A Facebook post reminded me that today is the ninth anniversary of the passing of a friend and former colleague – Cliff Polland.
He had been ill, but far too young to die. He left behind many family and friends who continue to miss him to this day.
I recall that day quite clearly. Cliff had failed to come in to work at The Reporter in Vacaville, Calif., where he had been a photographer for years and years. His boss and a close friend of mine, Reporter photo editor Rick Roach, was concerned. He had tried to call Cliff, but with no reply. Rick wanted me to go with him to nearby Winters where Cliff lived with a German shorthaired pointer named Lucy. They lived in a cool two-bedroom home a couple of blocks from downtown Winters.
We drove there in Rick’s pickup barely saying a word to one another. We knew that Cliff had been ill – in-and-out of the hospital ill – for a while and we knew there could be too many terrible reasons why he didn’t make it in to work or answer Rick’s calls.
We each had a key to Cliff’s house – I would house- and dog-sit when Cliff was out of town and Rick had one because they were buds and also checked on things if Cliff was away.
I still carry my key on my keychain to this day.
We arrived, knocked on the door, and Rick used a key to let us in when there was no reply. But he immediately backed out of the house.
“He’s in there. He’s dead,” I seem to recall Rick saying as he struggled to catch his breath.
I had him repeat it, because I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. I asked where exactly. He was in a living room chair he had crafted.
We could hear Lucy inside and we knew it would be better to get her out of the house and into Rick’s pickup before police and other officials arrived. Dogs, of course, can be protective of their people and homes and we didn’t want her to react in a way that would cause officers to pull their weapons, as we had reported upon before in other circumstances.
She wouldn’t come out the front door, the one next to where Cliff sat in his chair. So, I went around to the back to a garage door I knew would be either unlocked or rickety enough for me to bust open. I was able to call Lucy through her dog door leading to the kitchen of Cliff’s house and ran my belt through her collar to fashion a leash to lead her to the front and to Rick’s pickup.
Rick called the local police to report the death and not long afterward two officers and an ambulance arrived.
We left a short time later to begin letting the world know that Cliff was dead. Those phone calls over the next day or so were difficult and I wouldn’t wish any of it on anyone.
As the assistant news editor in charge of special sections at The Reporter at the time, I wrote about Cliff in my next column a few days later. That was not an easy thing, either, writing about the death of a friend and colleague. A few months later I wrote another column in which I mentioned Cliff’s death. Below are those columns.
(I believe I also wrote another column, one on his memorial service a few months later – Hawaiian shirts, good stories, cigars and more. It was a great way to remember Cliff. I cannot for the life me find that column. – KM)
Never good time for this
I hate writing these kinds of columns. I’ll never become accustom to it. Never.
I spent the better part of Monday helping in a very unpleasant task.
Longtime Reporter photographer Cliff Polland died over the weekend and I helped notify former Reporter employees and friends of the sad news.
Cliff’s obituary on Tuesday made mention of his professional achievements and gave a rundown of his career as a photographer.
But Cliff was more than a photographer.
He was restoring an old Porsche, piece by piece. Some of the parts, no longer available elsewhere, had to be sought out over the ’Net; some had to be manufactured. He was a mechanic, automobile historian and sports car restorer.
He loved music – jazz and blues – and could play guitar. He owned a couple of electric guitars and not long ago he picked up an acoustic guitar. So he was a music enthusiast and guitarist.
He loved fishing. He loved camping. There were fishing rods in nearly every corner of his Yolo County home. Camping gear in the remaining corners. So he was a fisherman and camper.
He loved making wines and beer. So he was a winemaker and brewmaster.
He liked tequila. So he was a tequila drinker, too.
He had a dog, Lucy. Lucy is energetic, to say the least, but a sweet dog.
She stayed by Cliff’s side after he died and had to be coaxed out of the house. I believe the joy he received in owning Lucy added years to his life.
He was a dog owner.
Cigars were another of his joys. Cheap ones, expensive ones. It didn’t matter much. He loved them while fishing or camping or just sitting around his home reading. So he was a cigar enthusiast.
He painted with watercolors. He painted fish – trout. So he was a painter.
He built furniture. He died sitting in a chair he made a few years ago. He was a furniture maker.
Friends gathered Monday night to reminisce. We poured Cliff a shotglass of tequila and lighted a cigar for him. We kept it burning until it was gone.
Then we lighted another. More than once during the evening, someone said Cliff was probably looking down at us shaking his head at the carryings-on.
He was modest, too.
He was more than a photographer. He was a friend.
The author, a former Vacaville resident, was the assistant news editor in charge of special sections for The Reporter when this column first appeared in The Reporter on March 21, 2001.
My ‘Gone fishin’ sign is out
By the time most of you read this, I will be long gone.
Oh, I hear the minstrels tuning their harps and people rushing to dance in the streets.
But don’t be so quick to rejoice. I’m only on vacation; I’ll be back next week.
By the time most of you have rubbed the sleep from your eyes, have caught the first refreshing whiffs of coffee, and made your way outdoors to fetch The Reporter from the bushes, I’ll be on my way to a piece of heaven in the Sierra Nevada.
My chariot this fine day is a forest green Chevy pickup loaded with camping gear and towing a fishing boat, also loaded with camping gear. My companions this fine day are my best friend for the past decade or so – who happens to be married to another of my best friends – and a German shorthaired pointer named Lucy.
We are running point for a biannual camping excursion that dates back 12 years. Some 30 or so others will follow, but we will be the first to take in the mountain air, the first to set up camp and the first to dip our lines in the upper of two very fine trout lakes with grand, glacier-capped mountains looking down on our every move.
And at night, with all of us gathered around a roaring campfire and mesmerized by its flickering orange, red and blue dance, we’ll renew friendships, partake in camping traditions better not discussed in a family newspaper, and each of us will at some point wish that the moment would stand still for all eternity. “Strangers” come along with us on these camping trips, but leave lifelong friends. It’s the way it’s been for a dozen years or so.
The bittersweetness, however, is that for the first time in a half-decade we’ll be without our friend, Cliff Polland. Lucy is – was – his dog. Now she stays with my best friends and their family, but I think, at least a little, she belongs to all of Cliff’s friends.
Cliff’s birthday would have been on Monday. We would have celebrated while camping, giving him goofy gifts, like a camouflaged baseball batting cap with dual beer can holder mounted on top with drinking tube.
We’re brewing some beer to bring with us, using some of the equipment Cliff once used. It’ll be a fine brew for a fine camping trip.
He’ll be there in spirit, at least, and having a good ol’ time along with us.
The author, a former Vacaville resident, was the assistant news editor in charge of special sections for The Reporter when this column first appeared in The Reporter on May 23, 2001.