Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Mother's Memories

Here we are again at an anniversary of my boy’s death. After receiving some poignant notes from friends and calls from Andy Waltrip and Susan Findley, I’m doing really well this year, though a couple of days ago, I didn’t know how I would handle July 2.

Since I found writing so cathartic a year ago, I decided earlier to write again this year. But since I reminisced about Melonheads and gigs last year, I didn’t know what I wanted to write. If you’ve read anything on my blog lately, you’ll know that I used pieces that I wrote years ago on my mother’s birthday (she’d have been 100 this year) and on Father’s Day. I still liked those pieces, and it made me happy to post them for all to read. They were parts of my autobiography, and very few people have read that volume.

What did I have that would do Jay justice? Aha! THE JAY BOOK. Some of you may remember that beautiful book that Angela Hinkley masterminded and Wendy provided photographs for. Some of you contributed stories about Jay for it. Only Angela, Wendy, and Frank know, though, that I wrote my part of the book after we received it. It was sort of a “thank you” to Angela. I loved writing it in December 1992, so I decided to copy it here, with a few deletions and additions. I don’t think Angela will mind.

I must warn you ahead of time that it’s VERY long, so don’t feel obliged to read it in its entirety. The pictures in the memory are all either scanned or taken up close with Wendy's digital camera. She works miracles with old photos! By the way, if you click on the photos, they will enlarge. Here are some of my favorite memories of my boy . . . your relative or friend. I hope you never forget him! No chance that I will . . . If, as you read, you feel that I'm talking to someone besides you, remember that I am -- to Angela Hinkley, one of Jay's very best friends.


First of all, I can’t write A memory of Jay, just as some who wrote about him in THE JAY BOOK couldn’t. I’ll begin with a couple of memories of Jay before he arrived, and then I’ll proceed through a few that are not necessarily the most important ones or ones that others will remember, but they are ones that keep coming back to me. Though my recollections are long, They won’t be exhaustive, but they'll give you a little flavor of Jay and his mom. Let’s see . . . maybe I’ll title the periods for you . . .


Jay’s determination was evident even at this time. You have to know at the outset that Wendy arrived in this world pretty much when we planned for her. That’s not to say that she’s predictable now, but her arrival was. Jay, however, began his unpredictability early. We knew, just as with Wendy, when we wanted to have him. He, however, had other plans. He waited until I had just settled into the job of my dreams before he let us know that he was on the way. Wouldn’t you agree that he did things in his own time frame during the part of his life that you knew? To further illustrate his behavior, he wasn’t due until around the 20th of February in 1968, but since my doctor was going to be off duty at that time, he came on February 10, my dad’s birthday, so that Dr. Girouard could deliver him and so that he’d have a real “in” with Papa, since Wendy was the only light of his eyes at the time.


I remember that he loved me right from the start. You see, I was his only source of nourishment. He came into this world fascinated with a certain part of my anatomy. Hmmmm . . . I wonder if that had anything to do with later interests . . . Shame on me! Of course not! Anyway, he just about wore me out. He’d nurse on and off all day long, with short periods in between feedings, and then just when I’d be certain that I’d get a long nap around midnight, he’d be yelling for me again. Needless to say, we developed quite a relationship right then. We talked a lot during the night. He’d just look at me as though I were the only important person in the world. He always had a special look for me, but there were lots of other important people later in his life. I remember that I worried so much because he wouldn’t eat “real” food, but the doctor assured me that if he continued to gain weight at the rate that he was going, he would weigh fifty pounds when he was a year old. I quit worrying. Eventually, he ate, but he never “lived to eat,” as some of us do, did he? Many other vignettes are flitting through my mind, like the time Wendy and I ran all over town letting pharmacists look at the weird spot on Jay’s cheek because I was convinced it was ringworm, only to be told finally that it ws a mark left by his pacifier while he napped. Talk about stupid! I don’t think I was the best mother in the world. Onward . . .

Here's a family picture from Jay's baby days and Wendy's little girl days. Frank and I were considerably younger then, too.


I suppose Jay’s life really began when we moved to Pensacola because he had no memories before that time. The only house that he could ever remember our living in is this one. This was truly home to Jay. (A later memory which I’m afraid I’ll forget to mention is of Jay, running from room to room when he returned after being gone for seven months to New York, shouting, “My house! My house!” It still is his house.) Wendy can probably remember some specifics about Jay as a child in Pascagoula, but nothing comes to my mind right now. But I do have a few (!) memories of his childhood in Pensacola.

He did not like for me to leave him when I went to work each morning. Can you imagine how I felt each day when I left him squalling either with a maid here at home or at the baby-sitter’s house? I guess he got over his attachment by the time that we began to leave him at Children’s World. He really liked it there. That was before the times of having to be so careful about day care centers. Anyway, it was a good one. I recall, though, that he didn’t like taking a nap with the other children, and the teacher would put him in a room by himself. Independent little kid! Actually, some of the children misbehaved during nap time, and it scared him to hear the teachers yelling at them.

I almost enrolled him in one of the Pensacola Christian day care centers; however, when I investigated and found that if he talked on the bus, he wouldn’t get any dessert at lunch, I changed my mind. That probably wouldn’t have been too much punishment for him, though, since he never did care much for sweets. But can you imagine anyone’s trying to squelch Jay’s talking? We used to have to tell him that we had to play the quiet game during meals at home because he’d still be sitting there talking when Wendy and Frank and I had finished eating. Some things don’t change, do they?

A man named Dale Godbold used to work in our store. His brother died, and Jay heard us talking about someone named Godbold having passed away. You can imagine Jay’s surprise when Dale walked into the store a couple of days later when we were there. Jay turned to him in complete consternation and said, “Why, Mr. Godbold! I thought you died!” Yep . . . even back then, he said what was on his mind.

This is one of my favorite memories. I guess he must have been around five, and evidently he and his dad had had a “misunderstanding” about Jay’s using something of Frank’s. Anyway, we (Jay and I) were riding down Pine Forest Road when he announced that he was going to be a fireman when he grew up (Never anything ordinary for him!) and that he and his wife would have about twelve children. He’d take his fire truck home at night, and he’d let his children climb all over it. I said that that was nice and asked him if he knew that those children would be my grandchildren. Of course, he knew that. Then came the great question . . . “Will you bring your little children to see me, Jay?” A slight pause . . . and then, “Oh, Ma, you plolly be dead by then!” This is one of my best stories of Jay. I love it. It’s a real mother’s story, don’t you think? That’s really the order in which things should happen, but they don’t always.

And a picture of Jay with the Jolly Old Elf . . .

That’s enough for this period in Jay’s life . . .


Days at Beulah School! What wonderful years! I loved it out there. Everything was so much more peaceful than it was at the big schools in the city. Thanks so much, Angela, for talking to Beverly Gunn and Vera Gainey to get their remembrances of Jay. They were two of his favorites. Let’s see what I can remember about those days. So much . . .

Once Mrs. Gunn had jury duty for a whole week. Jay cried every day before he went to school because she wouldn’t be there and he didn’t like the substitute. I went by one day to get a look at her myself, and she was pretty scary.

By the time he was in second grade, we had so many kids at Beulah that Mr. Winters, the principal, had to form a second class after school started. Jay really didn’t like the teacher whose class he was originally in, and neither did we. She insisted on calling him Frank because that was his real name. Jay cried about that, too, so one day I wrote a note asking her to call him Jay. I also dressed him in his shirt that had “Here Comes Trouble!” written on the front and “Jay” on the back. Shortly after, he was moved to the new teacher’s class. I have always thought that Mrs. Gunn had something to do with that. Anyway, I’ve always thanked her in my heart for it.

Third grade was Mrs. Vickery! What a lady! All he ever mentioned in later years was boobs and breath when her name came up. I’m forever grateful to her for making both Wendy and Jay learn their times tables before they could be promoted to fourth grade. She was a rather old-fashioned teacher. I like old-fashioned!

I made sure that he was placed in Mrs. Gainey’s room in fourth grade because we had loved her for Wendy. Sure enough, she allowed him to be creative, just as she had Wendy. He was happy in her class. Of course, the principal almost killed me because I told all the mothers in the neighborhood to call and request Mrs. Gainey for their fourth graders.

I think that fifth grade was about the time when he and Walter Glenn had such fun at the Fall Festival, kissing the girls out behind the portable classrooms, a practice that never went away for either of them.

From third grade on, I have definite memories of Jay and the piano. I can see him sitting on the piano bench with his legs dangling from the bench, playing songs that really were too hard for such a tiny kid. I also remember piano contest Saturdays. One in particular stands out. He and two other little boys were in a certain level of competition. I could hear them practicing behind the curtain at Pensacola Junior College before the contest began. Jay’s playing stood out from that of the others; he was so sure of himself. He won, hands down. As we drove away from the parking lot, I asked him about what went on behind the curtain before the contest. He said, “I couldn’t believe how scared those other kids were. I told them that I could hardly wait to get out there to play!” Guess he psyched them out. I never knew Jay to be nervous before a performance, unless I count the time that he lost his singer just two days before a gig at Fennegal’s and knew that he’d have to do all the singing himself. That was just one of the times that he asked me to pray lots about what he was doing. I did. He did fine.

Can a person inherit headaches? I think so. My dad passed them on to me, and I shared them with Jay. Mrs. Gunn mentioned Jay's to me. I have some specific memories of these agonizing times in my little boy’s life. One of these memories actually covers many instances. Every time that he’d have a headache, he and I would sit in the rocker in the living room and rock in the dark. That’s the only way he got relief. Those were special times to me. Rocking my boy was one motherly thing that I could do. Another memory of those headaches involves taking him to the doctor to find out what caused them. We were told that he had classic migraines. While we were sitting in the examination room with him, the doctor noticed some little red places on his arms and legs. When asked what they were, Jay looked innocently up at the physician and said, “Child abuse.” You can imagine our chagrin. The doctor, however, was smarter than Jay thought and said that he didn’t believe that (Whew!); he had had a sister, and he recognized the signs of sister/brother horseplay when he saw it. That kid! A third headache memory comes with thoughts of Jay’s one and only attempt at football. All the other kids, Walter and Joe probably, were playing, so nothing would do but Jay had to play, too. We outfitted him and began going to practice. His football “career” lasted just about a week. He had a couple of headaches during that time, and the coach accused him of trying to get out of practice and made him go out on the field even though his head was splitting. He never liked to be accused of lying if he wasn’t, so he said that he’d had enough. I admitted readily that I had, too, and we both threw in the towel . . . ‘scuse me . . . uniform. The closest he ever came to football again was playing xylophone in the high school band. On to middle school . . .


Even though Jay had taken piano for several years during his elementary days, his real love of music probably began here, for it was at this time that he joined the Bellview Middle School band. He blew the sax. I know that’s a strange way to put it, but it was such an awful sound at first. As I’ve said before, however, the screech didn’t last long. Soon he was playing really well. I don’t remember any specific instances in band in middle school. Isn’t that strange?

He also was tremendously interested in running during this time. Soccer was a love, too. You know, Jay never wanted to be anything but a star. During these years, he aspired to be another Pele. I took him to countless soccer practices and games. I remember one particular game when I was sitting in the stands cross-stitching and watching. Yes, I could do both at the same time. I looked up just in time to see Jay butt the ball for a goal. I yelled, “That’s using your head, son,” and was immediately relieved to know that he hadn’t heard me because he would have been really embarrassed. I’m not much of a sports fan, I fear.

He was so little in middle school. One of his teachers called him “Too-Tall Young,” after some famous athlete. I never understood. Jay didn’t mind; in fact, I always felt that he took pride in being the smallest but the “tallest” often in accomplishments. He never longed (pun intended) to be tall. I recall once his telling me that he had no desire to be a big person. But he was big, wasn’t he?

I think that it was probably during his middle school years that he rushed into the house crying about something that had happened in the neighborhood. After he was about eight or so, he never cried much, so I was really surprised. (The only time after this one that I recall him crying was about three years ago when he and Suzy had had a horrible falling out on the phone on Christmas Eve. The only solution that I could offer was for him to call her to apologize and then to come home to spend the night with us. He did both. We all felt better.) It seems that Joe Jacobi had thrown Jay’s new Nikes into Walter’s pool. He was so angry. I can’t even describe it. I don’t think I ever saw him that angry again. Thank goodness!

Jay loved school. Don’t get me wrong. He was not a wonderful student. I’d never try to convince myself that he was. However, he loved people and fun, and that’s where both were . . . at school. He also loved his teachers, like Mrs. Gunn, Mrs. Gainey, Mrs. Jackson, Mr. Whitten, Mr. Ewing, Mr. Buck, Mr. “Longwoit,” Mrs. Crumpton, Mrs. Thompson, Mrs. Livingston . . . and lots of others (and Mr. Hand, of “Don’s Subs” fame). But there was one teacher in middle school that he did not like at all. She embarrassed him. I think she taught math and science. Once when he made an F on something, she told the whole class. He just couldn’t stand it. His grades plummeted in her class, so we went for a conference. She was not a delightful person. We understood why the kids would misbehave. They wanted to be put into the “hole” for punishment. Jay spent a lot of time there. We never complained.

Just before he left Bellview to go to Pine Forest High School, he announced that he wouldn’t be in band in high school. Instead, he’d run cross-country. It seems that he didn’t think it would be “cool” to march and play his sax. Don’t ask me where he got that idea. But if he got an idea in his head, it was there to stay. Well, Wendy would have none of that. I remember that she took him outside here at home and talked to him for a while. When they came in, she announced that Mr. Buck had an opening for a xylophone player and that Jay was going to fill the spot. Had Jay ever played mallets before? Nope! Did that discourage him? Nope! Does this sound familiar (like when he needed a bass player, so he learned to play bass in just a couple of days)? Yep!


Most of my memorable moments with Jay in high school involve band. PFHS band was not new to us. We had been through fours years with Wendy, so we were very much familiar with meetings and duty at the concession stand and contests and last-minute ironings of uniforms . . . and on and on and on. We loved John Buck and his band. I must admit that it was difficult to be a teacher at Woodham and a parent at Pine Forest. I had to work really hard not to mix the two. When Jay and Jimmy Mills were in Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps the summer of 1984, he learned to play drums. That completed his percussion education. He wrote the cadence for drums his senior year. My heart beat right along with the drums as the band marched in. Pride!! The night that he played his trap set on the field was almost too much for this mother’s heart. We even have pictures somewhere. I suppose, though, that the time that my heart thrilled the most was at Honor’s Night when John Buck gave him the Band Award, saying simply that he had never known a student with so much talent. Jay still holds that place in John’s heart. He told me so this summer when Jay died. Again, John brought joy to a mother’s heart. This memory thing is so hard to write. Sometimes I can heardly see the screen through my tears. Sorry. (The same thing is happening in 2008.)

Of course, I remember the night in January of 1985, when Joey Allred called Jay. I was doing dishes, and I heard Jay say something about a band. At that moment VELVET MELON was born. (The name of the band didn't come that night, though. It was months later that Jay's current girlfriend, Gina Forsberg, told him that she had seen something strange carved on a desk at Tate High School: Velvet Melon. Jay exclaimed, "That's it, Gina. Our band is Velvet Melon!" And he announced it to the guys that evening . . . immediate acceptance.) Jay and Joey had a dream. It came true every Saturday morning around 10:00 and went on for about four hours, letting up only for the guys to consume dozens of hot dogs. That was all I could afford to buy that whole bunch of boys who all looked and sounded alike to me. Even though Joey and Jay together formed Velvet Melon, Jay was always in the lead. I could hear him giving orders as I set out the food. It’s so funny that a month before the band came into existence, Frank was preaching about the ills of rock music, and I was shouting “Amen” to what he said. According to Frank, that rock beat would mess up your heart. I wonder. Somehow, though, when our boy began to play and sing the “stuff,” it wasn’t quite so bad. I was immediately in love with all that Jay did. Frank, Wendy, and I were Jay’s #1 fans, and Steve wasn’t far behind. Naturally, certain gigs stand out more than others. We went to all of them, except for the private parties, which, by the way, were usually broken up by the police, who were responding to the complaints of neighbors. It’s probably a good thing that we weren’t invited to these gala events anyway because we might have seen some things that our tender eyes didn’t need to see yet. The fact is we did see some things that we shouldn’t have; however, we thought it best to ignore some of them. The gigs that I enjoyed most were those at Pine Forest (sock hops, talent shows, even concerts). I can’t remember when they started to play in clubs, but it was probably after Jay was out of high school. But the clubs that I enjoyed most in the early days, whenever they were, were Longnecker’s and Fennegal’s. I never did care much for The Rex.

I enjoyed Jay’s high school days right along with him. But on to later days . . . But first, here's a picture from high school days, maybe his senior year . . .


I’ve already written about many of my memories of this time. They were such good years. It has occurred to me that I probably should say something here. None of my memories involve some of the “trouble” that middle schoolers and high school students sometimes get in to. I found out in later years that we didn’t escape some of these “events”; we just didn’t know about them. Even though we discovered later some of the things that Jay did and that we didn’t approve of, we were happy to know for sure that he was not involved in drugs. It really is a miracle in the twentieth century and especially in the rock music circle for a person not to be involved in this aspect of the lives of young people. I never feared that Jay would have anything to do with drugs. In fact, I can remember telling him that he might get in trouble because of his outspoken abhorrence of them. I feared that someone might slip something into a drink just to prove to him that he, too, would do drugs. That never happened. Thank you, Lord! That one line that he wrote in an original always comforted me: “I don’t mix drugs with rock and roll/I’ve got Jesus in my heart to save my soul.” Isn’t that a wonderful line? Wish he had felt the same way about beer!

There are far too many gigs for me to mention too many specifics. Here are just a few:

The performance at The Bitter End in New York on the trip before the move . . .

Times at Longnecker’s . . . Suzy, Rick Holt, New Year’s Eve, taking my seniors in after the Senior Banquet . . . mentioning how good the band sounded one night and then getting the dreaded call about Keith’s accident just a few hours later. By the way, remember that math and science teacher that Jay didn’t like? She taught the kids CPR, and Jay used it on Keith that night. Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all.

And speaking of Suzy . . . here's my favorite picture . . .

The beach house fiasco . . . We had just left when the balcony fell . . .

The French Quarter . . . spending two days snowed in in motor homes with nine kids in their twenties . . .

The gig on the riverboat . . . Jay got a bit sick when he looked out the window while they were playing.

The night at Coconut Bay just before he was going to let the drummer go. I kept looking around for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. Finally, I spotted him, do-rag on his head, huddled in fetal position off in a corner, obviously praying for help with his task. How my heart hurt for him. He knew what was best for his band, but that guy was his friend, and he couldn’t stand to hurt him. So many times he said to me, “Please pray, Mom. I’ve got to have help.” And I prayed. And he did, too. I wonder how many people know that about my boy. A few do.

Many nights at various gigs when he grabbed me just as we were leaving to give me a big hug and a huge kiss . . . right there in front of everyone. Not many young people honor their mothers in such a way. In fact, I remember one morning last spring when he called me at school to register a complaint. It seems that he had had it with us! We would go to his gigs, sit through one set, and then leave . . . without telling him good-bye. What greater compliment could a twenty-four-year-old son give his parents? None, as far as I’m concerned. Then there was the time that he called me at school. Becky Mc answered the phone in the teachers’ work area. He wanted to speak to me, but before she went to look for me, she told him that we were all burning up because the air conditioning wasn’t working properly. She said, “Your mom’s really hot today.” His reply . . . “My mom’s always hot!” Now, that’s a compliment, too!

Oh, and there was the night of October 31, 1987, when Velvet Melon played “Rebel Yell” for Wendy and “My Girl” for Corey. Corey had just entered the world about four hours before the gig. The guys were dressed in their costumes . . . Jay was the Punk Monk that year! Everyone was so excited about their new little mascot. Corey has truly been right up there with the #1 fans! So many times Jay has played songs for her while she was at gigs. She was a light in his life. He truly loved her. He didn’t always know exactly what to do with her, but he loved her. He learned from my mother not to “mash her head”! That was always a great line, but you had to be there to understand, I’m afraid.

Probably the gig that will always be most memorable to me, though, is the one on the night of June 27, 1992, his last gig. I wouldn’t take anything for that evening. We were there at Yesterdays in Chattanooga, TN, from beginning to end. We heard every lick, saw every wink, loved every minute of it. He came and sat with us during one of the breaks – as he always did – and said, “You’ll never know the feeling. The feeling of having them right in the palm of your hand!” He loved performing . . . leading the audience in whatever direction he wanted them to go. Andy was right. Jay had charisma . . . he still has it. Witness the hordes of young people who are still drawn to our house. Check this picture very carefully. You may see yourself in it. It's a small portion of the collage that Wendy made right after Jay died . . . one of the collages that we had on display at the funeral home on July 5.

And then the four days after that gig when we spent time in Jay’s home in Nashville. I wouldn’t take anything for those days! This picture is of him trying to look fat. The guys composed and recorded . . . I read . . . we (Jay, Frank, and I) shopped for a washer and dryer, and Jay and I acted crazy while Frank had to be serious with the saleslady, whom we invited to gigs in the Nashville area (she’ll never know what she missed) . . . my heart soared as I listened to Jay negotiate with Bill Puryear, an agent ready to sign Velvet Melon . . . we ate out . . . Jay cooked breakfast for us . . . he ate my leftovers from the Chinese restaurant that he never had a chance to go to . . . I was “smitten” with vertigo (thank goodness) . . . I watched him leave for the last time, dressed in the outfit that we buried him in. I thought as he left, “I can see why the girls love him. He is SO cute!” The rest is history. You know everything that’s happened since.

SINCE JULY 2, 1992

I guess I’ve almost come to the end of my memories for now. This hasn’t been easy, but it’s been a good catharsis. It’s a beginning for some of the things that I’d like to write. Each of these little vignettes could be expanded into pages. Maybe some day I’ll get around to writing more, but for right now, this is enough.

As you know, Angela, I’ve been doing a lot of reading since Jay died. Before, I always read novels, something to immerse myself into, to live another’s life but still come back to my own. I haven’t read one novel since July. Actually, I finished one that I had started in Nashville, but I haven’t read anything in addition to it. Instead, I’ve read books about grief and the afterlife. Some have been good; some just fair. One that I read recently was excellent. I wept when I found the following quotation in it. The book is called Intra Muros (My Dream of Heaven) by Rebecca Ruter Springer. Here’s the quote:

There is an endearing tenderness in the love of a mother to a son, that transcends all other affections of the heart. It is neither to be chilled by selfishness, nor daunted by danger, nor weakened by worthlessness, nor stifled by ingratitude. She will sacrifice every comfort to his convenience; she will surrender every pleasure to his enjoyment; she will glory in his fame, and exult in his prosperity; and if adversity overtake him, he will be the dearer to her by misfortune; and if disgrace settle upon his name, she will still love and cherish him; and if all the world beside cast him off, she will be all the world to him. – Washington Irving

Isn’t that beautiful? It was very near the end of the book, and at that time, I knew that it was meant for me to read that book. To me, it means that a mother would do anything for her son, would love him no matter what. My feelings exactly for my son . . . and for my daughter, too, for that matter. The book tells what heaven may be like. In fact, it’s a dream that the woman who wrote it had while she lay ill of a disease for weeks. I love her account because it’s what I’d like for heaven to be like; however, I’m not so sure that it’s true because no one has actually been there and returned. She says it was her dream. I’ve read other accounts of people who have been near death, and those accounts are equally as wonderful. I’ll find out exactly what it’s like in time . . . in God’s time.

As Jay would say, “I’m outta here!” This epistle is far longer than I intended for it to be, but I just wanted to jot down some feelings and ideas. I love you, my dear Angela; I truly love you.