s son had a son, but my grandparents raised him while his dad ran around all over the country. His mother came out from Texas and got him through the courts. Ernest had two girls and one boy, which were cared for by a foster family. Their mother had been put in an institution while Ernest ran off to Arizona. When Ernest’s kids got older they would come around on special occasions, but outside of that we had no relatives visiting us summertime usually.

So maybe John “Smith” felt secure in the fact his children did have some extended family through his wife, and that was enough family for even the most social children. Still, most people would feel intense agony carrying such a secret from teenage years to death of old age, a whole lifetime of chances to let something slip out.

There was one time that John and Otis were out and about that Otis says someone walked up to them and pointed at John and said, “Hey Frank, how you been?” But according to Otis, John Smith told the guy rudely his name wasn’t Frank, it was John Smith. The man looked puzzled, but he didn’t seem to think he’d made a mistake.

So now Darlene has a place, Tennessee that could be her father’s place of birth, but could also just be a red herring put down by her father trying to get her off his back. And that someone approached him on the street out of the blue, calling him ‘Frank.’ Not much to go on.

It must’ve been frustrating, not only to Darlene but her siblings, cousins, and all their children and great grandchildren. It is very telling though, that instead of opening up to his children about his roots, his past, he clams up, not even trying to explain his actions to a group of inquisitive relatives who want to know. He never bothered to counter the rumors that flooded the family, that perhaps he was in trouble with the law, or perhaps he’d actually murdered someone and had to flee, and many other theories.

John Smith shut his mouth on the matter and didn’t attempt to shut up the people theorizing on his past in the worst way. This attitude really makes me think that indeed John Smith may have never been curious enough to return to his birthplace, a place he’d sworn off of, even once, to see how the folks were doing years after he disappeared.

I don’t think I could’ve lasted two years. Any man who could live a whole life surrounded by those rumors must’ve been stubborn. Stubborn enough to resist looking back. Stubborn enough to create his own family, a legacy where half of his children’s roots ended upon his shoulders, his shoulders alone, until 21st century technology would overthrow his decision and scratch that itch the Smith family would have for so many decades.


The Blessings of a Mother

Darlene’s mother had a profound effect upon Darlene’s spiritual life. This spiritual nurturance flowed through Darlene to affect her children, which affected their children, instilling in them a faith in God they all took seriously.

Darlene, as stubborn as her father, also carried with her into her marriage to Clyde, the driving force of her mother’s prayers. Having watched Clyde Best’s decline after his wife, Darlene’s death, I and others have realized how much she did keep the family unified under a Godly banner.

Grandma's Birthday 2008 6

Clyde, Don, Janice, Joyce and their families have grown up in the continual observance of God’s word, attempting to live out the responsibilities of Christian hood, and claiming all of the promises God offers. Yet Clyde and Darlene gave more than they took. They shielded their children as much as they could under a tent of love they built.

Did they make any mistakes in their efforts to bind their family together in safety? Yes, but I think their mistakes turned out in the end not to be so harshly judged. Their attempt was to keep their family safe, to shield them from the worries and realities of the world.

Joyce and I moved into this Park, into a manufactured home, immediately after Jan Fuller, Darlene’s eldest daughter had moved in; immediately we made an effort to move Clyde and Darlene into the home across the street from us in the park.  A few months later Darlene’s son Don Best, and his wife Sylvia, moved up from California to live in the same park just a few houses down from us.

People in the park refer to us as the ‘Best clan’.  I’m a part of the ‘Best clan’ too, I suppose. There’s almost no separation between families. All three of their children made sure they were only seconds away from their mother and father. When Darlene suffered from cancer, battling for her life for months, her son Don, his wife Sylvia, daughters Janice and Joyce, all stood next to their father Clyde in front of Darlene’s bed her last moments.

Darlene is gone, but her spirit is with her children. Though focused on taking care of their father, Clyde, they have not forgotten their mother.  Janice lost her husband, Doug, not too long after her mother’s death. Still her focus was put back into helping her father despite her own loss.

To me it is nothing short of a phenomenon that so could be tied together, bonded, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We share food, Wi-Fi, treat each other to movies, birthday dinners, popcorn and coffee. I’ve been part of the Best clan for twenty one years. There has always been an open door of welcoming, and it has only grown wider with time. I think much of this started with Darlene’s relationship with her mother, its intensity, its teaching, and its steadfast loyalty to Jesus Christ.

Darlene says of her mother concerning spiritual growth:

My mother had the greatest impact on me. Someone could do her terribly wrong and you could see the hurt and disappointment, but she never harbored hatred or resentment or bitterness about anything. Her sister would say and do awful things to her, and when her sister had surgery mom went over to help her out. I never one time saw my mother mistreat anyone, regardless how they had treated her. She literally loved everyone. She truly had the love of the Lord in her. She also had unwavering faith; sometimes I would get so discouraged, but she would be so positive; you just couldn’t stay negative with her around you.

Darlene’s words here may seem conversational, but to me they reveal a lot. First there is the obvious, “My mother had the greatest impact on me.” I’ve known Darlene to be very shrewd, and she only praises those who she believes to be very exceptional. So coming from her, this woman who raised her was near perfect.  This is quite a testimony to a woman cut of holy cloth who sacrificed herself to showing love toward others, even those who despised her in return.

Sounds like the savior in form of a wife and mother. Her life may be hidden somewhere in the dark past of poverty, but Darlene was a window for us to see her through.  “…she never harbored hatred or resentment or bitterness about anything…She truly had the love of the Lord in her. She also had unwavering faith…you just couldn’t stay negative with her around you.”

Makes me think of my own mother, Lorraine, who also lived for her Lord and savior.  That my mother died young is hard for me to accept, but at least she died having lived most of her life for Jesus and having passed her faith through her children also, as Darlene and her mother did.

Of course Darlene, born over two months premature, lungs undeveloped, small enough to fit into her mother’s hand, must have treasured her mother from the very beginning. She learned to depend on her mother for sustenance from the very beginning. Darlene was lucky to be in the large hands of a mother with such a nurturing spirit. The bond mother and daughter developed started with a weak, helpless two pound premature child in the warm hands of a woman determined to love everyone and never take advantage of the weak or the strong.

This dependence Darlene had on the spirit of her mother, her kind words, her inspiration, and her prayers for Darlene as she held her two pound baby carefully in her hands – all this warm giving brought Darlene to her own knees before God as she gifted her own children with her prayers.


Mother to Mother to Mother

Darlene looks back fondly at the time she spent with her mother; little knowing just how much her own children would remember her in a similar fashion:

It was always a tender day when mom and I was doing things together. It wasn’t like it is today, like the mother and child go out to a fast food restaurant; I helped mom to pick cherries. Mom always talked to me during this time. She would let me know how she appreciated my help, as the other girls would refuse. It was then, we seemed to have personal conversations. It always made my sisters mad because they resented me and didn’t like the idea that mom and I were very close at that time. She would tell me that God would reward me for helping, and the girls would resent me that much more. I was safe with mom.

Premature babies always have a hard time, because they start out with strikes against them already, like entering a race you’re not in shape for while everyone else has pushed themselves to get stronger to prepare for the race. But it was a race she had to run. Like everyone else, she had no choice in the matter, but got lucky with having a mother who loved her.

Darlene’s daughter Joyce, my wife, recounts her relationship with Darlene in an eerily similar manner, almost mirroring Darlene’s relationship with her own mom:

My relationship with my kids stemmed from my relationship with my mother and in her relationship with her mother. My mother (Darlene) was close to her mother growing up, but when her mother moved to Southern California, she didn’t see her as much.  There were years that they were apart. But then as we grew up, and I forget what year it was, but they ended at, I want to say in the 80s, moving grandma and grandpa up to Tulare. And mom, I don’t think there was a day that went by that she didn’t see her mother. I remember at the time thinking she had deserted us kids and she was with her mom every night. They would go out to dinner, and she absolutely loved being with her mother, and spending time with her. And then when her mother passed away it almost killed her. She was never the same after that. But we were always a close family, and mom always had dinners, and we always got together, as did Jan. We were just always close by living up here in Oregon. There was hardly a day went by that I didn’t see my mother. Actually, there hadn’t been hardly a day in my life I hadn’t been with my mother. Except for the time that they lived up to Oregon and we hadn’t moved to Oregon yet. Even then I was calling her every day. There’s definitely got to be in the upbringing the closeness and the need for family.  I’ve tried to instill that in my girls. I don’t see my girls every day that I feel I have a close relationship with them. If I went over there every day I’m sure that I could probably see them, but they also have their lives and their families.

It seems that Joyce has as many praises for Darlene as Darlene had for her mother. I know from what I’ve heard about genetics that the maternal link goes from daughter to daughter to daughter in a chain that is never broken as far a DNA goes. This means there is something physical passed on from mother to daughter that rarely changes, so this maternal heredity can be traced back countless generations.

It appears that the chain of daughter to mother as far as spiritual and relational matters go is also a tight bond. Joyce, as she enjoyed her mother’s love, experiences the love passed down from her grandmother through Darlene. It would be very interesting to follow that chain to its source, the one woman, probably hundreds of years ago, who decided to love the ones she was with.

Joyce continues on about Darlene:

I think just the closeness my mom had with her mom. We grew up around that. She always wanted to be a close family, and I guess just being in that atmosphere and growing up, I just desired the same thing. It was last Christmas I bought a bracelet that said, ‘family is everything’. It is, and I think a lot of times you can have friends, not that families can never disappoint you, but they normally stand closer than any friend. That’s true with my girls. I feel that I’m close to my girls. Sometimes I don’t feel as close as I would like to be to them. But I know it’s their time of life: Jenny’s raising two kids, and April’s trying to get her love life together and has a career, but she does still make an effort. She even said the other day that she told her boyfriend Tanner she needs to spend more time with her mother. I’m so glad that she feels that way.

Joyce also recounts the normal busy day:

Back in the day when I was working, mom would get up early in the morning and go to the bus barn and start her bus route. I would get up and get the girls ready and head over to dad’s house to drop the girls off. Then I would head to work. Mom would come in the mornings, and she might have a couple of hours at the house. She would interact with the girls and dad as she got some things done around the house, cleaning laundry, clean up. She would go back in the afternoon for her afternoon shift driving bus. Dad when, he was watching the girls, would fix a big lunch every day. I would get off at 1 o’clock for lunch, and usually mom was there and dad and we would have a big lunch. It was almost like dinner. He would bake a three-course meal. Sometimes he would even bake pies. Dad became Mr. Mom. And then mom would go back to work for her afternoon bus run. She’d return around 4:30 or 5, and then she’d help dad with the kids and do some work around the house. I would not get home until probably six or seven to pick the girls up.

Talk about a tough day, or one tough day after another. The inner workings of the Best family at that time, raising kids with help of extended family, grandpa making meals and babysitting, grandma pulling three school bus driving shifts day after day. All of it went like clockwork. This is a family that knew how to plan and how to help each other. And there always seemed to be a breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the works, usually one everyone loved.


A Rebel with a Class

When asked if she was a rebel and she was a teenager or if she did things her parents wouldn’t approved of, Darlene said,

I wish I could say that I was a perfect example, but I can’t. I made many mistakes, and of course we can all look back and say, “If I had to do that over again I would be different.  But we only get one chance.

Darlene had her chance, and she made the most out she could possibly do, more than most. She lived her life maybe not as if each day were the last, but as if each day were important. She was very conservative with their money. And just as she took care of her treasured possessions and her ‘children in her garden, she also took care of the precious moments God gave her.  She took life seriously, no doubt about that. She lived every day as if stepping forward into some kind of a purpose. Maybe we didn’t always know exactly what the purpose was, but she seemed to have an instinct for moving toward her goals.

Darlene was a teacher. She couldn’t take a question concerning her own actions, without delivering a lesson: that’s the Sunday school teacher in her. She knew she wasn’t a perfect example, but that didn’t make her not want to try. There’s moral lesson here she points out:

It is so important that adults keep our kids in our prayers. Because all we have to do is look back; like they say, hindsight is 20-20 vision. And we can now realize how easy it is to make mistakes. Some of them will follow us for the rest of our lives. It’s hard to see things that way when you young. If only we could see things like the young, then perhaps we would live our lives with more purpose. I think this is something Darlene realized early on, probably the seriousness of growing up under harsh circumstances. She had little money. She worked picking and chopping cotton and trying to make a penny stretch like a dollar. She learned, of course, that nothing is given to you, at least anything worth any value. To those who never learned that lesson, life seems to be a pity party.

2-6-13 snow (5) Mom & Dad's house

Click here for Part Two of A Biography of Darlene Best

4 thoughts on “Part I: A BIOGRAPHY OF DARLENE BEST

  1. I have read this post very fast, but on the whole I like it very much. You have paid a great homage to Darlene. I like this: “As a writer I’m used to creating characters on a timeline from birth to death.” This is precisely what Jonathan Franzen does in novels such as “Freedom” and “Purity”, the latter being the best novel I have read in the last months. First he presents a character and as readers we get to know why this person is or acts in a given way because of their past, and so the writer moves to the origin (even before that character’s birth). Thus we get to know this character in depth. After 100 pages or so a new character is presented, and after another 100 pages or so we learn about the relationship between those characters. Franzen’s novels move inward and outward (the character and his or her inner pysche and the relationship with the world outside. Then there is a second movement in Franzen’s novels, backward and forward, which is related to what you mean with “characters on a timeline from birth to death”. This is so brilliant. I should read this post of yours in greater detail later as my first impression tells me your writing also has this intention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your apt evaluation. I will have to ponder these comments. I guess revelation of character by getting to know them as adults and then going backward helps me as a writer to know my characters more in depth, as well as help the reader. My fiction is normally plot driven, but I believe character is of supreme importance to a work.

      Liked by 1 person

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