Remembering Thurman

Guest Contributor | Jesse Rutherford

“That was the scariest night of my life,” recalls Cliff Ashpaugh, now 42 years old and a successful IT/IS manager, about a rainy night in Cabazon, California.


He was 15, and his family had been torn apart and reshuffled like a deck of cards as his parents split up and his brothers moved back and forth to Los Angeles. In Cabazon with their mom, a certified nursing assistant, they often went four or five days without a proper meal while he was in high school, subsisting largely on coffee and tortillas.


That rainy night, his mother had tried to cross the Cabazon wash in her ailing Chevy Celebrity, and the car hadn’t been able to make it through the rising, rushing water and thick, sandy mud. Police and firefighters on bullhorns warned Cliff and others on the bank not to attempt a rescue; it was too dangerous. But he rounded up three or four neighbors with trucks and chains, and they pulled her and the car to safety.


“Why did you do that?” Cliff screamed at her.


“Because you guys hadn’t eaten,” she told him. “I had a trunk full of groceries.” 


It was one of the rare times she had the means to feed the four kids.


Despite her efforts, Cliff’s mother could not make ends meet. The family often borrowed gas money so she could drive to work. As a result, Cliff learned, in a sink-or-swim fashion, the basics of car repair. Add to this the fact that Cliff suffered from undiagnosed nearsightedness and struggled in school due to hunger. “It’s hard to study when you’re hungry,” he recalled.


Sadly, the second-oldest son, Thurman, took his own life at the young age of 16. Of all of the family was burdened with, hunger was possibly the least visible, and yet at times, was the most urgent.


When Cliff was just a teenager he took a minimum-wage job to help feed his family. Before his brother Thurman took his own life, Cliff remembers one of the last times he saw him: his brother was skinny and addicted to methamphetamines. At school one day, he asked Cliff if he had any food. With only ten dollars in his pocket, Cliff bought him two of everything that he could afford, hoping that it was enough.

School photo of Thurman Ashpaugh.

In Loving Memory

Thurman Ashpaugh

1977 – 1993


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