Flashing a warm smile, Darcy Clark embraces new adventure with curiosity and optimism. When she was but 18, this enthusiastic attitude led her to travel the country and work a variety of unusual jobs.
Raised and educated in Tupper Lake, Darcy graduated from high school in 1981 and went on to Herkimer County Community College. Her youth and exuberant personality left her impatient with classroom demands.
"I wasn't ready for college," she now says.
Darcy Clark and her dog Cooper at home in Tupper Lake
(Photo — Caperton Tissot)
Ready to spread her wings, she left after one semester, traveling to San Diego, Calif., where her older sister lived. She quickly fell in love with the ocean, the gorgeous weather, the excitement and a young man. Not that the adjustment was easy.
Coming from a small village, she found it difficult to use buses for transportation. Navigating the metro system was so confusing that a trip that would normally take an hour took her four. She landed an office job with an insurance agency but found two years of that was enough. She said it was quite an experience but paled in comparison to her next adventures.
She and her then boyfriend moved to Longmont, Colo. for a change of pace. They found jobs at a feedlot. For those who have never seen them, feedlots are where cattle are herded tightly together in great rectangular corrals and fattened up for the slaughterhouse. The smell is atrocious, the conditions brutal. She said she got an education there that she could never have obtained in school. A house and vehicle came with the job, but that was the good part. She had to learn how to drive front loaders, load trucks, then drive the large feed trucks to the lots.
Darcy, always an animal lover, said she was shocked by the cruel treatment of the cattle. Calves born in winter were left outside to freeze; cows were beaten across the face with whips and planks until they lost their eyesight; sick cattle were dragged onto the trucks to be processed at the slaughterhouse, the branding was highly painful for the animals.
It "really hurt my feelings," she said, adding that she refused to have anything to do with such abuse. Eventually, an investigation led to the closing down of the lot and the meat packing plant it supplied.
The next job she landed was grinding hay for cattle. This work entailed manually lifting heavy bales of hay (sometimes full of snakes and rodents) onto a front-loader, then driving the front-loader to the hay grinder and dumping in the hay. Tough as the work was, she enjoyed being outdoors, driving the heavy equipment and hanging out with the guys and one other girl. Darcy said she and her boyfriend were extremely poor at this time. Their only transportation was a dirt bike, on which they rode the dusty roads to the nearest market, with Darcy perched on the back, trying to hold on and at the same time clutching plastic bags full of groceries.
Meals rarely varied night after night: macaroni and cheese with hotdogs. To earn enough money, they had to pawn everything they owned: blenders, vacuums, fans, etc. "We were poor-poor-poor," she recalls, "but I was also young and didn't think anything of it."
After a year of this, she moved back to San Diego, Calif., and then decided to return to Tupper Lake. She separated from her boyfriend, but not from her new pet, Jake, a Labrador mix who returned east with her.
For the next several years, Darcy, like so many in the Adirondacks, pieced together an assortment of jobs. She worked at the Oval Wood Dish, the Grand Union, Ames Department Store, Bob's Steak House and Sunmount, to name a few. Sometimes she held down as many as four jobs at a time, but says she never felt she had it any harder than those around her.
In 1991, a friend suggested she learn to be a dog groomer. Loving animals so much, Darcy thought this idea worth a try, and indeed, it proved the right decision. She traveled to Rochester for four months of training, after which she opened her own dog grooming business in Tupper Lake. Dog grooming allowed her to help keep animals healthier (unlike her earlier job) and set her own work hours.
She then married Stacey Clark, also from Tupper Lake, and had a son, Colton in 1994 and a daughter, Delanie, in 1999.
She said she moved her dog grooming business several times, but none of the locations worked out well until she and her husband bought a home. She said they chose the home because it had an outside entrance directly into a large room in which she could set up her dog grooming business.
Darcy was able to stay home with her young children and still earn money as a groomer. In 2005, after 14 years of successfully running the business, a good friend approached her and said, "Let's go back to college."
"For what?" asked Darcy.
"For X-ray technology," replied the friend.
"OK," said Darcy. And just like that, up for yet another adventure, she enrolled at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake. The timing was fortuitous because, being self-employed, she had begun to worry about the lack of health insurance and paid vacation. About this time, she and her husband divorced. Suddenly, at age 41, Darcy was a single mom trying to raise two young children, run a business and return to the classroom. She said it took her three years to complete the course. She worked long hours and studied intensely but made the dean's list her very first semester and graduated in June of 2008.
"It was hard," she recalls, "the hardest thing I have ever done, but it was also the best thing I ever did for myself. It was rewarding."
Today, Darcy works per diem at the Adirondack Medical Center and the Canton-Potsdam Hospital. She is temporarily on leave while she recovers from surgery for a rotator cuff injury. Ever resourceful, she also runs a tuxedo rental business.
She is also devoted to her children. Colton, now 15, is heavily involved in sports. Delanie, 9, has already decided to become a veterinarian, she said. As demands on her time begin to ease, Darcy said she looks forward to once more having a motorcycle, something she enjoyed riding in her earlier years.
Proud of her children, she is happy to have shown them that, no matter how hard life can be, with a little determination much can be accomplished.
"What doesn't break you makes you stronger," she says with a smile. "Now I look back and laugh. I have good memories that give me a better perspective on life. My experience makes me appreciate everything I have. It hasn't always been easy but I have no regrets and no resentments. I've learned a lot and I'm just glad for it all."
Based on an interview with Darcy Clark. Caperton Tissot can be reached at Tissot@SnowyOwlPress.com.