By Rene’ Locklear White, Lumbee/Cherokee
Friends recently gathered to celebrate the life of Berryville resident Cletus Jay Black Jr., age 70, who passed over last month at the Winchester Medical Center after a miracle life (Aug. 11, 1949 – Sept. 18, 2019). Cletus was more than a warrior. Dear husband to Trina. Loved father to his children. Cletus was a bear of a man — spiritual, handyman, winning raffle-ticket-seller, jokester, jack-of-all trades, caregiver, die-hard shark-tooth hunter and a real gentleman who loved everybody.
Cletus was an amateur “antiquarian.” He collected ancient artifacts without fancy scientific archaeology. His excavating and preservation standards included time with friends. “During a trip to Shark Tooth Island, Cletus used archeology to educate me about spiritual matters,” shared Will Dellinger. “We tied off the boat and within two steps Cletus found artifacts. At low tide by the cliffs my searching showed no promise. I told Cletus, ‘It looks like I don’t have much luck.’ And that’s when Cletus said, ‘All you have to do is be one with the Lord.’” “As I walked away, I prayed and gave thanks. Within minutes the rarest artifacts came into focus,” said Will. “I leaned over and picked up half of a Charcharocles Megalodon Shark tooth (the largest known predator in Earth’s history). I gave thanks, turned around, looked towards Cletus, then looked down and picked up the matching half. I cried. Cletus laughed, ‘Now you have the hang of it.’”
Cletus shared with thousands of people. “We will miss his rich stories, ancient treasures and his gentle and giving Spirit,” said Jen Stone, co-director of the Bluemont Fair. Cletus had an enduring ability to transcend cultures; a human thread woven into our lives. The very ribbons on his traditional Native American ribbon-shirt symbolized prayers for the children and elders. He was a giving giant. “Cletus volunteered at ‘The Gathering’ and ‘Indian Village’ with us,” said Chris White of Cherokee and René White Lumbee, co-founders of Sanctuary on the Trail. “One time after an event, Cletus approached us in full tears. A mother had searched all day for Cletus to thank him for giving her little son a small rock the previous year. Her son had died and carried Cletus’ gift until the end.”
Even though Cletus did not have social media or email, Facebook blessings came in from around the country: “Condolences to Cletus’ family, he was such a special man;” “He was one of the most beautiful and knowledgeable people I’ve ever known;” “Until we meet again;” “Safe travels;” and “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.” Cletus had a way of turning on people’s spiritual light switch. Cletus knew secrets. He knew love transcends races; hope is a small pebble; and if you believe, by faith you will find treasures. “Cletus used bones and stones as instruments of love,” said Chris. “He had a big heart and wasn’t afraid to use it. Cletus was of the New Tribe. He was a child of God/an Indian (los ninos de la endeo) and an Israelite. What an honor to witness Cletus ignite the shine in others.”
The night Cletus passed over a local friend said she had a beautiful dream with a spiritual message she thinks was about Cletus. “It was almost dark, and I looked, and it was a white owl in the (Shenandoah) river,” said Tracee McClaughry Wink. “There was a man digging a trough for water. The white owl was right in front of me in the water. The owl looked up at me, rose up and flew straight up out of the water.” Owls can see what others cannot. Like a wise night eagle, Cletus flew into our lives. Now he has flown back home.
As military taps played, the sun set and the “daughters of the stars” (Shenandoah) shined over Cletus’ resting place. Cletus’ wife Trina thanked the hundreds of people who supported Cletus’ visitation, ceremonies and burial celebration. Special thanks to the Enders & Shirley Funeral Home in Berryville, St. Bridget of Ireland Catholic Church for the funeral service, Berryville Baptist Church for the memorial service and fellowship dinner, and Cool Spring Natural Cemetery for the burial, and local VFW and American Legion for the military honors provided by the Clarke County Honor Guard.