Friday, October 17, 2008

Ray Wood: April 17, 1970-October 15,2008


Ray
I can’t remember when I first met Ray. It feels like he’s just always been there. Just there...in my life, a phone call away, ready to talk, laugh, debate, gossip, philosophize, reminisce...
I know it was sometime in junior high...we were 12 or 13, in the same grade in school and in the same Sunday School class at church. I was probably attracted to his wild side first – I always loved excitement, and Ray provided a flood of it -- but it was his humor and his intuitive intelligence that grabbed me and held on.


That was 25 years ago.

Back then we would sit together during Wednesday night youth group at church, Ray and I and sometimes Joe Shay Cook, and the mischief would start. Wade Ward, our youth group teacher, was patient with us. Then again, Wade counsels juvenile delinquents for a living.


We would leave youth group and go see a rated R movie or drive real fast over Thrill Hill or try to find Three-Legged Lady Road. For a while, we dared each other to go into the old, run-down house where it was said that Satan worshippers made sacrifices. Ray and I went in there one night, holding hands and tiptoeing. Now that I think of it, Ray probably made up the Satan worshipper story just to thrill me.


Wade led our youth group on our first backpacking trip into Bankhead National Forest. Several of us left the campsite at bed time to venture into the night. We were going to try and find the nearby river, I think. I was just along with Ray for the fun. We finally found water and we all perched on top of a huge boulder and conducted a seance. We tried to channel Hitler from the dead. It didn’t work, thank God. We were Christians, after all. Just naughty Christians. God was still looking out for us.


We went to youth rallies and flirted with kids from the other youth groups. We went on retreats and broke the rules. We sneaked around the church when no one was watching and slid on the slick floors in our sock feet. And we laughed and laughed.


Finally we turned 15 and got our drivers licenses and the adventures got a little bigger. Ray and I would drive around town looking for little-known spots. We called it "‘splorin.’" And we ‘splored alleys downtown, strange backroads, and more so-called haunted houses.


We found a vending machine outside some lumber yard or something that sold cold beer for 50 cents a piece.


One night we climbed to the very top of the trestle that stretches over the Tombigbee just out of town. It was dark as black, and Ray dropped a burning cigarette from the top and we watched its embers fall, fall, fall all the way down to the water. I was thrilled, delighted. He loved to delight me.

Another night, we went skinny-dipping under that same trestle with a few other friends. But we were very modest and discreet. Otherwise, it would have been incestuous.


We fought off boredom once by tromping around downtown until we found a pull-down ladder behind a building and climbed up. We decided to have a picnic there on top of the building the next weekend. It became our regular picnic spot for a while, where we would hang out above the street lights, looking down on the heart of our city, thinking we were pretty clever. Laughing. We were always laughing.


We would lie on our bellies in the floor of my bedroom and make up poetry together. One line I can remember said, "colorless rainbows filled the sky." We wrote page after page and giggled for hours.


He made himself at home in our house, because he had become family. My parents love him as if he were their own. In a way, he was theirs.


He loved hanging out with my dad. Ray called him "Papa Rog." They spent many hours together in my dad’s shop talking about God-only-knows-what. They called it "dippin’ and cussin.’"
We danced . Boy could Ray dance. The man had moves that betrayed the initial impression he gave. To see Ray walk, a sort of lope-a-dope, lunging sway like a lumber jack, you would never expect that he could move his body to music like he could. He could groove like no other.


Ray and I spent a lot of time with other high school misfits, like Susan Franklin, Chip Lemmonds, Chris Yarbrough, Anthony Atkins, Candie Holder, Jeff Peterson...


We made friends with each other’s romantic interests. My boyfriends learned quickly that we were going to spend time with Ray. They usually didn’t mind. He made them laugh, too.


Senior year came and I was elected Homecoming Queen. I had to choose an escort for the festivities. In my mind, there was no other choice but Ray. I had other friends, but he was my closest, most true friend. No one knew me like Ray. And no one loved me like Ray.


When I announced that Ray would be my escort, a few teachers tried to change my mind. They didn’t want the homecoming queen being escorted by a student that smoked cigarettes in the parking lot before school. And didn’t play sports. And didn’t care too much about grades. And was known to be a partyer. I wouldn’t budge, of course. And I hated those two or three teachers for flinging around their empty judgment, for their lack of depth. I hated them for not being willing to recognize the beauty, the radical love that was not so far underneath Ray’s care-free surface.


It was Ray and me against the world, or so we fantasized. We were a team. ‘Til death do us part.


The more reckless we got, the more of my protector he became.


We went on our senior trip together to Panama City, Florida. Melanie Williamson and I took off down the beach with some cute boys we met. Ray stayed up half the night walking the strip and the beach looking for us until he found us.


He made sure he knew where I was at all times during a party, he kept me away from situations, people, rooms at parties -- anywhere he thought I didn’t belong.


Everyone who knew Ray knows he loved Jim Beam and Coke, and always stirred his mixture with his index finger. It was the same finger he used to push his glasses up on his nose. The same one that held his Marlboro Reds against his middle finger.


He loved music and broke out in song whenever a word or phrase he heard would remind him of a song. I did it, too, and it became a life-long game between us, like so many inside jokes, stupid sayings and pet names.


We went to a few Grateful Dead Shows together. We went camping and back packing together. We went waterskiing together. I went off to college, and he came up on weekends, or I came home and brought friends and we’d hang out with Ray. He had a real job, and I was his date to his work Christmas party for several years straight. His workmates teased us. They didn’t get it.


I moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 1993. Ray came to visit that winter. I was learning to snowboard and I made him go to the ski hill with me. I was always talking him into doing stuff that he really didn’t want to do. I don’t know why he liked me.


Anyway, we got our boots and boards and bundled ourselves up against the cold and headed for the bunny sloped. We hopped on the lift and road it to the top. We edged to the front of our seats, preparing for the descent, when suddenly, we fell and rolled and fluttered and floundered until we wound up in a tangled mess just under the lift. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. Ray was mad. The lift was stopped and people were yelling for us to get up and get out of the way, but I couldn’t quit laughing and Ray couldn’t figure out how to get untangled from me and my snowboard.


When we finally righted ourselves and I could breathe normally again, Ray unclasped his snowbaord, put it under his arm and marched down the hill cussing the lift, the snow, the snowboard, me... He walked directly to the bar where he stayed the rest of the day, swearing he’d never touch a snowboard again.


I moved to Missoula to finish college, Ray met Jackie and got married. I met Jamie and got engaged. Ray and Jackie had a baby. I was planning my wedding and I asked Ray if he would be in it.


He said, "I hate to tell you, but don’t think I’d look too pretty in a bridesmaid dress. It might ruin your pictures."


I assured him he could wear a tux if he would still be my bridesmaid. He agreed to do it.
He brought baby Anna to the wedding and we swooned over her. I was so proud that Ray was a Daddy. But not as proud as he was. For the next 12 years I listened to him brag and brag and brag about Anna and Georgia. He beamed with pride over his girls. He’d say they were "tough," "whip smart," he’d say. "May baby" did this and "My baby" did that.


My husband loved him immediately. My kids love him, too.


I had to tell them the day he died that I would be going to Mississippi for a few days because something has happened.


Caroline, my 8-year-old, said, "Why are you sad, Mom, did somebody die?"

I said, "Yes, Sweetheart. Ray died this morning."

She thought for a few minutes about it and then she said, "Mom? Did Ray love Jesus?"

"Yes," I told her, "He loved Jesus a lot."

"Then he’s in Heaven and we should be happy, right?"

"Yes, Caroline. You are absolutely right," I told her.

"Well we’ll see him when we get there. So be happy," she said.

So I told her, "You are right, but I’m still going to miss him a lot until then."

She thought about that for a little while, and then she said, "Is it like when I lost Googie?"

I laughed a little. Googie was her security blanket she’d had since she was born. Googie, whom she referred to as a "he," was lost last year, and she wandered around for weeks feeling lost. A year later, she still misses Googie and includes him in her prayers.

And I thought about that, and I said, "Yea, Caroline. It’s a lot like losing your Googie."













2 comments:

chris said...

That was a good read. You had a special thing with him. I hate that I wasn't able to make it to Miss. Maybe we can chat more about that later. I need your email address!
crystoph@hotmail.com

Chris Taleff said...

It is a lovely thing when a person can be remembered with a humor that makes you cry. very nice post.