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