Forgotten Americans: My friend Cliff

I met Cliff at the soup kitchen* at the Mathewson Street Methodist Church in Providence four years ago. We’ve always been friendly, and from time to time her would ask me to take his picture. I think this was more for a chance to connect as much as actually wanting a picture of himself. As is my custom, when I offered him his prints the following Sunday he would say, “No, man, I’ll get them later. I can’t carry them with these crutches.”  Like I said, photography was the excuse for us to talk.  

I asked Cliff if her would pose for my “Forgotten Americans” series  and he agreed. He’s been a guy who is always wants to please in spite of his rough  circumstances.  After I shot a few of him in front of the flag this Sunday he paused for about fifteen minutes to share some of his life story with me. He told me never knew his biological mother, instead was raised by foster parents from infancy. He repeated several times that has always considered his foster parents his real “Mother and Father.” He said they were very good to him. He mentioned he loved to read and that he had one year at BCC but dropped out, “One year was all I could take.” He admitted he became involved with drugs and alcohol in his early twenties and got in trouble with the law. He shrugged his shoulder even as he conceded, “Alcohol has probably ruined my life.” 

He has been on those crutches in this picture since his early thirties, battling a bone disease called avascular necrosis. It has left him crippled and in constant pain. Three surgeries haven’t helped. Still, he keeps hoping for a cure. He’s been off and on homeless for the last twenty years. He told me once the state got him housing on the third floor of an apartment building with no elevator.  He said, “I  had to give it up. I could’t get up the stairs carrying groceries with my crutches…” But through it all, Cliff manages to keep smiling.  I asked him if I could post his picture on Instagram and Face Book. He flashed that smile of his and answered, “Sure, man, what the hell, go for it!” as he hobbled away.

  • The Mathewson Street United Methodist Church supports a soup kitchen called the Sunday Friendship Breakfast where 200 men, women and children get a good hearty breakfast as well as friendship and some spiritual guidance every Sunday morning. Cliff has been coming as long as my wife, Kathy, and I, going on five years. They do good works!. Make a donation here: