Tuesday, June 30, 2009

(4) Seventeen Years Ago -- June 30, 1992

(continued from 6/29/09)

"We awoke, after a wavy night, to the scent of bacon frying. Jay was cooking breakfast for us! It was delicious, mainly because of the cook. I'm afraid that he hadn't yet developed much of a sense of the proper way to put a meal on the table, but it tasted great. Bacon, eggs, toast, juice . . . just what he liked every once in a while when he saw the world in the morning. Since all they were doing that week was writing and recording, he had no late, late nights; therefore, he could get up at a reasonable time in the morning, say 8:30 or so. Therefore . . . breakfast!
"That day was probably the laziest, most unproductive day for us. We just lay around all morning and into the afternoon, reading and listening. I remember getting antsy some time in mid-afternoon because my old body just has to be up and doing occasionally. I really didn't feel comfortable tackling housekeeping chores in someone else's house, but I'm sure that Jay wouldn't have minded. Actually, they hadn't been there long enough for things to get too dirty. And let's face it . . . I was on vacation and really had no desire for hard labor.
"About four o'clock, we decided to get out of the house for a little while. I think we went to some book stores just browsing. We had dinner at a really neat Oriental restaurant near Jay's house. I've never seen so much food! I took about half of mine home to Jay, who promptly devoured it. He asked where the restaurant was so that he could go there himself sometime. The time never came.
"That night was our third one on the perilous water bed. Around three o'clock in the morning, I awoke with my world spinning around me. I could barely lift my head from the bed. After spending a long time in the bathroom, trying to throw up my stomach, I finally relegated myself to the floor in hopes that the room would settle down. What a night! It was probably my most miserable night ever; however, I would look upon it later as sent from God."

Monday, June 29, 2009

(3) Seventeen Years Ago -- June 29, 1992

(continued from 6/28/09)

" . . . we just lazed around reading and listening to the guys. I always loved to hear them write and record, especially write. Since I have virtually no musical ability, I have the utmost admiration for those who do, and it never ceased to give me a thrill to listen to those talented musicians compile their abilities and come out with a beautiful song. So much of it was trial and error, give and take, play and record. Then re-record because the first one didn't sound just right. Someone didn't come in exactly when he should. Someone missed a beat. Someone hit a wrong note. Always perfecting. Sometimes shouting. Always laughing. Always laughing. That laugh that I can't forget. I love it. Does Jesus love it just as much as I do? Oh, how I hope so. (My friend Ellen Lett died yesterday. I'm so selfish since Jay died. I want him to be the first one to meet everyone who goes to Heaven. As soon as I heard of her death, I'm ashamed to say that I didn't immediately mourn. Instead, all I could think of was that she would see Jay . . . that maybe he was the one to meet her. I doubt that he was because she has so many closer loved ones there, and I know that they were scrambling over each other to get to her. He had to wait in line. But I know he gave her one of those great Jay hugs as soon as he reached her. I just know that's what happened! I guess I've gotten a little off track, haven't I?)
"Sometime during the morning, Frank looked at me and said, 'These kids need a washer and a dryer in this house. It's not right for Terri to have to carry clothes out to the laundromat in her condition.' (Terri was Jerry's wife. He was the guitar player in Velvet Melon. And Terri was very much pregnant, as if she could be a little bit pregnant.) Thus, the washer/dryer idea was born. Jay concurred, and we approached the guys. They agreed to make the payments each month if we would put the appliances on our Sears credit card. We also suggested getting a mower since their rental agreement stipulated that they must keep the lawn up. To this they agreed, also. So later that afternoon we would run errands with Jay, including going to Sears for our purchases.
"I might mention here that I thoroughly enjoyed myself by reading to my heart's content during the days that we were with Jay. The two books that I definitely remember relishing were Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, by Fannie Flagg, and The Outer Banks, by Anne Rivers Siddons. I laughed all the way through Daisy Fay, and I worried all the way through Outer Banks. I firmly believe that both were intended for me at this very time. I needed to laugh -- the greatest tragedy in my life was just around the corner. I needed the Siddons book because of the ideas presented, namely dealing with the death of a child. Isn't it strange how you can pick up a book and not know the treasure that awaits you? That book is about a woman's dealing with the death of a young child, not exactly what I would deal with very soon; however, her negative reactions came to me frequently in the immediate days as I tried to cope positively with Jay's death. I didn't copy the heroine in her attitude; rather, I tried to avoid her feelings. This probably sounds very strange.
"That afternoon, we went with Jay to see Bill Puryear from Crescent Moon Talent Agency. Bill very much wanted Jay to sign with him exclusively. We sat for about two hours in his office, listening to Jay and him talk business. I remember sitting in the background, saying nothing, just listening to my boy in his adult role. He was a peer with this thirty-something man. Proud is a mild adjective to use for what I felt. I was puffed up! Why was this very successful businessman pursuing my boy? He's just a boy. Just my little boy. Just my son. WRONG! He, too, was a man. He, too, was a businessman. He was important. He had something that Bill Puryear wanted -- talent. And he would have gotten that talent exclusively had Jay lived. Probably within a couple of weeks. But it was not meant to be.
"Later, we went to Sears and made our purchases, with the promise that they would be delivered on Thursday, July 2. Jay and I acted silly while Frank did the business of the day. We invited the saleslady to be on the lookout for Velvet Melon in the Nashville area and to attend a gig. I wonder if she ever thought of that again. Probably no. I feel sorry for her because she never got to see Jay in action. ('No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.' -- John Donne) We went to eat at a great restaurant afterwards. It was so wonderful to be with Jay alone. I always got a real charge out of watching him eat. He would eat for a while and then rest for a while. When resting, he'd put his arm over the back of the chair and just sit there as if he were waiting for the food to digest before continuing. All the time, he'd be talking, entertaining, laughing. And he'd tell stories . . . just little scraps of things that had happened during the past days, little things that people had said to him . . . but they would become great things, wonderful tales. Nothing was ever ordinary with Jay. Nothing. (He certainly 'gathered rosebuds,' evidently realizing that 'old time is still a-flying.' I surely am literary tonight. It's difficult to read that 'stuff' for as long as I have and not have some lines to slip in every once in a while.)
"I know that what we did together that afternoon probably sounds ho-hum to many, but even as it happened, I felt that it was a gloriously important day. I felt fulfilled as a mother. It's been a long time since that afternoon and evening. Monday, June 29, 1992, was the last time that we would have alone with our son. Does the 'glory' of that day need further explanation? I doubt it."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

(2) Seventeen Years Ago -- June 28, 1992

(continued from 6/27/09)

"On the morning of June 28, 1992, Frank and I got up, had a leisurely breakfast somewhere, I'm sure, and headed for Nashville to spend several days enjoying Jay and his new home. Notice how I always refer to the house in Nashville as Jay's home. To me, that's just what it was . . . his home . . . the others just lived with him in it. We stopped at a little winery on the way to Nashville, and I gloried in the gift shop while Frank looked at and tasted a bit of the wine. I bought Jay some special hot sauce, if I remember correctly.
"When we arrived at the house, Jay was like a little kid with a new toy as he showed us around. I had seen videos, but the real thing was ever so much better! He was especially proud of his room and his water bed. I must admit that his room was the most special to me. He had up some pictures that have always been favorites: the one of the lady of the evening in New Orleans very obviously being paid for her services, the Boardwalk picture with Jay leaping in the air, the cute picture of Tara looking over her shades, and the lovely photograph of the four of us . . . Frank in his brown suit, me in my pink dress and pouffy hair (wig!), Wendy in her brown dress with the leopard collar, and Jay in his red plaid jacket --- what a lovely family! That water bed would play an important role during the next two days.
"The main goal of the guys for the time that we would be in Nashville was to write and record. I could hardly wait to listen. In fact, they were just taking a break when we arrived. Listen we did for a while; then we decided to go out to eat and to take in a movie . . . a rare treat for us. We ate at Chili's and then went to see Patriot Games, an excellent thriller. Afterward, it was home to bed . . . the water bed. Jay's was very much different from ours. Ours is waveless, but his was wavefull. I have never been on anything so wavy in my life! So ended our first day in Jay's home."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

(1) Seventeen Years Ago -- June 27, 1992

Seventeen years ago from right now, Frank and I were sitting in Yesterday's, a popular bar in Chattanooga, watching Jay play his last gig. In 1993, I wrote a piece that I titled "One Year Journal -- A Piece of My Heart." Here are a few paragraphs from my recollections of that night:

"I remember feeling the usual thrill of pride as Jay strode into the club, flipping his hair, and looking around claiming his territory. If only I had the words to describe exactly how he looked as he walked into those clubs. All who knew him know exactly what I mean. Usually the first sound that we'd hear after he walked in was either a "Hey, man! How ya doin'?" or that laugh that started in his toes and traveled up to that Jay smile . . . the same one he had had since he was a baby. There's not another one like it. Sometimes in the strangest places I hear that laugh, and I laugh through my tears. I know that somewhere on all these videos that laugh is recorded. Someday I'll listen, but not yet . . . not yet. When will it not be too soon? Someday.
"That June 27 gig was just like all the others that we attended at Yesterday's . . . young people wall to wall, too much drinking, lots of noise, so many people that it was almost impossible to get to the restroom, great rock 'n' roll music, love flowing from the stage to the audience, especially from Jay. I recall that there was one guy who kept throwing money at Jay; someone told us that he was absolutely captivated by my boy. Not anything weird . . . that's not what I mean. He just enjoyed watching Jay perform. He was one of the first to buy one of the new t-shirts that had the guys in the band on the front and Jimmy on the sleeve. Frank and I were wearing them, too. Actually, mine is different; it has only the VM logo on the front. I don't know why I didn't want the other kind. Maybe a little premonition . . . I don't know. I don't really enjoy wearing the shirts with Jay's picture on them. To tell you the truth, I don't like the one I was wearing that night either. Crazy lady, I guess.
"The audience was wild that night . . . absolutely wild. I remember that Jay came to sit with us during the second break. I can never understand parents and children who don't have the relationship that we have always had with our children. Jay was always proud to have us in his audience, and he always found time to sit with us for a few minutes. As he sat with us that evening, sweat dripping from him and the hands going in the usual manner through his hair, he said something that I will never forget. Neither will Frank. We've told so many people those words. He was sitting there with the chair turned backwards, between his mom and dad, and he said, 'You'll never know the feeling . . . the feeling of having the crowd right in your hands. It's so great! There's nothing like it!' With that, he pushed away and was off to table hop, making everyone feel special That was just his way. We all know that."

Just feeling a bit nostalgic today and wanted to get some ideas down, even if the original words came from so long ago. It's hard to believe that Jay has been gone almost as long as we had him here with us. I still miss him every day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bonds of Friendship: A Tribute to Gary Powell

Frank and I belong to an exclusive group. It’s one into which we have no desire to induct new members, and it’s one into which no one wants to be inducted. We have no formal meetings encouraging all members to be present. Occasionally, we seek each other out, especially looking for those who have recently found themselves members. No one pays dues once he or she is a part of the group—all of us have paid lifetime dues before becoming members. Those dues are an absolute necessity before joining the group, and they are dues that we pay kicking and screaming. You see, we are all members of the Parents Whose Children Have Died Society.

On May 29, 2009, Betty and Ward (Wop) Powell became members of our group. None of us are happy that they have joined, but we all welcome them in the sense that we love them and know that they need the steadfast support of those of us who truly understand how they feel right now. Their wounds are raw and green, and they need our assurance that they will survive. And survive, they will. If they will accept the love of their friends and if they will allow God to wrap His strong arms around them during this tender hour, they will get through this unhappiest of times. Please note that I didn’t say that they’d ever get over the death of their son. They’ll get through the active grief period and on to—not life as it was with Gary—but a different life . . . one without Gary but one with each other and their sweet daughter Debbie, who loved her brother with a love that only sisters and brothers share.

By the time that I met Gary Powell, he had been a quadriplegic for several years. His paralysis was the result of a tragic, fluky accident when he was fifteen-year-old sophomore, just two weeks away from his sixteenth birthday. Gary was a runner on the Pine Forest High School track team; and one Saturday morning in 1983, while he was waiting for a race to begin, a policeman suddenly lost control of his motorcycle, the vehicle hitting Gary, bruising his spinal cord and causing the injury that would change his life forever.

My introduction to Gary was during the heyday of Velvet Melon, our son Jay’s band. I knew that he and Jay had been friends in high school; however, I was unaware of the strong bond that had developed between these two young men. One Sunday afternoon, Jay informed me that Gary and his mother, Betty, would be at the gig that night at Coconut Bay, a local bar. I immediately began to worry about how Gary would get through the crowd, where he would sit, how the “kids” would treat him—all those mama worry things. I should have known that there was no need for concern.

Jay knew exactly when Betty was scheduled to arrive with Gary, about half way through the first set. Just before Gary’s arrival, Jay stopped the music to make an announcement. “OK, everybody, here’s what’s gonna happen. In just a few minutes, Betty Powell will be coming through the door with Gary, so you need to spread out to make a path for him. Hey . . . those of you right next to Jimmy and the sound board, make a place for him. Thanks!” And so it was every time Betty and Gary showed up for a gig. Jay took care of his friend. The bond was still there, stronger than ever. As soon as the set was over, Jay would head for Gary to visit for a few minutes before he began to “work the crowd,” as he called making the rounds from friend to friend.

Through the years, Frank and I came to love Gary and Betty and were always so happy to see them coming into Coconut Bay. We also felt great respect for this mother and son, neither of whom ever complained about their lot in life. Instead, both of them always had smiles on their faces and upbeat attitudes—such beautiful examples to all of us.

When Jay died in July 1992, Gary and Betty came to our house. I wish I could remember exactly when they came, but I can’t. From almost seventeen years’ distance, it’s difficult to remember exact times of visits. In my heart, I think it was a few days after the funeral. We were so happy to see them. We needed them. In the South, almost everyone who visits the bereaved comes bearing food. In my memory, I see them coming in with a ham, something that could help feed the hoards of young people who made themselves at home in our home for days. They stayed for a long time, reminiscing about Jay and making us know just how much both of them loved our boy. They made our hearts happy at a time when happiness was elusive.

Just before Christmas that year, Angela Hinkley and our daughter, Wendy, presented Frank and me with what has come to be called The Jay Book, a collection of stories about Jay, written by friends. Angela had gotten in touch with many of Jay’s friends and relatives and had asked them write remembrances of Jay. Gary was one of those friends. His recollections about Jay show the personalities of two good friends:

"Back at the time of my accident, all my friends kind of dumped me. My sister’s friends kind of picked me up. Jay was one of those friends. Jay always, no matter where he was or how busy he was, would take the time to sit down and talk with me. Not everybody did that. Even if Jay was runnind late and supposed to be someplace else, he would make time for me. It was enough to know that he cared that much for me.

"One time in high school, Jay was late for band practice. I was in the commons and Jay sat down to talk. We were discussing running before my accident. I was telling Jay that although I could not run any longer, I would often push my wheelchair on the driving range for exercise. I would go fast, then pop the brake to spin around. I told Jay I couldn’t really go very fast, though. Jay got up and told me to get ready because I was going to come as close to flying as I would ever get! Jay took off, driving my chair at top speed through the hallways. We flew so fast that I thought we were going to crash! I was so scared I almost lost my water. My heart was in my britches!

"I really appreciated that no matter how large the crowd around him was, Jay always made time for me. He wanted to get personal with people."

During his short twenty-four-year life, Jay had hundreds of friends. Some of them were just acquaintances to us, and I hate to admit that I have trouble remembering them. Gary wasn’t among those whom I can’t remember. I’ll never forget him and his family—Betty, who was always by his side, who devoted her life to him after his accident; Debbie, who was such a caring, loyal sister and who told me just this evening that she’d happily do all that caring all over again and do it even better; Ward, whom I never met but who I know was right there for Gary along with Betty and Debbie. The Powells are such a special family to Frank, Wendy, and me.

God has promised that when our lives on earth have ended and we Christians join Him in the heavenly home that he has prepared for us that these old bodies that we’ve had here will be perfect . . . free from illness, pain, infirmities. We’ll have new bodies, whole bodies. On May 29, Gary Powell went to be with Jesus. He welcomed Gary with open arms and gave him that new body with strong arms and legs and absolutely no pain. I picture our friend running and leaping and having the time of his life. I also picture my boy greeting him with a huge smile, throwing his arms around him in a big Jay hug, the kind he used to give to me, saying, “Gary! What took you so long? We’ve been waiting for you. You’re gonna love it here!”