We must have met for the first time at John Muir school in San Bruno, when I was in the 4th grade and Chuck was in fifth. He was Charlie then, Charlie Cline.
Before I met him, Chuck had had polio. Those were the days before we all lined up outside a local school to be given a vaccine-infused sugar cube. Just like that, one of the scourges of generations was gone. The illness left one of Chuck’s legs withered, but not his spirit. Never his spirit.
Maybe we didn’t meet in school, maybe it was at a local playground, because what I remember about Chuck from those days was that we played sports together. Not organized sports, but daylong neighborhood games of basketball or baseball, one of the ways we would fill day upon day in summers before organized camps and travel teams in time so removed from now as to feel tinged in sepia.
We played sports through high school just for the fun of it. We played even a year or two after, Chuck playing 1st Base on a rec league softball team. Chuck couldn’t run fast or jump, but he held his own and he never talked about his leg as if it was a hindrance or that he required special consideration. In fact, he didn’t talk about it all. Neither did we. Not out of any kindness. We didn’t think of Chuck as anything other than just like the rest of us. And he was, of course.
As we got older and started high school, Chuck developed into a highly talented guitarist and singer with a warm and sweet tenor voice. With two other good friends, Steve Rapalus and Ernie Sandoval, they formed a folk group, The Townsmen, and they played local gigs and school events and they were very good. Chuck remained a lifelong devotee of The Kingston Trio and Gordon Lightfoot. Chuck’s love of music was infectious and undoubtedly genetic – his sister also was an accomplished singer. By the end of high school, Chuck was voted Most Talented by his classmates, one of those senior year awards – Best Couple, Most Likely to Succeed — that rarely foretell an accurate future. In Chuck’s case, it was spot on.
Chuck made an award-winning career and a life out of music, performing with other groups and solo, often getting gigs at local night spots such as the Purple Onion. He recorded extensively, often writing his own music.
He was an avid Bay Area sports fan and his Facebook page includes a photo of Chuck singing the national anthem before a Giants game at Candlestick Park, which he said was a highlight.
The last several years have included some tough health issues, complicated surgeries. But he was always – it’s impossible to exaggerate this – always upbeat and positive and optimistic. He usually came out of the hospital praising the staff and the care they gave him. His optimism was native – there was nothing forced about it. One of those online quizzes scored him 220 percent passionate. He was a dedicated Christian in the best sense. He was kind and loving and cared about others and was a soul at peace, forgiving of his friends’ foibles and flaws.
It’s hard to know whether his faith was a natural extension of who he was, or whether who he was led naturally to his faith. It doesn’t really matter, I suppose.
As his health issues mounted and it became more difficult for him to move around, Chuck became a poster boy for the positive value of Facebook. It was his community, how he stayed in touch. He would post astonishingly beautiful scenery pictures, just because they were beautiful and he thought people would like to see them. He posted jokes and photos from his life and photos of friends and family. He would send holiday greetings. And always, he would post music – by The Kingston Trio, by groups, that carried on their tradition, by Gordon Lightfoot and by himself. In an era when social media seems to give license to every negative impulse, Chuck never said a negative or critical word about anyone. His friends came to look forward to the next picture he would post. They were always beautiful. So was Chuck.
I’m sure by now you can tell from the tone and the verb tense what’s coming. Chuck Cline died Monday night shortly after being diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, his family standing vigil over this warm and wonderful and kind soul who never wore his courage on the outside. A life will lived. A life well loved.
Contact Mark Simon at firstname.lastname@example.org.