Donna Mae Clary-Barmes  (May 8, 1924 – June 27, 1992)

Donna Mae Clary. 1940

Today marks the anniversary of the passing of my maternal grandmother. One of the dearest, wittiest and most remarkable souls I have ever known.

Grandma Donna was the second child of John William Garrett Clary and Mary Belle Jones – Clary, both of Madison County, Indiana. Grandma Donna grew up in Boone Township, Madison County, Indiana near Summitville from where she graduated in 1940. She had an older brother, Ronald Monroe, who was killed from a fall from a horse at age 15 in 1936, and a younger sister, Joyce Ann Clary – Riser. Joyce currently lives in Alexandria, Indiana. My grandparents resided in Elwood, Indiana until 1973 when they took up residence near Lapel, Indiana in the home built by my great-grandfather (Virgil Barmes), grandfather, and great-uncle (Danny Joe Barmes).

In 1943, Donna married Leroy Barmes (1921-2004), and together they raised three children: Diana (1945), Ronald Dean (1952-1987), and Tommy Kent (1954). They were members of the Trinity Evangelical United Brethren Church of Elwood, Indiana and later Ford Street United Methodist church.

FOUR GENERATIONS: Mary Belle Clary, Darin, Diana, Donna. 1964

My grandmother was terribly witty, and loved a practical joke. Her smile and laughter were infectious, and her tenderness and understanding deep. As a small child, I was so fortunate to spend each day with her. Only 40 years old when I was born, she was still raising two sons at home who were 12 and 10. So, in many ways, she seemed like a second mother, and my uncles were more like older brothers. It was a unique situation in which to grow up, and one I shall always treasure. Not many grandchildren remember their grandparents’ 50th birthdays!

In 1978, Grandma was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia. The doctor said she would die withthe disease, not from it. The remaining years were filled with many family events that she never missed. Grandma and Grandpa were at every one of my band contests, and at least 90% of my college events. When I was doing the role of Joseph in JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, Grandma loved my long hair and curls, and would often sit in church withher hand on the back of the pew so she could play withmy curls. Following one of the performances as Joseph later on, she and I posed for a photograph with me wearing my technicolor dreamcoat- what is not seen in the photo is her hand around my back playing with the curls.

June 12th, 1992, I received an urgent telephone call from Dad telling me Grandma had collapsed at the dinner table the night before. She was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis where she was placed on life support. After exploratory surgery it was discovered she had colon cancer and there was no hope. Finally, the evening of June 26th, Mother made the painful decision to have the life support removed the following morning.

At 9:00am the following morning, the family gathered around Grandma’s bed. Once the life support was disconnected, we joined hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer. The attending nurse cautioned us that it could drag on for an hour or so. By 1:00pm, her heart was still beating strong. The family had a consultation with the doctor, and we agreed that he would increase her morphine drip, and remove her from the ventilator.

At 2:00pm, we gathered around her bed, the blood pressure began a sad, consistent decrease. At 2:15pm, I leaned over to say, “I love you. I’ll see you later… and remember, my first Tony Award is for you.” I then heard my cousin, Debbie, say, “She’s gone.”

Thus ended the life of one of the most beautiful people I have known in this life.

When I returned to Dayton that night, I went to my room and for some reason my eyes went to a table that contained several nick-knacks. On this table was an emerald frame and clock, gifts from my grandmother. The clock’s hands were stopped at 2:15. I had only replaced the battery the week before. The same battery remains in the clock, and the hands have not been changed in sixteen years.

However, today at 2:15pm, when I sit at the piano as I do each year to play Grandma’s favorite song, “Red River Valley,” I am going to replace the battery and set the clock moving again. I did this recently with a gold pocket watch given me by my Uncle Ron. When Uncle Ron was killed in June 1987, I never rewound the watch again. However, June 8th, 2008, I passed this watch on to my newest nephew and godson, Frederick Lee Haas, and before placing it in the bag, I rewound it. The watch was ticking away when I received it from my uncle, and it just seemed appropriate that it should be running when it was passed on to my own nephew.

I will always miss her, especially during those treasured family moments which she would have loved. But as I grow older, I realize, more and more, that so much of my grandmother (as well as my grandfather, and other beloved family and friends) is still with me. Now, it is up to me to carry on the torch, to strengthen the foundation, and to create even more wonderful memories for my son, my nephews and all those from this younger generation.

In some way, resetting the clock is a sense of moving on… but not forgetting.