Friday, July 02, 2010

A special day for me

This is the fourth JAY WEEK since I’ve been blogging. I think about Jay every day, but I always set aside this week as a special time to reminisce and to write about my boy. On Friday (July 2), all of us in our family will do some special reminiscing I imagine because that day will be the 18th anniversary of Jay’s death. July 2 in 1992 is a day we’ll never forget; however, we won’t sit around with a terrible case of the mully-grubs. Instead, we’ll remember funny things that Jay said and did, favorite gigs, Melonheads who will always be part of our family. I still cry over certain poignant memories, but on July 2, we’ll all be upbeat. That day, we’ll probably hear from some of you who are reading this, and getting messages from you will make us smile and smile.

The first year that I wrote about Jay on July 2, was in 2007. That year, I just wrote some favorite memories of Jay and of Melonheads. I loved writing that post, and I loved getting messages from so many of Jay’s friends (our friends, too). I even heard from Suzy (we haven’t been able to connect with her again, though, after writing a couple of e-mails that year).

During the rest of 2007 and the first part of 2008, I kept ruminating about what I’d write in the summer of 2008, but I couldn’t think of anything until right before the big day. Then it hit me . . . I’d use some of the memories that I added to Angela and Wendy’s “Jay Book.” Those memories had the very creative title of “A Mother’s Memories,” and I just copied them to my blog.

Last year, deciding what to write was easier. Since the days and dates in July 2009 exactly corresponded to those in 1992, I determined to write every day, copying what I wrote in 1993, the year after Jay died. Again, I heard from many of you, some of you saying that at last you had closure. You never really knew what happened, how he had died. All you knew in 1992 was that your good friend was gone. I’m glad that I could help in your healing.

And now, here comes July 2, 2010. What will I write this year? A couple of weeks ago, I came across a notebook that looked old and worn and interesting. When I opened it, I immediately recognized Jay’s scratch. Evidently, it was a notebook in which he intended to write lots of songs. Each page has a letter of the alphabet at the top: he intended to write a song for each letter. Well, as with many of Jay’s plans, the very detailed notebook didn’t really materialize; however, at the beginning of his notes is one song . . . a song which eventually became a hit with Melonheads and family, not that we weren’t Melonheads, too. A Melonhead was anyone who followed Velvet Melon. I hope that those followers still refer to themselves by this special name. Here’s the background for that song. I hope you remember it.

One Saturday, I came home after doing the weekly shopping to find Frank in an absolute stew in the yard. He was so angry with his son that I really feared that Jay might get the first whipping that he’d had in about ten years. I tried to calm my sweetheart by telling him that I’d take care of the problem. All I knew was that Jay was inside writing music when Frank needed him in the yard on the mower. I found Jay sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, long skinny legs stretched out under the coffee table, elbows sprawled, and fingers going ninety to nothing writing words to music that was obviously racing through his head. He was holding his mouth just right, tongue sticking out the left side of his mouth, and I knew the creative juices were flowing.

Taking my life in my hands, I approached him. “Jay, your dad is so angry with you that I really don’t know what he’s going to do. You need to get outside right away and get that grass mowed.” I was always such a scary mom, don’t you think?

“Mom, I can’t stop. I’ve got this great song going, and if I don’t write it down right now, I won’t remember it. Dad will understand . . . eventually!”

I can’t say that I really remember what happened that afternoon after the “genius” finished his inside job and got to his dad’s outside job. I do know that there was no beating of the child, as if there ever had been. But I do know that Frank was plenty mad (yes, mad . . . as in crazily angry . . . and not just plain angry). But he got over it, especially when he heard the song.

The song is about a special young lady, who begins her life as a “very strange girl” and winds up being what the guys in Velvet Melon would call a “swank.” Maybe you’ve known someone like Leola. Here’s her story in Jay’s words. I’ve taken the leave to help him with his spelling a bit.


Leola was a very strange girl, a very strange girl.
She lived in her own world.
If she stayed in her room one more day,
Her life would be wrecked.

When I saw her, I was so confused.
I didn’t quite know what to do.
Leola was a very weird girl,
But with a name like Leola (Hey)
What can you expect?

She loved to eat glue.
She liked to make things out of doo doo;
“Row Your Boat” was her favorite song.
She wore horn-rimmed glasses,
Used a straw to drink molasses.
Where did she go wrong?

Leola Leola Leola Leola Leola Leola la Leola,
Leola Leola Leola Leola Leola Leola la Leola.

Leola went to school one day,
The kids did not know what to say.
Leola brought her dead pet squirrel.
She threw up on her desk,
She had a cardiac arrest.
Leola was a very weird girl.

She did the hula dance for show and tell,
Called the teacher “Orson Welles.”
Then she got in trouble.
The teacher told her to be quiet,
But Leola didn’t like it.
So she went home on the double.


Leola said, “It’s time to change,
Take my life and rearrange,
Listen to some rock ‘n’ roll.
Gonna turn around, twist and shout,
Show ‘em what I’m all about,
Fill my body with some soul!”

She changed her clothes,
Blew her nose, made herself look like a rose.
Then she mosied down the stairs.
She called up the boys,
She said, “Let’s go and make some noise.”
Everybody seemed to stare.

Now she wears cool clothes
Like satin and bows
And contacts so she can see.
All the guys like to hang around
‘Cause she’s as fine as she can be (wolf whistle!).


I know that the words and rhythm don’t really sound like a hit song, but believe me, “Leola” was a hit among Melonheads. And you Melonheads need to remember that I’m working from the first copy of the song. I know that there were a few changes in it when the guys in the band got hold of it. They just made it even better. From the first time Velvet Melon played it at practice in the game room at our house, it was one of my favorites. I just wish I could attach the music for you!

The second song that I want on this music memory page is one that I think he wrote while Velvet Melon was in New York. Maybe some of the guys will read this and help me get the time right. Anyway, it’s a beautiful song with a haunting melody. Once again, I wish I could put the music here. To me, the chorus is prophetic: we have only one chance in this life, so we need to get it right. Here are my boy’s words:


Some people’s lights go off at night,
But their lights stay on all day.
Some people lead a sheltered life;
Some people see no other way.

Collect the check and close the door.
What’s the use of working anymore?
What’s this life worth living for?
We can’t sit and beg for more.

I see better when lights are on.
Won’t be long before we’re gone.
Won’t you please leave on your light?
Got one chance to get it right.
Please just turn it on tonight . . .
Tonight . . . tonight . . .

We paid our price—lost our pride;
So now sit back, enjoy the ride.
If we can’t change our attitude,
There’s just no way to see it through.

I see better when lights are on.
Won’t be long before we’re gone.
Won’t you please leave your light on?
Won’t you please leave on your light?
Got one change to get it right.
Please just turn it on tonight . . .
Tonight . . . tonight . . .

I’ve tried for years to understand everything in this song, but I never can come up with exactly what Jay was saying. I just loved the words joined to the tune, and I loved watching him sing it. Again, the chorus has special meaning to me. You’ve probably heard the saying “Life allows us one great performance; it is not a dress rehearsal” or something along that line. I believe that, and Jay believed it, too. Maybe that’s exactly what he meant in the chorus.

Jay’s life was a performance . . . every day of it. Someone said at his funeral that he lived more in 24 years than most men do in 70. He relished life—he turned on his light. And he touched so many of us with that light. For the touching, I am grateful.

I am also grateful for two lines that he included in one of his songs, maybe “I’m Not Crazy.” Then again, it might have been in another one. It doesn’t really matter where they appeared; the important thing to me is that they were there and that they were a testimony from Jay. To my “mother’s heart,” they are precious.

I don’t mix drugs with rock ‘n’ roll;
I’ve got Jesus in my heart to save my soul.

I’d know it even without the words, but with the words, I have assurance that one day Jay and I will be together again. He’ll meet me at the gate, arms wide open, saying . . . no, yelling as only Jay could yell . . . “Mom! What took you so long? You think those songs were great; just wait till you hear the new ones!” Music was Jay’s life, and I know he’s been sitting at God’s big coffee table, legs stretched out, fingers flying, knowing that Jesus will understand if he’s late mowing those heavenly lawns. Of this, I’m sure.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Jay Week 2010

This is JAY WEEK in my heart. July 2 is fast approaching, the 18th anniversary of Jay's death, and naturally, I'm thinking about what I'll write about my boy. Last year, I posted all of the writing that I did one year after he died. Many of you, Jay's friends and ours, read the posts and wrote to me to thank me for sharing my year-after thoughts. You told me that reading about those last days in Jay's life here on earth brought closure for you. Again, I thank you for letting me know how my words affected you.

I've been wondering for almost a year whether or not I should post parts of a letter that I received after my posting and the reply that I wrote to the person who penned the letter. I decided this morning that I wanted to place it on my blog, not really intending for anyone to read it but just to save it for myself.

Dear Sandy,

This letter is in response to your blog post about Jay. I hope I don't say anything that will upset you or hurt your feelings. I guess my motives in writing this are to be helpful to you and also to satisfy my curiosity.

Years ago I read a book, Necessary Losses, by Judith Viorst. (You could probably get it from the public library.) She lists the stages of grief in the order most people experience them: shock and denial, intense sorrow, anger, guilt, idealization, acceptance, adaptation.

It doesn't seem possible that you could have been stuck in idealization for 17 years, but that is how your blogging came across to me. I would love to be re-assured that you have reached the full acceptance stage and have adapted to that loss

My immediate response to the letter was hurt and, I'm afraid, anger. I couldn't believe that my words would be so misinterpreted. After Wendy and Frank talked to me, though, I understood that she just didn't understand. All of her children were still alive, and she had no idea of the way different people handle their grief. So . . . I wrote a letter in response to her letter, trying my best not to make her feel bad . . . just to let her know my heart. Here's what I said . . .

Let me assure you of a couple of things right away—you neither upset me nor hurt my feelings by what you wrote. (Yes, usually honest Sandy lied!) Mostly you confused me by your doubt as to my dealing with Jay’s death. Let me assure you this minute that both Frank and I have come through all of the stages of grief and have accepted our son’s going to live with the Lord. I feel, though, that I need to explain some things about losing a child and what happens to that person’s very being. The death of any loved one, whether it be parent, brother, sister, cousin, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew . . . or child, is heartbreaking; however, the death of a child is very much different from any of the others. Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents. It’s just not natural. Children are supposed to bury their parents. But who are we to question God’s decisions, right? I certainly don’t.

Almost every writer who writes about grief lists different stages. The writer whom I read (Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, an author considered an expert in the field of grief) lists the following: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Judith Viorst’s listing isn’t too much different from Kubler-Ross’s, and I rather like Viorst’s list. It’s a bit more inclusive and certainly not wrong. I never quite understood Kubler-Ross’s “bargaining” designation, to tell you the truth.

As far as going through all the stages, I can assure that both of us have found ourselves in each one. The one that you’re concerned about, idealization, is certainly a valid one but one that I don’t consider myself stuck in. I’m not really sure what you see of idealization in my blog, so I’d welcome some specifics. If writing about Jay, the things that he did and that I remember so well, his charisma, his talent, his ability to make friends, the love that he had for others and that others had for him make you think that I’m idealizing him, you’re really wrong. These are facts mingled with the love that a mother had and still has for her son. I hope I’m not sounding harsh to you: I just want you to understand and not to worry.

Right after Jay died, the way that I got through those days was by feeling the strong arms of God around me, knowing that my friends and family loved me and were praying for me, and reading. I read every grief book that I could put my hands on. I devoured books written by parents whose children had died because only a parent who has lost a child truly understands that death, no matter how much a person thinks he or she does. The hole left in a parent’s heart never heals, no matter how many times he goes through the stages. Yes, the parent goes through those stages many times . . . back and forth and back and forth, until finally he gets to the last one, either acceptance or adaptation, and pretty much stays there. A person must adapt; he has only one other choice, and taking his life certainly isn’t in God’s plan. So we accept and adapt.

But what do we do to get through? Some parents shrivel up inside and won’t let others help them; some remove all remembrances of the child, almost pretending that he hadn’t ever been there; some don’t ever mention the child within the family or to others outside the family. I don’t understand any one of these methods. Frank, Wendy, and I chose to talk about Jay as much as we could; we wept and we laughed hilariously as we remembered so many funny things that Jay said and did. We talked to others about Jay, and we were very much open in our grief and about our grief. Our friends and family knew that we were grieving, that we were going through those stages, but they knew also that we were getting through them with God’s help. And get through them we did, each in our own way.

One of my ways was to write about Jay. I read early on that one of the fears that parents have when a child dies is that they’ll forget their children. I must admit that I had that fear deep within. So what did I do? I wrote about my boy. What you read is what I wrote the year after Jay died so that I’d remember the details of those days surrounding his death. I had to remember everything, both for me and for others. I put them on my blog this year so that Jay’s friends and ours could read about those days. Several of his friends wrote to me to let me know that finally they could come to closure. They never really knew all that happened during those days, and they wanted to know because they loved Jay. His death left holes in their hearts, too, just as it had in ours. You didn’t know Jay, but he was the kind of person who attracted friends of all ages, and they loved him just as he loved them. I can’t tell you how many young people came through the line at the funeral home the day before the funeral and told us that they were Jay’s best friends. Yes . . . he had lots of best friends.

I could write forever about my boy because I loved him so much (and still do) and want to preserve his memory and my “mother’s love” for everyone who’d like to read about him. That’s why I wanted you to read what I’d written . . . so that you could get a little insight into him and could know and understand that “mother’s love” . . . the same kind of love that you have for your children and that you’d want others to know about.

And so I’ll close for tonight, hoping that you know that you don’t need to be concerned about my being stuck in any of the stages of grief, that I still miss my boy and always will (I don’t ever want to get to the point that I don’t miss him, that I don’t cry when I hear certain songs, even rock music), that I write because through words I can preserve his memory both for me and for others who loved him. I also want you to know that I treasure you and your prayers and that I hope you never quit praying for me and for my family.

Thanks for writing to me. And for asking about my grief. You might have gone for the rest of your life worrying about something that you didn’t need to worry about.

This isn't my post for my boy this year. I have something in mind much lighter in tone. Stay tuned for more stories about Jay Young . . .

Monday, April 19, 2010

My boy, Jay

Several weeks ago, Keith Brooks asked me to write a bio of Jay for him to post on a new Web site that he and his wife, Kim, have created -- I Will Always Remember. It's a site where people can write bios of their loved ones. Keith was so patient with me. It took me several weeks to get in writing what I wanted to say. Check Keith and Kim's Web site:

Around the same time that Keith asked me to write, my friend Mary, a member of our Writers' Group, said she'd read what I've written and posted about Jay but that she'd like to know about his life. So . . . I had two good reasons to write once again about my boy. Hope you enjoy!


Writing a short biography of my boy, Jay Young, is like trying to paint the Grand Canyon on the tip of a pin—there’s just too much to fit. Someone heard a group of his friends talking before his funeral service: “Man, Jay lived more in 24 years than most people live in 75!” How true. He had done so much of everything that he set out to accomplish—had his own band , taken that band to New York, played all over the Southeast, learned to play virtually every instrument that he picked up (the standup bass being the one exception), owned a motor home, bungee jumped, sky dived, even got a good lei from Hawaii although it was after he died. He lived life to the “fullest,” sometimes “fuller” than his mom wanted him to. I must admit at the outset that my bio of Jay is from my point of view, which may differ from that of others, but, hey, I’m the one writing this bio. Right?

On Thursday, February 8, 1968, at my weekly checkup, my obstetrician, Dr. Girourard, told me three things: (1) that Jay wouldn’t arrive for two weeks, (2) that he would be out of town, and (3) that the other doctor—the one with the big hands—would deliver our baby. I wasn’t pleased with not having my real doctor in the delivery room, so I told him that the baby needed to arrive sometime before he left town. “There is no way that this baby will be finished ‘cooking’ by the time that I leave,’ he told me. And I said to myself, “We’ll see.” Well, I honestly believe that Jay and I had such a bond even at that time that the little fellow determined that he’d arrive when I wanted him to.

At 4:30 on the morning of Saturday, February 10, 1968, Jay made it known that he’d arrive that day, a great day for me because it was my dad’s birthday. My boy needed something special to tie him to his Papa because Wendy was my daddy’s heart. Two things gave Jay that special tie: (1) he was a boy (we have very few boys in our family), and (2) he was born on the right day. Don’t get me wrong . . . he didn’t edge Wendy out—he was just welcomed with open arms. Throughout his life, Jay was determined, and I think that determination reared its head before he appeared on the scene. He knew that he needed to enter the world on February 10, 1968, so that his mom didn’t have to face the “other” doctor.

He loved me right from the start. You see, I was his only source of nourishment, and he came into this world fascinated with a certain part of my anatomy. 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 a special relationship during those early days. We talked a lot during the night, and he’d just look at me as though I were the only important person in the world. We always had special looks for each other. 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 50 pounds when he was a year old. I quit worrying. Eventually, he ate, but he never “lived to eat,” as some folks do. I sometimes thought he was part camel, storing up food so that he wouldn’t have to waste his time on such mundane matters as eating. He had much more important things to do.

I suppose Jay’s life really began when we moved to Pensacola, FL. Our home there is the only one he ever remembered. Later in his life, in the Velvet Melon years when he returned home from New York, he ran from room to room, shouting, “My house! My house!” It truly was his house. Someday, I’ll tell lots and lots of stories about Jay and the house on Wilde Lake Blvd.

Wendy is 4-1/2 years older than Jay, but even with the age difference, they played well together most of the time. One of Wendy’s favorite things to do with her little brother was to dress him up, especially if we had company. She took great delight in parading him through wherever we had congregated, and he loved being on display. Even when he was two 2 years old, he loved an audience.

One of my favorite memories of Jay in his early childhood took place in our car one afternoon. He must have been around five years old, and evidently he and his dad had had a misunderstanding about Jay’s climbing on Frank’s truck. We were riding down the street when he announced that he was going to be a fireman when he grew up. He said that he was going to be married and that he and his wife would have about 12 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 as I asked, “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. Those 12 children never came into the world. How I wish that they had! Sometimes things don’t happen in the right order. Children are supposed to outlive their parents.

Jay always had a tender heart. Just a scolding was usually enough to get him back on the right track if he had strayed, and he strayed often. He also cried often. For instance, until Frank’s Aunt Bill came to stay with us for about six months, he cried every morning when I went to work and left him either with a maid or at a baby sitter’s house. He had no reason to cry with Aunt Bill there because they spent days reading stories and playing games and going to the beach. If he woke up during the night, they got up, read more stories, ate cookies, and went back to bed eventually. What a life for both of them! He also cried in the second grade. His teacher insisted on calling him Frank (his real first name but one that we didn’t use). He was so upset by this that I sent him to school with his “Here Comes Trouble” tee shirt that had JAY written on the back. That didn’t help, so I wrote a note. That didn’t help. Everyone at the school knew how unhappy he was. I’ve always thought that his first grade teacher helped by having him moved to another teacher’s class, thus saving a little boy from a miserable school year.

When he was in the third grade, he began two activities that he continued throughout his life—kissing girls and playing the piano. I didn’t actually see the kissing activity, but I heard about it; however, I was right there for the piano playing. From the beginning, he was good. I can see him at the piano, sitting there with his legs dangling from the bench, playing songs that really were too hard for such a little boy. But he was gifted. Always gifted. Frank and I recognized his gift, and later in life, he did, too. His piano teacher recognized talent and entered him in many contests—one of which stands out. He and two other little boys were in a certain level of competition. I could hear them practicing behind the curtain before the contest began. Jay’s playing stood out from the others—he was so sure of himself. He won, hands down. As we drove away from the University of West Florida 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 performance 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 his performance. I did. He did fine.

One of the reasons that Jay’s death was such a shock to all is that he was so healthy. The only health problem that he had in his lifetime (except for having to have hernia surgery twice) was that he suffered from migraine headaches occasionally. Every time that he’d have one, 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 for me. I don’t remember that I did many motherly things when our children were growing up, but that’s one motherly thing that I did. On his first day of first grade, I left school early, checked him out of Beulah Elementary, and took him to the doctor to find out the cause of those headaches. We were told that he had classic migraines. While we were sitting in the examination room with him, the doctor noticed some little red spots on his arms and legs. When asked what they were, Jay looked up at the physician innocently and solemnly said, “Child abuse.” What? The doctor, however, was smarter than Jay thought and said that he didn’t believe that; he had had a sister, and he recognized the signs of sister/brother horseplay when he saw it. A third headache memory that comes to me is associated with Jay’s one and only attempt at football. All the other kids were playing, so nothing would do but that Jay had to play, too. We outfitted him, and he 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. He 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 he’d had enough. I admitted readily that I had, too, and we turned in his uniform. The closest he ever came to playing football after that was playing xylophone in the band at Pine Forest High School.

Even though Jay had taken piano for several years during his elementary-school days, his real love of music began in middle school—it was during this time that he joined a band. He “blew the sax.” I know that’s a strange way to put it, but it was such an awful sound at first that “playing the sax” just didn’t fit. The screech didn’t last long, though, and soon he was playing really well. Another interest that emerged in middle school was running, and he put that interest to good use in soccer. Jay never wanted to be anything but a star, so naturally he aspired to be another Pele. Alas, he was no star, but he did well for such a little fellow. His lack of stature never bothered him. In fact, he loved the nickname that one of his teachers gave him—“Too-Tall Young,” after some famous athlete. He took pride in being the shortest in height but often the “tallest” in accomplishments.

Just before he left Bellview to go to Pine Forest, 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 at the same time. I mentioned earlier that Jay was determined, and that determination was present in his decision. Wendy, though, proved even more determined than her little brother and would have no part of that silly decision. She took him outside at our house for a little brother-sister talk, and when they came inside, she announced that he would be the xylophone player that the band director needed. Was it scary to Jay that he had never played mallets before? Not one bit. He knew he could learn, and he did.

Jay and his friend Jimmy Mills applied to and were accepted to Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps when Jay was a sophomore. I could write a book about the year that they traveled down to central Florida twice a month during the school year for practice and then toured the East Coast that summer with the Corps, but I’ll just say that during his Suncoast experience, Jay learned to play drums, completing his percussion education. During his senior year, he wrote the cadence for Pine Forest’s band. Every time the band marched in at the beginning of the football game, this mother’s heart beat right along with the cadence. I’m not sure that I could ever describe the pride that I felt every Friday evening. Once during half-time, he played the trap set on the field. Again . . . such pride. Another instance of pure pride surfaced at Honor’s Night his senior year, when John Buck, his band director, gave him the Band Award, saying simply that he had never known a student with so much talent. Six years later, after Jay died, John said that Jay still held that honor.

In January 1985, Velvet Melon was born, and from the inception of the band until Jay died, it was the most important thing in his life, aside from friends, family, and God. Actually, Joey Allred, the first keyboard player in the band, had the initial idea of forming a band; however, together the boys had the dream of making it big in Pensacola. That dream came to life every Saturday morning when about a dozen boys congregated in our game room to practice, letting up during the four hours that they were there only to consume dozens of hot dogs. That’s all I could afford to feed them at the time. Even though the band was Joey’s idea, Jay took the lead. He was determined, and he was talented. All of them were talented, but Jay had the personality and drive to hold the guys together through discouragement, debt, arguments, unsavory habits, and other such problems that young men aspiring to fame encounter. Most of the guys each played one instrument in Velvet Melon; Jay played several: keyboards, bass, saxophone, and drums. At one time, he was the drummer. After he changed mainly to bass and sax, I asked him if he sometimes wished he were still on drums since girls have an affinity for drummers. “What?” he exclaimed. “And move to the back of the stage? Are you kidding?” As I’ve said before, he wanted to be a star, and a star he was in his band! Someday I’ll write a book about my boy and really address his talent. For now, though, I’ll just say that he was truly gifted. Gifted by God . . . and he knew that.

Though Joey wasn’t in the band for very long, the dream that he and Jay had continued to grow. All of the guys worked together to take Velvet Melon to the top in popularity in the Southeast, playing venues in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Georgia and making a name for themselves everywhere they went. Then in 1989, Velvet Melon moved to New York. Another book, or at least a long chapter in a book, is what I’ll write about that experience. For now, though, I’ll just say that they played at The Bitter End and Kenny’s Castaway in the Village and at various places on the Jersey Shore and grew a following in both places. However, they almost starved, and all of them wound up with everyday jobs so that they could pay rent and eat. I believe that Suzi Ward, Jay’s girlfriend, and Andy Waltrip, best friend to all of the guys, bailed them out many times in the food and rent categories. Frank and I are forever indebted to them!

For seven years, Velvet Melon was a major part of our lives. Frank, Wendy, and I were the number one fans and followed them everywhere. Just before Jay died, he moved the band to Nashville, where they were just about to sign with an enthusiastic agent who recognized the tremendous talent of the guys. At the time of Jay’s death, the guys in the band were Jerry Dawson (guitar), Mike Magno (keyboard and guitar), and Todd Laws (drums). Jay played bass and sax, and Jimmy Mills ran sound. All of these young men, plus all of the others who had been in the band at one time or another, were like sons to us. We were “Mom” and “Pop” to these sons and to countless other young people, fans of Velvet Melon, all over the United States. All of us suffered when we lost Jay on July 2, 1992; however, because Jay made such a positive impact on almost everyone who knew him, his memory continues to live. Frank and I are so appreciative every time we hear from his friends, most of whom talk to us about their good memories. We love all of these “children” that we have, thanks to our son. And we are especially grateful to Kim and Keith Brooks for setting up this Web site where we can officially remember our boy, Jay.

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Throw me something, mister!"

The date is a Tuesday in mid-February1948. The place is Palmetto Street in New Orleans, 8326 Palmetto Street, to be exact, in an upstairs apartment, which might be considered almost ghetto quality today. At that time, it was in an almost new building, having been built probably in 1945. I think it was new when the family moved to New Orleans from Mobile that year. There’s excitement in all four apartments and in all of the apartment buildings in the neighborhood. In fact, there’s excitement all over the Crescent City. It’s Mardi Gras!

The family in the apartment, the Cheathams—Nina, Arlie, and their third-grade daughter Sandy—are up early so that they can get ready for the trip downtown. They eat a quick breakfast and head down to the first car that Sandy remembers, a big, bungling, grayish-brown, second-hand Packard from an earlier year, probably sometime in the '30s. Their destination is Canal Street, the main thoroughfare for the famous Rex parade. Some people dress up in costumes for the parade even though they’re not participants. It’s just part of the festivities to be someone else for the day. But Sandy doesn’t do this. She’s a shy child, and regular clothes will do. It’s a bit chilly out, so she wears blue jeans and a jacket, something comfortable and borderline ladylike because she’ll climb up on her daddy’s shoulders to watch the parade.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic and streetcars filled to overflowing with parade goers are the norm. A festive, party spirit is everywhere . . . even in traffic. After Arlie parks the car on a side street (no parking meters in those days . . . just find a place where your car fits, and park), the three walk several blocks to Canal Street and find a good spot, a spot where Sandy can catch lots of things that the people on floats throw.

They can hear the parade coming before they see it because the wave of voices and music swells as the marchers and floats get closer and closer. Sandy is on her daddy’s shoulders now and can see everything—the bands from local high schools in their flashy uniforms, the floats with streamers and flowers and ladies in gorgeous costumes, the policemen on horseback keeping the crowds back. She hears the shouts of adults as they recognize neighbors riding on the floats . . . but most of all the cries of children either crowded around their parents’ knees or up on those special Mardi Gras shoulders of their dads, and she joins right in, “Throw me something, mister!” And throw things they do . . . beads, other trinkets, candy, and the always-present moon pies. The most popular children at school on Wednesday will be the ones with the most beads!

After a lunch of hot dogs purchased from a vendor with a cart, the tired little family heads home, where they’ll re-live the day, count the beads, and head for bed. After all, Sandy has to be on her way to Judah P. Benjamin School early the next morning.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2009 . . . A Year to Remember

January 1, 2010

Someday I may get my Christmas letter written before Christmas, but as Jay used to say, "That (probably) ain't gonna hap'n, Cap'n!" That said, here's a New Year's letter with some of what went on in the Youngs' lives in The Land of Enchantment . . .

We managed to squeeze in a little bit of travel this year but not nearly so much as in other years. In February, we went to California to visit Irina for a couple of days and then to join our friends Susan and Boyd Christensen at their condo in San Diego. For the past two years, we've gone with them to Mexico; however, they decided that Mexico wasn't necessarily the best place to go this year. What a wonderful time we had in the Christensens' hometown! They knew exactly what we needed to do in that beautiful city.

Last year, when our niece Patti arrived for the Young Family Reunion and Frank's 75th birthday party, she declared almost immediately (on the way home from the airport in Albuquerque) that she already felt at home in New Mexico and that she intended to move here sometime in 2009. That determined young lady did just that. Her original plans of purchasing a bed and breakfast didn't work out yet, but she's definitely a New Mexican now, living only about ten minutes away from us in a lovely little casita and working at Beaver Toyota in Santa Fe. We love having her as a big part of our little family!

My annual trip to Pensacola was as good this year as it always is. Friends, family, and seafood are the things that I miss about my hometown, and I managed to squeeze in all three. I think I started in on the seafood as soon as I arrived and didn't stop eating it every chance I got until I arrived at the airport in New Orleans on the way home. Good visits with my brother-in-law Bob; with my special girlfriends Fran Crumpton and Annice Webb; with Carol and Jim Wilson in a late-lunch get-together in Montgomery; with Sherry Coleman and Paul Morin, two favorite former students, also in Montgomery; and with Andy Waltrip and his family (his and Beth's little boys are grandchildren to us!). To give details of those visits would take more room in this e-mail than my little computer can handle! I always stay most of the time with my sister/cousin JoAnn and her husband, Fred, when I go back to Pensacola. Such fun I have with them, especially those mornings when Jo and I just sit in our robes drinking coffee, reminiscing about our childhood, and just generally catching up. She and Fred are wonderful hosts!

Wendy, who continues to work with a New Mexico photographer, Gay Block, took some time off in June to go to North Carolina to photograph Jo and Fred's granddaughter's wedding. The mother of the bride, Angela (Jo and Fred's daughter), and Wendy have always been such close cousins and friends that it was only fitting for Wendy to "shoot" that important day. I probably should have put a picture of the bride and groom here, but I just couldn't resist a picture of the cousins. I went along, too, and managed to squeeze in visits with my cousin Nancy Posey and her family, my college suitemate Betty Thompson and her husband, and Carol and Jim Woods and their family (Wendy, too, on this visit) during the five days that we were there. So much fun and such a beautiful wedding!

Ever since we've been in New Mexico (six years), we've had lots of company, and I think anyone reading this letter knows that we welcome company. This year was no exception to visits. During the spring and early summer, we had visits from Anne and Bill Duncan (Pensacola), Judy and Bob Sanders (College Station, Texas), and Sandy and Joe Dorsett (Austin, Texas). Anne and I know each other from teaching days, but we've become even better friends after retirement. Judy was a college friend of ours and was our "wedding planner." Sandy and I graduated from Pensacola High School in 1958. We didn't know each other well in high school, but we became good friends during the planning of our 50th Class Reunion, when we discovered that both of us had lost our sons. Believe me, that loss draws folks together. We did the same things with each couple, but I won't tell you what they were because when you come to see us, we can surprise you with our "tour."

In our family, we love the Fourth of July and spend the whole day together, beginning with a visit to the Plaza in Santa Fe to listen to patriotic music. The medley at the end always gives me a Southern thrill because the band includes "Dixie" in it . . . a song I grew up with and love for sentimental reasons, not for un-politically correct (or is it politically un-correct?) ones. After the concert, we head somewhere for breakfast, then mosey on down to Madrid for the big Fourth of July Parade. You must get there a few minutes before noon to claim a good viewing spot. It's just about the only event in New Mexico that begins on time, and it's over in about seven minutes. Short and loads of fun! We all rest for a while in the afternoon; then we congregate at our house for a cook-out. This year was especially good because Irina and Meyer were here, and Grace and Bob Hollen and their granddaughter joined us. Good food and good fun!

My cousin Leah Pruitt and I decided in June 2008 that we needed to have a Kolb Cousins Reunion in 2009, and that's just what we did on Labor Day Weekend. After months of planning, five of the eight first cousins who are still living gathered at Hilltop Lakes, Texas, for a fun-filled weekend of non-stop talking, hugging, and eating. In addition to us first cousins, we had seven second cousins and a third cousin (Jackson). Hope I've counted correctly. We had a great time!

Frank's Big 76th Birthday Bash was a week after the reunion, so I hit the deck running when we returned home from Texas. Last year, we had about 125 here for the celebration, but this year's party was considerably smaller . . . only about 75. We had a new menu this year -- Mexican -- not the usual brisket and pulled pork. I made five or six freezers of ice cream. Family Coal, our local bluegrass band, entertained us. They're always a hit! Lots of eating and "fellowshipping" at our house!
We had other birthdays this year, of course, and we celebrated every one of them -- mine on May 6, Jackson's on May 21 (4 years old), Wendy's on May 24, Todd's on June 2, and Corey's on Halloween. I can't believe that our "firstborn" grandchild was 22 this year. Yesterday, she was just 4!

Thanksgiving this year was a bit strange because Wendy, Todd, and Jackson were with Todd's folks in Gallup, and Corey and her boyfriend, Zach, were in Pensacola. We managed to round up seven for dinner, including Patti and Susan Findley, our friend from Albuquerque whose parents are good friends of ours in Pensacola. Another good day even if a little different. We missed our kids!

December brought lots of cooking, lots of parties, and so much fun. On the 5th, Wendy, Todd, Jackson, Todd's folks, the Hollens and their granddaughter (Maya), and Frank and I went to Chama, NM, to ride the Cinder Bear Express, an old steam engine train. The kids were fascinated with Santa and Cinder Bear, and the adults loved seeing the little ones enjoy the day. We enjoyed it, too!

Next were four parties at our house within a week and a day. First, on December 12, was our Christmas Open House for our church, with about 40 as our guests. The next night was our annual participation in The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting, an evening when we celebrate Jay. This year we had other friends to join us in remembering their children who had died. It's always an uplifting event with lots of funny stories about our children. You can imagine that a few tears fall, but we try to make it an evening to remember for fun. On the 17th, we had our annual Christmas Open House for our neighbors. This year we had the largest turn-out ever . . . 105 at last count. Frank and I do all the food for all of these parties. We put in lots of hours, but the payoff is tremendous! This party just happened to be on our 48th anniversary. Many are already looking forward to 2011, when they assume there'll be a big celebration for #50. On the 20th, we had a house concert with Stephanie Bettman and Luke Halpern as our entertainers. They've performed in our home before and are soooo talented! After these get-togethers, all we had to get ready for was Christmas Day. Our whole family was here for dinner, except for Irina, who is in Ukraine with her family. We're hoping that she'll be with us next year! We were happy that Corey's boyfriend was with us for most of the day, but he had to go to work before dinner. Poor Zach!

I know this letter is way too long and is more than you want to read, but I can't close without giving a little update on what the individuals in our family are doing. Corey is working lots of hours as office manager of a catering company in Santa Fe, plus she just completed a very successful semester at Santa Fe Community College. We're all so proud of her! By the way, she's an excellent writer, and you know that makes her Grammy happy. Wendy is still working for a photographer and teaching part time at SFCC. I took her digital photography course this fall and can assure you that she's a great teacher. Todd is forever busy with his graphic design business and is a great work-at-home dad, having Jackson right there with him most of the time. Grammy and Pop are happy to "relieve" him whenever Todd gets swamped. That little boy is so much fun, and we love having him here at our house. Sometimes he stays with us just because we need a Jackson fix! Frank is as busy as ever taking care of our land and house. He finished the garage this year, and it's a beaut! It houses his big truck, my little car, and all of his tools. He had a terrible time with shingles (NOT the kind you put on the roof!) in the spring, but he didn't let it keep him down long. However, he still has vestiges of it from time to time with pain and itching way down on the bone. I retired from the publishing company and am doing some editing. I may take a writing course in the spring semester, and my business partner, Grace Hollen, and I may take some courses to give us more oomph in our editing. We're really good (and very humble), but we want to be the best!

We still love New Mexico and being so close to our children. We surely would like to introduce you to our good friends out here, so come to see us! We'll show you all the sights and feed you really well. No expense on your part except for getting here. We'll take care of all the rest!

We hope your Christmas was merry and blessed. Happy New Year! Hope it's a happy and prosperous one for all!

Sandy . . . and Frank, too

PS -- As if this letter weren't long enough, I just must add one more photo. It is the perfect picture of the love between a little boy and his Pop.