My Mom’s Always Hot!

 

 My Mom’s Always Hot!

A Mother’s Memories

Sandy Young

 

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

 

 

Jay Young

February 10, 1968 – July 2, 1992

 

For Frank and Wendy, who have their own memories,

and

Corey, who remembers through our memories,

and

Melonheads the world over, who may remember what Frank, Wendy, and I don’t even know about

Introduction

Don’t let the subtitle of this book throw you off: A Mother’s Memories. It sounds a bit maudlin, I know, but this won’t be a book in which I’ll endeavor to make you sad. You might shed some tears, though, because of the loss of a talented young man at such an early age. Or your tears may come from funny incidents in his life, some of which, if you knew Jay, you might have lived through with him. And if you lived through the adventures personally, you probably know more than I do! I hope you smile as you read because he’d want you to do just that—smile and laugh and relish the adventures.

This will be a book of memories, mainly mine, but also some memories of others who loved Jay. When children die, the only thing parents have is memories, and all are precious, whether good or bad. Bereaved parents don’t want to forget anything. That’s why some of us write books about our children. Granted, some families throw away everything that belonged to their children. Some move to new houses, even to different cities. Some divorce. But those parents seldom write books. Those of us who want to remember every little detail are the authors.

Jay died on July 2, 1992, a quarter of a century ago. Soon after he died, I began to read books by parents whose children had passed away. My friend Martha Dickson, who worked in the library at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, gathered all the books she could find addressing the grief of parents whose children had died. She had a stack a mile high waiting for me when we returned to church a couple of weeks after Jay died. They had no return date on them.

I also went to the Family Book Store at Cordova Mall every time I could find a few minutes, scouring their shelves for a new book by grieving parents. I devoured Andrew, You Died Too Soon by Corinne Chilstrom, who lamented the fact that she had waited eight years to write about her son. At the time I thought waiting that long was a shame. Do you see where I’m going with this? My shame is that I’ve waited much longer than she did, a quarter of a century. I hasten to say, however, that I began writing about Jay almost immediately after he died. Writing was a catharsis. It forced me to examine my feelings and to get them on paper. What I’ve waited so long for is collecting my journals and other writings into book form so that Jay’s friends would have a complete story about him.

This book is an assembling of many pieces that I’ve written about Jay and about my grief during these years. These are writings from my heart, from the heart of a mother who, after all these years, still cries when she writes about her boy and when she looks at certain pictures of him; who still cries when she views one more time the videos that Jack Canavan made at Seville Quarter, some of which are posted on YouTube; who even cries when she hears songs by Billy Joel, The Police, Crowded House, INXS, David Bowie—songs that Velvet Melon, Jay’s band, played. I’m not sure a parent ever quits grieving. After all these years, I still remember something Paul Newman said in an interview sometime after his son died. The person interviewing him asked him when the grief got better. Newman said it never got better; it just got different.

Though I’ve mentioned that I want to assemble the writing that I’ve done during the years since Jay died, I have another more deep-seated and just as important a reason for gathering together my feelings, emotions, and memories: If bereaved parents happen to read this book, I want this collection to be an encouragement to them. I want them to know that, indeed, there is life for them after that death. Will it be easy? Absolutely not! For my survival, I relied on God.

Sometime during the days immediately after Jay’s death, God gave me some words that I’ve used over and over again. I first used them at the funeral home at the viewing. I don’t know how many friends hugged me and asked, “How will you ever get over this?”—this referring to Jay’s death. My reply came straight from the Lord: “I’m calling it a lesson in prepositions. (Good thing for an English teacher!) I’ll never get over it; but I will get through it with the help of God, friends, and family.” And that’s exactly what has happened. God, friends, and family continue to help me today.

Each bereaved parent heals differently. The important thing is to find the way. As you read this collection of memories, I hope you can see my mother’s heart and my healing that is still in progress. I never want to “get over” Jay. That would mean that I’ve forgotten him. I want my memories to keep him alive forever!

 

 

Chapter 1 — Here’s Jay!

As I mentioned in the Introduction, memories are all parents have after their children die. I’m trying to keep those precious memories alive for as long as I can. The memories I’m including are not necessarily the most important ones or ones that others will remember, but they are ones that keep coming back to me. Even though my recollections are long, they won’t be exhaustive. My intention is to give you a little flavor of Jay and his mom.

I believe Jay and I had a special bond even before he was born. On Thursday, February 8, 1968, at my weekly checkup, my obstetrician, Dr. Girard, told me three things: (1) that Jay wouldn’t arrive for two weeks, (2) that he would be out of town when the baby was due, and (3) that the other doctor—the one with the big hands—would deliver our baby. I wasn’t pleased with not having my regular doctor in the delivery room, so I told him 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.” I honestly believe that Jay was determined to arrive when I wanted him to, evidence of the bond.

At 4:30 in the morning two days later, Jay made it known that he’d arrive that day, a great day for me because it was my dad’s birthday. Since our daughter, Wendy, was my daddy’s heart, my boy would need something special to tie him to his Papa. 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 Papa’s birthday. 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.

Jay 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. I wonder if that was a foreshadowing of his later interests. 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. We developed quite a relationship right then. We talked a lot during the night. He’d look at me as though I were the only important person in the world. He always had a special look for me. I remember that I worried a lot because he wouldn’t eat “real” food, but the doctor assured me that if he continued to gain weight at the rate 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. 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 because he had no memories before that time. The only house he could ever remember living in was the one at 2720 Wilde Lake Blvd., in Pensacola, Florida. This was truly home to Jay. I remember him running from room to room when he returned after being gone for seven months to New York, ostensibly to make his fortune, shouting, “My house! My house!” It was always his house.

Jay 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 and clinging to me either with a maid at home or at the baby-sitter’s house? We mentioned to Frank’s mother that Jay was a miserable little boy. Her reply was that she’d ask her sister, Aunt Bill to us, to help us. Aunt Bill headed to Florida from Maine right after Christmas. He had no reason to cry with Aunt Bill as his “sitter” 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!

After Aunt Bill left, we began to leave him at Children’s World daycare center. He really liked it there although he didn’t like taking a nap with the other children: the teacher would put him in a room by himself. Independent little kid! Actually, some of the children misbehaved during naptime, and it scared him to hear the teachers yelling at them.

When he was a little older, I almost enrolled him in one of the Pensacola Christian day care centers so that he could get some teaching, not just babysitting; however, when I investigated, I learned 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. If you knew Jay, can you imagine anyone’s trying to squelch Jay’s talking? We used to tell him to play the quiet game during meals at home. Otherwise, he’d still be sitting there talking when Wendy and Frank and I had finished eating.

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!” Whatever came into his head came out of his mouth.

One of my favorite memories of Jay took place in our car one afternoon. He must have been about five years old, and evidently he and his dad had had words about Jay’s climbing on Frank’s truck. We were riding toward Frank’s store in Brownsville when he announced that he was going to be a fireman when he grew up. He said he was going to be married and he and his wife would have at least 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. How did Jay answer? “Of course, I know that.” Then came the important question. “And will you bring your children to see me?” He looked at me, astonishment written all over his little face. “Oh, Ma, you plolly be dead by then!” Out of the mouths of babes!

In the summer of 1973, we began preparing for Jay’s kindergarten year at Beulah School. Days at the old Beulah School were wonderful years for both Wendy and Jay. They loved the school, and they loved their teachers, who gave them elementary teaching that carried them through all of their public school years. I loved it out there. Everything was so much more peaceful than it was at the big schools in the city. Both Wendy and Jay had Eugene Winters for their principal at Beulah, Wendy the whole time and Jay until third or fourth grade. I have some very specific memories of his years out in the country.

Jay, like Wendy, loved going to school. Once, Mrs. Gunn, his first grade teacher, 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 surreptitiously get a look at her myself, and she was pretty scary, both in looks and in action. I could hear her screaming at the kids, and you remember, I’m sure, that he didn’t like hollering teachers. There really was nothing I could do except encourage my little boy to be patient, that Mrs. Gunn would be back in a few days.

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 section of second graders 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 newly formed class. I have always thought Mrs. Gunn had something to do with that. Even if she didn’t, I’ve always thanked her in my heart for it.

Third grade was Mrs. Vickery for both Wendy and Jay. 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 of our children learn their times tables before they could be promoted to fourth grade. She was a rather old-fashioned teacher. I like old-fashioned!

Also, when he was in the third grade, Jay 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. I believe it started at the Beulah Fall Festival that year when he and his best friend, Walter Glenn, talked girls into going behind the portable buildings with them.

I was right there for the piano playing, though. 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 that I remember so well might have been a catastrophe except for Jay’s positive attitude. Jim Hussong, his piano teacher, realized about three days before a contest in Tallahassee that he had given Jay the wrong piece to learn. Jay’s reaction? “No sweat, Mr. Hussong. I can learn the new one.” And he did. Jim was more than pleased with both Jay’s attitude and performance.

I made sure that he was placed in Mrs. Gainey’s room in fourth grade because we had loved her for Wendy. Mrs. Gainey allowed him to be creative, just as she had Wendy. Jay was happy in her class. Unfortunately, the new principal, Lynwood Kent, was very much unhappy with me because I told all the mothers in the neighborhood to call the school and request Mrs. Gainey for their fourth graders. Lynwood stopped by our house one afternoon after school to tell me that when he needed a curriculum director, he’d hire me.

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. These were agonizing times in my little boy’s life. One of these memories actually covers many instances. Every time he had 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 I could do.

When we took Jay to the doctor to find out what caused the 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 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 he didn’t believe that (Whew!); he had had a sister, and the doctor recognized the signs of sister/brother horseplay when he saw it. That kid!

Another headache memory comes with thoughts of Jay’s one and only attempt at football. All the other kids, Walter Glenn and Joe Jacobi probably, were playing, so Jay wanted to play, too. We outfitted him and began going to practice. His football “career” lasted about two weeks. 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. Jay 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 . . . excuse me . . . uniform. The closest he ever came to football again was playing xylophone in the high school band.

Even though Jay had taken piano for several years during his elementary school days, his real love of music probably began in middle school, 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. However, the screech didn’t last long. Soon he was playing really well, so we didn’t have to put him out in the barn to practice, as I thought we might have to. I don’t remember any specific instances of Jay in band in middle school, except for going to concerts at Christmas time and at the end of the year.

He also was tremendously interested in running during this time. Soccer was a love, too. Jay never wanted to be anything but a star, and 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.

He was so little in middle school. One of his teachers called him “Too-Tall Young,” after some famous athlete; he even had “Too Tall” written on the back of one of his jerseys. Jay didn’t mind being short; in fact, I always felt that he took pride in being the smallest but often the “tallest” 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 in many ways.

I think it was probably during his middle school years when 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. It seems that one of his friends had thrown Jay’s new Nikes into Walter’s pool. Jay was so angry. I can’t even describe it. Thank goodness I don’t think I ever saw him that angry again. The only time after this one that I recall him crying was when he was much older. He and Suzy, his girlfriend, 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.

I told you earlier that 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. But there was one teacher in middle school that he did not like at all because she embarrassed him. I think she taught math and science. Once when he made an F on a test, 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, and we understood why the kids would misbehave. They wanted to be put into the “hole,” a solitary place behind bookshelves, for punishment to get away from her. Jay spent a lot of time there. After the conference, we never complained about his grade. We just continued to demand the best that he could do, realizing that he was working under very much adverse circumstances with that teacher.

Just before he left Bellview Middle School to go to Pine Forest High School, Jay announced that he wouldn’t be in band in high school. Instead, he’d run cross-country. He didn’t think it would be “cool” to march and play his sax because he might damage his teeth. 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 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? No. Did that discourage him? No. He brought the xylophone home and taught himself to play. I don’t think he ever missed a Friday night “gig” in the Pine Forest band during his four years there.

Most of my memorable moments with Jay in high school involved band. The PFHS band was not new to us. We had been through four 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, the band director, and his band. I must admit that it was difficult for me to be a teacher at Woodham and a parent at Pine Forest. I had to work really hard not to mix the two. When he and Jimmy Mills were in Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps the summer of 1984, Jay learned to play drums. That completed his percussion education. He wrote the cadence for drums his senior year, and my heart beat right along with the drums as the band marched into the stadium. Pride!! The night that he played his trap set on the field was almost too much for this mother’s heart. The time that my heart thrilled the most, though, was at Honors Night when John Buck gave him the Band Award, saying simply that he had never known a student with so much talent. In 1992 Jay still held that place in John’s heart. He told me so when Jay died. Again, John brought joy to a mother’s heart.

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. That’s when Velvet Melon was born. The name of the band didn’t come that night, though. It was months later when Jay’s girlfriend at the time, Gina Forsberg, told him that she had seen something strange carved on a desk at Tate High School: Velvet Melon. “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, a dream to have the best rock ‘n’ roll band in Pensacola. The dream began to develop 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 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 in love with all that Jay did. Frank, Wendy, and I were Jay’s #1 fans, and Steve, Wendy’s first husband, was right up there with us. 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 those gala events anyway because we might have seen some things that our tender eyes didn’t need to see yet. We did see some things that we shouldn’t have; however, we thought it best to ignore them.

The gigs that I enjoyed most were those at Pine Forest (sock hops, talent shows, even concerts). I can’t remember when Velvet Melon 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 were Longnecker’s and Fennegal’s. I never did care much for The Rex, an old theater where I went to movies when I was a teenager. None of these are in existence now.

Before I begin to tell you about Jay’s years after high school and in Velvet Melon, the best years of our lives with our boy, I need to mention some disclaimers.

When a parent writes about his or her child after the child has died, it’s very easy to make the child out to be an “angel.” I assure you that Jay wasn’t an angel, that he did things that later he wasn’t necessarily proud of and that I certainly wasn’t proud of. I didn’t know about much of the trouble that he got into during his young adult years because he and Wendy and his friends kept me in the dark. They protected the mother who worries much too much.

Because I wasn’t involved in most of the trouble that Jay got himself into, my memories don’t involve the scrapes with the law and the underage drinking. I found out in later years that we didn’t escape some of these “events”; we just didn’t know what was going on. Even though we discovered later some of the things Jay did, things 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 scene 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! One line that he wrote in an original song has always comforted me: “I don’t mix drugs with rock ‘n’ roll/I’ve got Jesus in my heart to save my soul.” Isn’t that a wonderful line? Another precious memory for this mother.

In 1989, Jay moved his band to New York to make their fortunes playing in clubs in the Village and on the Jersey Shore. They all needed steady jobs to support themselves while playing music in clubs so that they could be discovered. The job that Jay thought would earn him the most money was that of a messenger. He had seen the movie Quicksilver, about a young man who made good money and had an exciting, dangerous life delivering messages. Jay was sure that he could do the same, especially in the area of money. Wrong! He got the job. Actually, anyone who showed up for work could have a job. The problem was that when he reported for work, most of the time there wasn’t anything for him to do; therefore, he wasn’t a messenger for long.

Andy Waltrip, one of Jay’s best friends, was already in New York City when the guys arrived and had a job at The Beanstalk Restaurant in Rockefeller Center. Andy told the manager about these starving Southern musicians, and the manager agreed to interview them. Each went individually to talk to the manager. Each was hired. I don’t know how the other guys touted themselves, but Jay laid it on thick about all the experience he had had. His little job during high school, washing pots and pans at Adrian’s Barbecue just down the street from our house, turned into a fantastic job in an upscale restaurant in his hometown. Jay could always stretch a story!

All the guys liked working at The Beanstalk Restaurant and for good reason: they had at least one meal a day. If they were blessed enough to get a double shift, they ate twice. Obviously, part of their reward for working a shift was being able to order what they wanted to eat, taking time during a break to devour a real meal. In addition to getting their earned meals, they watched carefully when a family with small children were eating. They eyeballed the kids to see whether or not they touched their food much and took dibs on their plates. Not being afraid of germs or disease, if Jay, for instance, said, “Dibs on that kid’s plate,” it meant that he could eat whatever he wanted of what the kid left. As far as I know, none of the Velvet Melon waiters ever got sick from cleaning the plates of kids.

The only day they didn’t like being waiters was Thursday, the day they dubbed “Blue Hair Day.” The Blue Hairs were little old ladies who met for lunch on Thursday. You may not remember when older ladies went to the beauty parlor to have their gray hair colored . . . blue. I remember, but I never understood why my mother did this. And so did elderly ladies in New York City. I’m sure that the guys were very polite to them, even treated them the way they’d treat their grandmothers; however, they dreaded it when these ladies sat at their tables. And why would they dread these sweet little old ladies? Because they sat at the guys’ tables for hours (or so my story-stretching son said) and were the stingiest tippers ever. Waiters have always depended on tips because they seldom get paid much by their employers. I can remember answering the phone at home from time to time and hearing a very excited Jay saying, “Guess what, Mom! I tipped out today at a hundred!,” meaning that he made a hundred dollars in tips. Never on Thursday, though.

Since the main reason for Jay and the guys moving to New York was to play music in hopes that an agent would hear/see them. (Another main reason for Jay’s going was to be with his girlfriend Suzy. She and Andy kept the guys afloat lots of times not only with money lent—and probably never repaid—but also with encouragement.)

Getting a gig in Greenwich Village in 1989 wasn’t easy. In order to play at The Bitter End, for instance, the guys had to walk the streets of the Village, giving out tickets advertising the band, and they had to make the tickets themselves. If—and that’s a big IF—the people showed up for the gig and presented the tickets along with the cover charge, the guys received a dollar for every ticket collected. Wendy, Frank, and I were at one of those gigs, a gig where there were about ten or fifteen people in attendance. Ten or fifteen dollars for five guys to divide hardly foreshadows fortunes. They also played at Kenny’s Castaways in the Village, but I don’t remember the process for playing there or at a club on the Jersey Shore. What I do know is that these young musicians gathered fans, but I also know that they couldn’t make enough money to pay bills; therefore, in August 1989, they headed home, where they knew they could stay booked as much as they wanted. I can assure you that Pensacola welcomed the hometown boys back with open arms. Frank, Wendy, and I were overjoyed to have Jay and Velvet Melon back where they belonged, at least for a while.

Not too long before Jay moved to New York with Velvet Melon, he told me that he wished I’d think of something besides roast beef and fixings for lunch on Sunday. So when he moved home after eight months in the North, I asked him what he wanted for lunch on Sunday, certainly not planning to prepare roast beef. Roast beef, of course was his answer! He was ready for Mama’s Southern cooking, and he got it. Here’s another funny thing about his return to Pensacola. When he walked into our house as soon as the long trip was over, he walked from room to room shouting, My house! My house! My boy was overjoyed to be back in his Southland, and overjoyed is an understatement for what his mom felt.

I believe it was the Christmas after the guys returned from New York when we had a wonderful surprise. For many years on Christmas night, the guys had gigs, and Jay usually left for the gig around 7:00. On this particular Christmas, Jay got up from the lunch table and announced that he had to leave. We assumed that he was going to a practice before that evening’s gig. Not so, though. About two hours after he left, we heard Christmas carols outside. Upon checking, we found the guys playing the carols for us. What a sweet Christmas surprise for the families of all the guys. They were going from home to home to give this special “giff” to families.

I have a few more memories that I must share with you because they show so well the kind of young man Jay was. Gigs were so important in Jay’s life, and they were in ours, too. We went to all the gigs in Pensacola, especially the ones at Coconut Bay on Sunday evenings. If I hadn’t finished getting ready for the week ahead in my classroom, I sat and made lesson plans on cocktail napkins while Velvet Melon entertained the raucous crowd. Jay didn’t mind that I worked while he played, but he told me not to grade papers. I wouldn’t have dared since my students would have questioned where I’d graded them because of the lingering smoke and alcohol smells that would have permeated the pages. Specific gigs are indelible in my memory.

I dreaded one of the nights at Coconut Bay because I knew what would happen that evening: He was going to let one of the band members go. During the first break, I kept looking around for Jay, 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.

This gig is different. I call it a No-Gig Gig. One Thursday, not too long before Jay died, a friend called him to ask a favor . . . a favor with $100 attached to it. The friend had been asked to be in a video on Saturday at Seaside with the Bellamy Brothers. The track had already been laid down, and the Brothers were making the video to go with the music. All Jay had to do was to pretend to be playing the saxophone. For $100? Of course, he could do that! But to satisfy himself and the musician in him, he had to do something first. He went out and bought the tape of “I Could Be Persuaded,” the song that he would be “playing,” listened to it who knows how many times, memorized it on the way to Seaside (about an hour away from Pensacola), practiced it after he arrived, and fingered the song correctly on the video. He couldn’t bear the thought of a sax player watching the video and seeing that Jay wasn’t really playing the song. One of the production guys from the Bellamy Brothers told Jay, after hearing him practice, that he’d like to talk to him soon about doing some work with his musicians. That didn’t happen, maybe because the guy forgot or didn’t really mean it or Jay died too soon.

One Monday morning in the spring before he died, Jay 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 another time when he called me at school. Becky McPheron 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, and a good title for a book about my boy.

And then 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, wearing the outfit that one of my students wore when we were studying The Canterbury Tales, and he had to recite the Monk’s Prologue. Everyone was so excited about their new little mascot. When she was older, Corey was right up there with the #1 fans! So many times Jay played songs for her while she was at gigs, dancing away on the dance floor of a bar. She was a light in his life. He loved her even though he didn’t always know exactly what to do with her.

The gig that will always be most memorable to me, though, is the one on the night of June 27, 1992, Jay’s last gig. I wouldn’t take anything for that evening. We were at Yesterdays in Chattanooga, TN, 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. One of his best friends, Andy Waltrip, was right. Jay had charisma . . . and he still has it. If you’re my friend on Facebook, maybe you’re one of the couple of dozen folks who write beautiful comments about my boy even after a quarter of a century. You’ll never know the thrill that you give Frank and me.

For three days after that last gig, we were with Jay and the guys in their new home near Nashville. The guys composed and recorded; I read; we (Jay, Frank, and I) shopped for a washer and dryer. Jay and I acted silly 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!”

And now, I hope you know my boy, Jay Young. As Jay always said, as he left home, “I’m outta here!” And so I, too, am outta here, ready to tell you about the last days in the life of a gifted musician, my boy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2 — The Last Week

I am so thankful for a loving Heavenly Father who doesn’t let his children know the future. We may think we wish we knew what was going to happen to us in certain situations, but we really should be satisfied to let God be completely in control. I didn’t really understand that until sometime after July 2, 1992, when Jay died. I can’t even imagine how I would have survived if I had known what would happen on Thursday of the week beginning on June 27, 1992.

I don’t have a very good memory about lots of things; however, everything that happened in my life from June 27 through July 6, 1992, is imprinted in my mind even today, a quarter of a century later. In 1993, because I was afraid at that time that I might forget, I wrote what I called “One Year Journal—A Piece of My Heart.” In it, I wrote down everything that I could remember of each day leading up to Jay’s death and of the days following. Since my journal was originally meant just for me, you may have trouble identifying some of the people; therefore, I have identified them within parentheses.

 

Saturday, June 27, 1992

Frank and I left home early so that we could arrive in Chattanooga before Velvet Melon’s gig began. 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 of his 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 the 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 (the sound man) 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 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 had with our children. Jay was always proud to have us in his audience, and whenever we were there, he found time to sit with us for a few minutes. As he sat with us that evening, sweat dripping from him and his hands combing through his hair in the usual manner, 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 I get when I have those guys on the floor right in my hands! Whatever I tell them to do, they do . . . clap, jump up and down, yell . . . whatever! How can a job be so much fun?” With that, he pushed away and was off to table hop, making everyone feel special. That was just his way. He called it “working the crowd,” making everyone feel welcome.

Some of our friends thought we were crazy for supporting Jay in his chosen vocation. They didn’t understand how we, faithful First Baptist members, could approve of his making his living in bars. But, as Frank told many of them, if Jay had chosen to be a doctor, we’d have supported him. He just happened to choose music, and most professional musicians start out by playing in bars.

Toward the end of the gig, someone requested that the guys sing “Let It Be.” None of them knew all the words, but Jay, ever the entertainer, told the person who made the request to write the words, and he’d sing it. And he did. He went to the keyboard, never having played the song before but knowing the tune, and played and sang The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” making someone in the audience very happy. Someone besides his mother, who was filled with pride in her musician son.

After the gig was over, we stayed to watch the guys break down and pack up. As always, when we were present, Frank helped.

 

Sunday, June 28, 1992

Frank and I got up, had a leisurely breakfast and headed for Nashville to spend several days enjoying Jay and his new home. 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 tasted the wine. I bought Jay some special hot sauce, not plain old Tabasco.

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 waterbed. I must admit that his room was the most special to me. On the walls were 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 him leaping in the air, the cute picture of Tara (his girlfriend) looking at the camera 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. That waterbed would play an important role during the next two days.

The main goal of the guys for the time 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. We listened 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 waterbed. Jay’s was very much different from ours. Ours was 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.

 

 

 

 

Monday, June 29, 1992

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. 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. I’m so selfish since Jay died. When my friend Ellen Lett died yesterday, June 28, 1993, I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t immediately mourn. All I could think of was that she would see Jay, maybe that he’d be the first friend to greet her.. I doubt that he was because she has so many closer loved ones there, and I know 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! But back to 1992.

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 ran errands with Jay, including going to Sears.

I might mention here that I thoroughly enjoyed myself by reading to my heart’s content during the days when we were with Jay. The two books 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 books were intended for me at that 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. I know for sure that the Lord sent both to me.

Before heading to Sears, 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. I feel sorry for her because she never got to see Jay in action.

We went to eat at a local restaurant afterwards. It was so wonderful to be alone with Jay. 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, exciting 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 literature 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 we would be alone with our son. Does the “glory” of that day need further explanation? I doubt it.

 

Tuesday, June 30, 1992

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 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: 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 bookstores 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 waterbed. 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.

 

Wednesday, July 1, 1992

I lay on the floor most of the morning. I remember Jay coming to check on me occasionally and Frank wracking his brain about what to do for/with me. We remembered that Bill Puryear mentioned his ear doctor in the office on Monday, so we called him to get the doctor’s name. I was so happy when Frank discovered that the doctor could see me around three that afternoon. Diagnosis—vertigo. He prescribed something—I forget what—but I don’t remember taking very many doses of it.

Eventually, I began to feel better. After showering, I felt much better. Frank and I had decided to accompany Jimmy (the sound man for Velvet Melon) and a girl (Mimi, I think) from Chattanooga to a neat restaurant that night because Jay and Todd (Velvet Melon’s drummer) were leaving around six to go back to Chattanooga to hear Steve Ebe from Human Radio play drums with the band Head of Phineas Gage at Yesterday’s. As Jay left, I remember looking at him and thinking I understood exactly why the girls loved him so much. He never looked cuter—denim shirt, jeans tight rolled, and multi-colored belt—and those shoes, the ones he said people in the audience always commented on at gigs, the mustard colored ones, the ones that the other guys liked so much they bought their own. Todd and Jay were in such a hurry that I barely told him good-bye. I’ve always been sorry about that. I don’t think I even got a hug. That means he didn’t either.

 

Thursday, July 2, 1992

Most of you reading this don’t know the people whom I mention in this entry. All you really need to know is that they are all either relatives or very dear friends and that we couldn’t have gotten through our ordeal without them.

Frank and I got up early and started for home. I have a few impressions of the day but nothing really specific until later that evening. Breakfast at The Cracker Barrel on the way out of Nashville, many naps because of the medication I was still on for vertigo, a quick ice cream just before leaving I-65 (the last “meal” we would have for almost twenty-four hours), still more dozing, the “maintenance required” light going on in the van just after we turned on to Wilde Lake Blvd. Could that light have been prophetic?

We arrived at home around 5:20 PM, just about ten minutes after Jay and Todd came in. As I was walking up the stairs with my suitcase, I asked Todd where Jay was. He told me Jay was asleep, but I didn’t think anything strange about that; many times he went straight to bed after getting home from a road gig. How he did love to sleep! Not at the times that I would choose, but he lived on a different clock from mine. I went into our bathroom and did something that I rarely do: I unpacked my suitcase immediately and set it on the ledge just outside my bathtub. I wish I hadn’t been so industrious. My laziness might have saved my boy’s life, but I doubt it. Then I went downstairs to read mail. Frank had gone outside immediately after we got home, and when he came in, I asked him if he’d be satisfied with Pizza Hut pizza for dinner. Of course. I still wasn’t feeling well, and he was concerned about me. Shortly after he came in, Frank heard a thud in our bathroom, went to check (fearing that I had fallen from my dizziness), saw my suitcase on the ledge, and assumed that he had heard me drop it after unpacking. These actions don’t really coincide, but we were both tired and not thinking very clearly. I don’t think I’ve written things exactly as Frank tells them, but that’s not important. Frank then lay down on the couch upstairs to watch the news. We had been out of touch with the world for a few days.

I called Pizza Hut with our order so that it would be ready when I went to pick it up; then I went upstairs to brush my teeth, forgetting that my overnight bag was still downstairs. Oh, well . . . I thought I’d just go to the bathroom while I was there, and that’s when I discovered Jay. We don’t really know how long he had been there. Was it he that Frank heard fall when he thought it was my suitcase? We’ll never really know, but it wouldn’t have made any difference anyway.

When I cried out Jay’s name, Frank ran in and told me to dial 911 and to ask Todd what Jay had had to eat that day. Todd was coming up the stairs at the time. When I asked him, he told us that Jay had had nothing to eat that day but that he had had an awful lot to drink the night before and had been sick all day. He’d been drinking Cokes and water to settle his stomach.

As I was giving directions to the 911 operator, Todd began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Jay, to no avail, of course, because he was already dead. Poor Todd. He tried so hard to revive his buddy, all the time crying and begging Jay to respond. An eternity passed, so it seemed, before the paramedics arrived. They hooked up all sorts of mechanical and computerized things to my boy, but he never responded. He was breathing, but only with machinery.

Frank wouldn’t let me go back into the bathroom, but every once in a while, I would walk around just to see for myself what they were doing to my child. I was numb. Actually, the operator stayed on the phone with me for a long time, until the paramedics arrived. It really wasn’t very long . . . probably only five minutes or so from the time that I called until the first crew came. To a mother, it seemed like forever.

I sat in my recliner most of the time, praying. My immediate prayer was, “Oh, Lord, please don’t let him die!” Then I thought about what I had said, and I added, “But please don’t let him be a vegetable.” Death would be far better for Jay Young than life if he could not live it the way he wanted to. He would not have been a gracious paraplegic. Who knows how long his brain had been without oxygen? But then, who knows what the Lord could have done in the way of miracles? I certainly don’t.

I distinctly remember another prayer during the time that the paramedics were working on Jay. Lord, I don’t think I can bear living without Jay. And then a voice said to me, You can if you’ll let Me help you. There was no question in my mind, even at the minute when I didn’t know whether Jay would live or die—I knew that God was with me and that He had spoken those words.

The medics had done all they could do. I could hear the flap-flap of the helicopter blades. What a shame that Jay couldn’t enjoy the ride! I remember thinking that, realizing even then that he was dead. Frank didn’t know I knew, but I did. He knew, but he was trying to protect me. This is so strange, but as I followed the stretcher down the stairs, I saw mud on the carpet and thought, Maybe I should get out the vacuum and get this up before it leaves a terrible stain. What weird things the subconscious does! The stain is there to this day. It will not come up. But do I wish I had stopped? No. It’s just one more reminder of my boy. I don’t worry about it. Frank claims it’s a different stain, but I know better. To me, it’s a reminder.

Another strange thing . . . As they were taking Jay across the front lawn to the preacher’s yard, where the helicopter was parked, two neighbors came up to see if something was wrong with Frank. They discovered that it was Jay, disappeared, and never came back. How strange. I don’t know. Maybe they couldn’t face the death of one so young. I’ve seen one of them in the grocery store several times during the past year, but he has never mentioned Jay.

I remember calling to the last of the paramedics to ask him if Jay was breathing. His reply was, “Not on his own.” I knew what his answer would be. I remember walking over to the mailboxes and watching the helicopter take off with my boy in it. What an empty feeling. And I hadn’t even hugged him as he left the house the night before.

Before we left to go to the hospital, I tried to get in touch with Wendy. No answer. A brief message on the machine telling her and Steve that we had gone to the hospital because of Jay. Got through to Jimmy, though, and he beat us to the hospital. Todd rode with us. Silence. As we parked, Frank turned to me and said, “Don’t get your hopes up.” I wouldn’t. I already knew. But every time that the nurse came into the little waiting room where Frank, Jimmy, Todd, and I sat, my “mother hopes” rose, thinking that I might hear her say something like, “We were mistaken. He’s fine. He sat up, looked around, and said, ‘What’s happenin’?’ You may take him home now.” Instead, each time she entered, she said something to the effect of “The doctors are trying everything . . . They’re doing their best . . . .” Then, “They did everything that they could. I’m so sorry.”

Would we like to see him? Of course. The room was so cold; no wonder he was blue. No, the blue was death on him. Death on my precious little boy. I hope I don’t sound maudlin; I don’t mean to be. I just remember the awful color, his cold, hard skin, no life. No life here, that is. I knew immediately that my boy wasn’t in that cold, blue, hard body. My boy was with Jesus. Jay said, “I don’t mix drugs with rock and roll/I’ve got Jesus in my heart to save my soul” . . . said it right in “I’m Not Crazy”. . . right out where everyone could hear him. He was not ashamed of his God.

The ride home was quiet. Before we left the hospital, I remember clinging to Frank and begging him not to leave me. I really don’t know why I did that. Guess I’ve read one too many stories and articles about families falling apart after the death of a child. On the way home, I recall saying that I didn’t want to put the pictures away. Again, too much reading. Frank probably thought I was crazy. He had already assured me that he wouldn’t leave me, and, as he drove, he promised that we didn’t have to put the pictures away.

When we arrived at home, I called my sister-cousin JoAnn. Naturally, she was devastated. She agreed to call the relatives for me. We had so many calls to make. I think we called Fran and Bob Crumpton next, but they weren’t at home. Maybe we left a message on the answering machine . . . anyway, they returned our call soon, and Frank told them what had happened. Almost immediately our phone started ringing. Frank called Wendy Bennett, who called Sophia, who called Melrose . . . etc., etc., etc. Anyway, our friends were with us immediately. Frank had called Bob, his brother, right after he called the Crumptons, and he and Deb were here for us just as soon as they could get themselves together. Others who came immediately were Tim Key, the youth director at church; Bill and Louise Santo; and Jim Wilson. I had called for Carol, but she was at her mother’s house in Alabama. Jim came just as soon as he could. What a relief!

I remember sitting at the dining room table with Bill Santo, discussing arrangements. We had decided on Harper-Morris Funeral Home, with the funeral itself being held there, as well as the visitation. The Fourth of July weekend would pose a problem for us. Even though Jay died on Thursday, we couldn’t have the funeral until Monday because of the holiday on Saturday and because no funerals are held on Sunday in Pensacola. Bill and I talked briefly about how it would be all right to have the funeral there instead of at the church because numbers would not be a problem. Wrong! My mother had instilled in me the idea that it’s not good to have a funeral at church because you’d always think of it during the services each Sunday. I concur; however, it might have been a good idea to make an exception in this case.

During the evening, I tried to get myself together enough to call someone in the Singles department at our church; however, I never could muster up whatever it was I needed. Around ten or eleven o’clock, I looked around to see several of them walk in. What relief! My best friends in the whole world were here! They have come to our rescue after a death many times. Maybe that’s why God put us together so many years ago. They have seen us through Grandpa, Mother, and now Jay. I always get the feeling that I’ve never done anything for them when they come to our rescue. Truly, the only thing we’ve ever done is to open up our hearts and our home to them. Maybe that was enough for them; it doesn’t seem like much to me.

I vaguely remember calling Mike in Nashville. I didn’t handle it well. The words ‘”Mike, Jay died” just tumbled out . . . no warning . . . just the fact. Just as we feared, they started for home immediately. Terri was pregnant, and the night travel worried me. Sure enough, when they arrived, she didn’t look well; she hadn’t slept at all. Jay was dead. Who could sleep?

One of the Singles vacuumed up the paramedic mess for me. I was thankful. That mud really bothered me. Wendy and Rob Bennett went out for survival equipment — breakfast food, paper goods, and BC Powders. What would we have done without them? I don’t even want to think about it. The Hinkleys arrived with “guardian angel” pins in hand. I wore mine gratefully. The Hinkleys, the Bennetts, and Bob and Deb would be our salvation during the weekend. There was hardly a time when at least one of the families wasn’t here. Angela handled all calls. Superwoman!

The biggest problem after we came home from the hospital was finding Wendy. Frank called Patti Kilgore and told her what had happened. She didn’t know where Wendy was either, but she called Joy Waters (Wendy’s co-worker in pre-school) to see if she had heard Wendy say anything about where she was going after work. She hadn’t. I’ve always been thankful that Patti made that call because Joy and Bill are the ones who let the Singles know about Jay. We were so worried that Wendy would hear about her brother from someone besides us because word was spreading rapidly.

Finally, around nine o’clock, Wendy and Corey came in, just dropping by to visit for a few minutes and then wondering what kind of party we were having because of all the cars around the house. I can’t even remember how we told her. I’m afraid, though, that I just blurted it out the same way I had done to Mike. What can I say about Wendy’s reaction? It was what any normal sister’s reaction would be, a sister who loved her brother unconditionally. She was devastated. Four-year-old Corey just didn’t know what to think. She wanted to know where Jay died, and I told her; however, I said, “Grammy just can’t go back up there right now, though.” She wanted to go alone, and she did. When she came back downstairs, she said, “Look what I found, Grammy.” Opening her hand, she revealed Jay’s cross . . . the one that matched Tara’s. She wanted to keep it, but I told her I needed it. No problem. Todd had already attached himself to Jay’s watch and bracelets. That was fine. The nurse at the hospital had given me Jay’s earring, the one made from Tara’s ring. I wanted her to have that.

Speaking of Tara, Jay’s girlfriend, Frank made the call to her. I could tell it wasn’t going well. Her dad had died just a year ago, and she was still grieving for him. This wasn’t fair to her. Once again, life had been jerked from her grasp. Not fair. I can’t remember if her mother, Cheryl, brought her over on Friday or Saturday.

 

————————————————————————————

I posted all of this on Facebook a few years ago, and so many of Jay’s and our friends wrote comments about our boy, comments that lifted our hearts and also dissolved us in to tears . . . good tears.

That same year, Frank, Jackson (our grandson), and I were in Santa Fe on Jay’s death day. As we were eating lunch, Frank said, “It’s so nice that Jackson’s with us today.” I heartily agreed and replied, “Little did we know at this time on July 2, 1992, what was in store for us later that day; and little did we know how much God would bless us thirteen years later by giving all of us Jackson.” He’s named for Frank and Jay, you know, and reminds me so much of my boy from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3 — The Days After

Friday, July 3, 1992

I slept fitfully from three to six or so; Frank didn’t sleep at all. Our world had fallen apart; our son was gone. The emptiness I felt when I awoke that morning with only one child is indescribable. What was the reason for getting out of bed? I couldn’t think of a good one, but I knew that I had to. For one thing, I needed to check on the kids who had started out for Pensacola in the middle of the night. I dressed with no energy and went downstairs to meet them.

How different from most meetings that I had had with them in the past: tears instead of smiles, half-hearted attempts at hugs, futile attempts at conversation, tear-streaked make-up. Why had I even bothered to make myself presentable? Everyone would understand if I hadn’t even tried. But I couldn’t do that to Jay or to myself. I had to attempt to look good for my boy. I wouldn’t want him to be ashamed of me. I feel sure that someone was there even at that early hour, the Hinkleys or the Bennetts or the Youngs. I just don’t remember.

Around ten o’cloc Frank and I left alone to go to the funeral home to make arrangements. How could this be happening? Just twenty-four hours ago, we had been sitting at Cracker Barrel ordering a nutritious, delicious meal; it would have tasted like sawdust now. I had felt so bad that Thursday morning that I really didn’t want much to eat; however, the Lord works in our lives even when we don’t know we need Him. For some reason, I ate heartily. What a physical blessing!

As we turned in to Harper-Morris Funeral Home, Frank commented, “This is backward. We shouldn’t be burying our son; he should bury us.” We would say this over and over during the next year. Many friends said the same thing to us during that weekend.

That evening, Bob and Deb took us to Parisian because I wanted to buy Jay one last outfit. How I loved shopping for him at that store! It was the favorite place for both of us. His special saleslady waited on us, helped us pick out the clothes, and sent us the sweetest card the next week. We found something suitable—shirt, pants, belt. The outfit looked like something Jay would have picked out for dress clothes. I was satisfied. It felt so strange to be out in the world without Jay in it, though. Wendy went with us, too, and we all felt weird. People were going about their lives as though nothing had happened. How could they do this? Jay was dead; the world would never be the same again.

While we were shopping for clothes, we sent Bob and Deb to buy earrings for Jay. He had to have new earrings to wear for his final resting place. Bob, retired Army, was mortified, but he did his shopping anyway. I remember crying in 1984 because he had one pierce in his ear; now I was making sure that he had three earrings for his piercings.

 

Saturday, July 4, 1992

This morning, I couldn’t sleep past five o’clock. I went downstairs, sat in the recliner, and wept until I thought I would surely die of unhappiness. I didn’t see how I could live without Jay. Sometimes I still think that. I decided that writing might help me at that moment, so I went to the computer and wrote letters. To Jil, to Olga. That first writing was therapeutic. I knew I would write many times during the coming years, mainly about Jay.

This was the day of the first of many articles about Jay. Someone from the News-Journal had called me on Friday to get information for the article, and he did a good job with writing it. The obituary was also in the paper. I think Angela wrote it for us. I sat, read, wept.

Throughout the day, friends came, called, sent flowers and plants. I have no definite recollections of the day except a visit from Linda Rankin and a group from the Methodist church next door. To say that we were grateful is an understatement.

One definite thing I remember is Bob’s reminding me periodically that he needed to take the clothes to the funeral home so that the undertaker could get Jay ready for Sunday. Probably subconsciously, I didn’t want to send them because the preparation itself was too final. Eventually, though, I went upstairs to iron the pants and shirt, turning sweet Deb down about four times. She wanted to help me, but I wanted to iron Jay’s clothes just one more time. I have no idea how many times in the past few years that I heard a certain toned “Hey, Mom . . .” knowing instinctively that Jay was going to ask me to iron something for him. I never minded; I loved to do that one motherly thing for my boy. I wanted to do it just once more.

As I was standing there in a daze, mindlessly pressing the pants that didn’t really need any attention, Tara came up to talk to me. She rather offhandedly remarked, “You know, when my dad died last year, we buried him in his cut-offs, t-shirt, and deck shoes and put a rag in his hand because he was always cleaning something.” I immediately knew what she was trying valiantly to communicate to me.

“This isn’t right, is it?” I asked.

“No.”

Hesitantly, I asked, “What do you think he should wear?”

No hesitation on her part, “His denim shirt, `jeans tight rolled, and Reeboks. Oh, and his Mexican belt.”

“That’s just what he had on the night that he left for Chattanooga. I remember thinking how cute he looked, and that’s exactly what he’ll wear for tomorrow.” What a relief! Several times during the day I had thought about that outfit but had decided it was inappropriate. When will I ever learn to do what I want to do and not to worry about what other people will think? I asked her to check with Frank and the guys. She brought word from them that they liked that outfit even better and that Todd also added one of the new Velvet Melon t-shirts under the denim shirt. Now my boy would be dressed right!

Frank wanted to take the guys to the gig they were supposed to play that night just to get them away from the crowds for a while. They would have none of it. Jay had planned to set off fireworks on the Fourth of July, and that’s what they wanted to do. I guess they went over to Alabama to make their purchase. Anyway, they had a big fireworks display right in our backyard . . . for their friend Jay. One of the guys, maybe Mike, came to me during the evening, put his arm around me, and announced that they would do this for Jay each Fourth of July. They would call it the Jay Young Memorial Blowout, and it would be sparkly and loud, just the way Jay would want it.

 

Sunday, July 5, 1992

Some things are fuzzy. I have vague recollections of trying to watch the First Baptist Church service on TV, of losing consciousness and Frank’s catching me before I hit the floor (remember that I was still having twinges of the vertigo that had sent me home instead of to the mountains for a camping trip), and of Jennifer Mann and Tom Jensen’s bringing me a cake. What a special gift from former students!

Soon after noon, I went upstairs to get ready to go to the funeral home. Channel 3 was sending a reporter and cameraman out to interview us. I had never heard of anyone else in Pensacola having this great honor. Jay was a very special young man whose personality and heart touched hundreds of people in Pensacola, including many who worked at the television station.

I can’t remember whether they came at two or three, but they came. All of us were interviewed – Frank, Wendy, the guys in the band, me. I believe they even interviewed Angela; however, that part was cut during the editing. I was sorry about that because she deserved to be heard if anyone did. I floated through, answering questions and making comments that I could never have done without God’s help. Frank spoke, too. And so did Wendy. We all sounded coherent, calm, composed. I’ll never fully understand how we did it, but I’m grateful for the prayers of friends and the uplifting of the Lord.

The hours at the funeral home are indescribable. Years before, Dana had bought Jay a saxophone. She had asked if she could place it next to the casket. We had already decided that we would put several of his instruments in that place because music was Jay. We certainly thought Dana’s request reasonable; however, even though we had asked for that particular instrument to be left outside the room so that she could do what she wanted to, someone had already placed it with the other instruments. We quickly removed it before Dana arrived. Just in time, I might add. Tara didn’t go to the funeral home with us, so we avoided any unpleasantness that might have resulted if both friends had arrived at the same time. Bless Dana’s heart . . . she still considered herself the “girlfriend,” I fear, even though Jay was very much in love with Tara at the time of his death. Dana put inside the casket a carnation with a picture of her and Jay attached. Old fuddy duddy mama didn’t care for the picture, though, because in it Jay had a beer in his hand. I didn’t want my church friends to remember Jay that way. I casually slipped the picture into Jay’s pocket, but I told Dana what I had done.

I remember walking around to see who had sent all the lovely flowers. We had requested for donations to go to a Pensacola Junior College scholarship in Jay’s memory, but many, many people had sent flowers. I was glad; flowers just help the bereaved . . . or at least this bereaved. They were absolutely gorgeous. If only I had the words to describe them! The blanket of flowers that I had ordered for the casket (almost too late, I might add) were the prettiest I’d ever seen. For my boy. They were bright and cheerful, and if he had been one to be impressed by flowers, he would have loved them.

We had asked Oliver, one of Jay’s and our D.J. friends, to bring a small stereo system to play music . . . Kenny G . . . in the background softly. Jay would have probably preferred something loud and rocking, but we really felt that soft sax music would be more appropriate. And besides, Jay loved Kenny G. Suzy had told us a while back that once while the guys were living in New York, Jay had spied Kenny G. walking on the other side of the street. What did that crazy kid do? He hollered, “Hey, Kenny! Love ya, man!” And Kenny’s response? “Love ya, too!”

For the next three hours or so, we greeted, hugged, laughed with, cried with over five hundred friends. I’m sure that not only was this the largest number of people ever assembled at Harper-Morris Funeral Home, but that it was also the most eclectic group. Jay’s friends ran the gamut of people from Pensacola to parts unknown. Since he had the innate ability to associate with and to become real friends with folks from every age group and every walk of life, our comforters were a “motley crew.” Most of his friends are also our friends, but in addition, we had people there who were our friends aside from his: co-workers, former students, church friends. And then there were Wendy and Steve’s friends. I wish I had pictures of all of those people. Of course, I have the guest book, and I can go back to that to get my mental picture, but it’s not the same.

I neglected to mention earlier that Wendy’s catharsis during the weekend had been the assembling of two beautiful collages of Jay’s life: one from the beginning to the end, with lots of family pictures; the other of the life of Jay and Velvet Melon, that one, too, with family because all of us were involved in that aspect of Jay’s life. Actually, Melonheads from all over had worked on the project, rummaging through years’ worth of pictures all day Friday and Saturday. They chose the ones they felt should be included. During the whole process, I had listened to laughter and tears as they talked about their good friend. The activity was part of the healing they needed. They fondly referred to our home as the “healing house,” and indeed it was . . . is. In the final analysis, Wendy, herself, chose the pictures to be included because it was her project, her healing. She stayed up all Saturday night working on it and didn’t get any sleep until we got up on Sunday morning. Let’s face it, though. Part of the reason that she didn’t go to bed was not because of the collages—she couldn’t find a bed! When we got up, she crawled, exhausted, into our bed and slept for a couple of hours. I’m afraid no one slept for very long at a time during that weekend. How could we? Jay was dead. We were devastated.

Back to the funeral home. We took the collages with us so that people could see them. I love the new custom of taking things of the deceased to the funeral home. It helps us remember them alive, and that’s just what we should do. Jay is, indeed, alive; in fact, as someone pointed out to us immediately, he is more alive today than he ever was on earth. But that’s another journal entirely. Someday I’ll get to that one. Probably I’ll need more healing myself before I can attempt it.

That afternoon, we found roles reversed. I honestly believe that we did more comforting than anyone else did. People just didn’t know what to say, what to do. All we needed were hugs and reassurance. They gave that to us. But we gave them something else, as our friends have told us since that day. We weren’t aware of it at the time; it certainly wasn’t a conscious act on our part. It’s just that we had experienced so much spiritually in the past two days that we had something to share with our friends. We could honestly tell them that God has a plan and that we don’t understand all of it. I kept telling people that Frank and I had joined an exclusive club and that we didn’t want them to be members—the club of parents of deceased children. No loss is so devastating as the loss of a child. Of that, we are sure. Frank admonished them to enjoy, appreciate, support, and love their children. We have always had the comfort of knowing we did just that with Jay, and for that we have no sorrow. The sorrow comes in part from knowing we can no longer fulfill these actions with Jay. Wendy now receives all of them, not that she ever lacked them. She welcomes them; however, she would tell you in a heartbeat that it was much better to share them with Jay. The word Wendy means “wanderer”; the name absolutely fits now that she no longer has her brother-buddy. When a sibling dies, the other sibling has no way of replacing him or her. Antigone understood.

At the visitation that evening, the line was all the way out the door and around the block. My cousin Marilyn kept trying to keep me with my family, but I couldn’t resist walking back in the line to greet those who loved us and our boy so much that they would give up their Sunday afternoon to stand in line just to hug us, tell us how much they loved us and Jay, and to try to comfort us. We tried to be brave.

I haven’t mentioned how Jay looked. I don’t think I can describe it. He was recognizable, but he certainly wasn’t my boy. All the life was gone; only the shell was left. When Danny Hamilton came through the line, he asked if he could take a picture of Jay. We told him it would be fine, but in my heart, I said I never want to see it. I much prefer the hundreds of pictures we have, pictures showing that beautiful personality that continues to develop in the presence of the Lord. I firmly believe that he is still growing – in talent, in personality, in love of God and with God.

What I started out to say is that his friends took care of the way he looked. As they passed by the casket, they reached in and rearranged his hair, the most important part of that physical existence of Jay. The hair was his pride; they knew that. And even though the funeral directors had tried, they had not arranged it right. With no life left in it, they had an impossible job, but those kids knew what to do.

Other things happened, too. Todd took charge of his shirt. Before I knew it, the denim shirt was opened, the t-shirt in full view; so much “stuff” added that it reminded me of an old Anglo-Saxon burial in which the retainers attempted to make their king as comfortable as they could in the afterlife . . . not that I believe that necessary. Andy had put the lei that Jay had requested from Hawaii (actually, what Jay told Andy was that he wanted a good lei . . . take that how you will!) in the casket with his friend; Tara laid a flower with her boyfriend; someone had made a clover bracelet and put it on Jay’s wrist. (Mike added, on Monday, Jay’s trusty NY baseball cap that he wore to cover his hair when he hadn’t had time to shower.) Jay looked much more like himself and comfortable by the time that we left. Once more, his friends had come through for him. And for us.

That evening, we all eagerly awaited the ten o’clock news to see what the media had done with our story. It was beautiful. Just beautiful. Very tastefully done and a wonderful tribute to our boy. He was the star. How I hope he knew what was going on that evening!

I believe that thirteen people besides us slept at our house that night.

 

Monday, July 6, 1992

The thirteen young people were scattered all over our house, and Marilyn was in the downstairs guest room. Kids from Pensacola, Biloxi, and Chattanooga had found a little space last night. I doubt that they had slept long, wherever they had lain down.

The funeral was at 10:00 a.m, but anyone arriving after 9:15 didn’t get a seat. Many people stood in the back, around the walls, and in the foyer to the funeral home. We heard that about eighty people were outside the building. Andy counted 129 cars in the procession to the cemetery.

Some people might object to a funeral that could easily be called a celebration, but that’s exactly what Jay’s was. We wanted to celebrate the life of our boy, who had touched so many lives and who would be missed tremendously for a long time. Just to prove that Jay’s service was different and celebratory, here’s what one of Wendy’s best friends said, “I’ve never attended a funeral before, so I don’t have anything to compare with; but I think funerals after this one will be quite a let-down.” My answer to her would be that any others certainly will not be like Jay’s. Since Jay was not an ordinary young man, his funeral was not ordinary. It was truly a celebration of his life!

We asked several people to take part in the service. Roy Chewning, my cousin’s ex-husband and a local pastor, was the first speaker. Since he was Jay’s “uncle,” he had known Jay the longest. He spoke a little about Jay’s early life, read and commented on Scripture, and had prayer. The thing I remember most about Roy’s words was something he began his comments with, “I didn’t really know Jay after he was grown, but I heard one of his friends say before we came in that Jay had lived more in 24 years than most people live in 75!” How true!

Then Rick Gill, one of Jay’s Sunday School teachers, spoke. One funny incident that he recollected was the time that he (Rick) spent two nights in Jay’s room during a youth retreat at our house. He entered a new world—one with very special posters. You can imagine the ones that were in that rocker’s room! He also recalled for us that Jay was the third “Mr. Leprechaun” in his Sunday School department—strictly a popularity honor on St. Patrick’s Day.

Next came two of Jay’s best friends—#1 Melonheads Angela Hinkley and Andy Waltrip. Andy had just landed a job at a hotel in Hawai’i when Jay died. As soon as he heard about Jay, he headed back to Pensacola because, as he told us, “I didn’t have a support group there. I needed to be with friends and family.” The following is what Andy said at our boy’s funeral:

I was fortunate enough to call Jay Young my friend, the same as all of you. You see, Jay knew everybody. Even if he didn’t know you, he acted like he knew. Jay had a unique way of making people feel comfortable around him. If you look up the word charisma in the dictionary, there will be a picture of Jay Young right there next to it.

 

He had such a diverse group of people that liked him. When we would be out on the road, he could, and would, talk to a mechanic, a janitor, or a teacher. If we were in a restaurant, he instantly became best friends with the waitress and sometimes the manager. When we were in a bar, he could just as easily talk to an accountant, a drunk, and certainly any pretty girl within ten feet.

 

Jay was where the fun was. He could make the most mundane situation hilarious, and usually did. He loved life, and his love was infectious! Everybody wanted to be around him. If you were a Melonhead and knew Jay, you were “IN.” It was cool to say, “Yeah, I know Jay.”

 

I have this picture of getting to the pearly gates, coming before St. Peter and saying, “I know Jay Young!” and him saying, “Oh, well, then you’re cool. Come on in!” And Jay would be just inside the gate to welcome me. I look forward to seeing him again up there. I love you, Mom and Pop.

 

Angela talked about what it meant to be a Melonhead. Melonheads were a special group of friends who tried to be at every gig. There were, and still are, Melonheads all over the Southeast and even as far away as California. The requirement for being a Melonhead? Just love the band, love their music (both the covers and the originals), show up for gigs whenever possible, and love to dance to their music. Pretty easy, huh? Neither Angela not I have any idea about the number of these followers, but dozens appeared every time Velvet Melon performed.

All of the guys in the band then spoke, a very emotional time for all of us, including them. During all of the tributes to Jay, we were either doubling over with laughter or weeping. The whole service was a catharsis for all. After the guys spoke, they sang. The first song they sang was “Lights,” one of Jay’s originals; the second was “Let It Be.” Both were so beautiful. I just wish I had the words to describe the guys’ performance. There was not a dry eye in the house.

The next speaker was Tim Weekley, a young minister who was one of Jay’s best friends. He was the official Velvet Melon chaplain. He is a man of God, and his contribution was a masterpiece. Every person in attendance heard a message straight from the Lord. We wanted the sermon to be one that young people would remember, and we believe Tim succeeded in delivering it.

As the pall bearers, all of them either current or former guys from Velvet Melon, carried Jay’s casket out, we heard “When I Get Home,” by 4Him (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTBaisNU7S8). What a beautiful, meaningful song! It is about a young person’s leaving this world too soon but with the comfort that he and his friends will be together again when they all go Home. I’m forever indebted to Steve Mansfield for suggesting this song to us.

At the cemetery, our friend Jim Wilson spoke. His message was wonderful. I hope it was something that he had used before and just modified for Jay. You see, all of us had forgotten that we needed some thoughts graveside. I had called Jim early the morning of the funeral to ask him to do the “honors.” God told me to ask him, so he was the one meant to do it. His message was just what all of us needed to hear. We even sang “Amazing Grace” right there at the graveside. It was so moving to hear those young people singing a church hymn. Actually, I doubt that I sang at all. I just absorbed the song, something to “ponder in my heart.”

Just before all of us left the cemetery, one of the guys in the band (I think it was Todd Laws) slapped a Velvet Melon sticker on Jay’s casket. This mother’s heart sang with that gesture!

One last thing about the funeral and the visitation on Saturday, where more than 500 people signed the guest book. I always asked Jay how the gig the night before went, and his standard reply after a good night was, “It was a good crowd, Mom.” We were so glad that Jay had another “good crowd.” I feel certain in my heart that Jay was watching those days and that he was truly happy with the celebration.

We were so touched by the generosity of all our friends and family. The flowers and plants were absolutely beautiful. Our home looked like a florist’s shop. They lasted a long time because Frank took such good care of them in his greenhouse. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer said that the Franklin’s house “snowed of meat and drink.” That was true of ours as well. People began bringing food to us on Friday, and they didn’t stop delivering for a week. Since we had hordes of hungry young people here, we were very much grateful. Jubilee, a beach restaurant where Velvet Melon played each Sunday night during the summer of 1991, sent a huge box of fried chicken and enormous bowls of green salad and potato salad. The young people devoured the food!

The rest of the day was full of people. Some stayed into the night. Jim and Carol Woods and their children had come in from south Florida on Saturday. Before they left for home on Monday evening, Jim asked if he could talk to the young people who were still there. Such a sweet talk . . . straight from his heart about living life here and in the hereafter. Those “kids,” whom we saw mainly in bars, sat there enthralled by Jim and his testimony. What joy! A revival right in our family room with some of the people that we love best in the world. Only Jay was missing . . . and I have a feeling that he knew exactly what was going on and was saying to the Lord Jesus, “Cool! That’s so cool!”

Later that evening, we—Frank and I—met in our bedroom for privacy with some special people—Wendy, Todd, Gus, and Roz. We wanted Todd and Roz to tell us exactly what happened in our boy’s life during his last twenty-four hours. As best we could tell, when Jay and Todd left Nashville, they went immediately to Chattanooga, stopping along the way to purchase beer, which I think they drank on the way, and Ephedrine, an over-the-counter “stay awake” drug. Jay took some of the Ephedrine, as he sometimes did when he was tired and sleepy but wanted to stay awake for something important, like a gig. I had asked him many times not to take those pills; however, he always assured me that he didn’t take them often and that they wouldn’t hurt him. (Later, too late, I discovered that people with heart problems should never take them. The warning is right there on the label. But we didn’t know then that Jay had a heart problem.) Evidently, he didn’t eat anything that night, but he did drink quite heavily at Yesterday’s, so much that he threw up several times after leaving the club and then on the way home the next day. Gus, after asking many questions of Todd and Roz, tentatively concluded that Jay was probably dehydrated and that that condition aggravated the heart problem considerably, to the extent that it killed him. Gus didn’t know for sure at that time that Jay had a heart problem; rather he assumed that something was wrong with his heart because of the suddenness of his death. Would he have lived had he not been drinking, had he not been dehydrated? We’ll never know. From the conclusions reached in the second autopsy, he had an enlarged heart and a degenerated mitral valve. He might have had it from birth. It might have been something that had developed through the years. It could have killed him at any time. What we gather is that Jay had the same kind of diseased heart that athletes who drop dead for apparently no reason have. “And we’ll understand it better by and by.” That’s the comfort we have.

(I do need to introduce you to one of the young people gathered in our bedroom on July 6. Gus Krucke was Wendy’s best friend in high school and one of our favorite friends. We watched him grow up, loving him all the time. In 1992, he was a doctor specializing in determining the cause of death. He came to Pensacola to be with us [especially with Wendy] in our time of need as soon as he heard about Jay. We valued his determination, sent him the autopsy report when it came, and had him check to see if his determination had been right. It had. Gus is another person to whom we are forever indebted.)

(One more thing about July 6. Frank’s mother’s birthday is July 6, and in order to give her something pleasant on the day that her grandson would be buried, my precious brother-in-law Jim took Grandma to a nice restaurant for lunch. She could celebrate her birthday, but she could also ease the pain of losing her grandson. I’m sure they talked about Jay, and I’ll bet both of them had memories that they shared. Grandma probably told Jim about the wild ride that Jay took her on his go-cart. In The Jay Book, she said of the experience, “He went like the devil. I had a good ride.” And Jim probably told about the time that he convinced Jay that jalapenos were sweet peppers, and Jay popped a whole one from a jar in his mouth. Poor Jay . . . we thought he’s never get his mouth cooled or his eyes to quit dripping! Or maybe he told about the time that we all went to New Orleans while Jim was visiting us in Pensacola. Jay needed a nap. We needed for Jay to have a nap! Jim told him that if he closed his eyes, he could check his eyelids for holes. Jay closed his eyes, looking for holes, but instead he took a nap. All good memories, and I hope Grandma and Jim shared them on July 6.)

 

The Healing Heart

(Written in 2017)

 

The days after the funeral were a jumble. They were a jumble at the time, and now, twenty-five years later, they are even more so. I’ll try my best to get some semblance of order.

Jay’s funeral had been on Monday, and on Tuesday afternoon, we began the trip to Biloxi, MS, to take Tara home. This was the first time that we had ever been with Tara alone, except for my ten minutes with her while I was ironing Jay’s burial clothes. All three of us needed our time together. We stopped in Mobile for dinner at Wentzel’s and chatted away the whole time.

When we returned home that evening, we found the Healing House still occupied by lots of Jay’s friends. All of them got great comfort in being together, swapping “war stories” about Jay. Lots of laughter and lots of tears, I’m sure.

I remember that Jay’s friends were with us for several days; Frank remembers that they were there for weeks. Somewhere in between is probably correct. In any event, we loved having them with us, and believe me, we had enough food to feed the proverbial army, so I wasn’t spending hours and hours in the kitchen. Neither did I have to feed them only hot dogs the way I had done in the early days of Velvet Melon.

I can’t recall much during those days, but I do remember going to Cordova Mall to a store where Jay had put some clothes on lay-a-way. I went to tell them to put the items back on the shelves and explained briefly why Jay wouldn’t be in again. The clerk wanted to know if I wanted Jay’s money back. No, I didn’t. When I left, I went across the mall to a store where a friend worked. I just needed to talk. When I told her about my visit to the clothing store, she said, “Sandy, you must get over this.” I couldn’t believe my ears. She had two children alive and well. How could she say this to me when Jay hadn’t been dead more than a couple of weeks? But she didn’t understand. I had to try to make myself believe this and to forgive her. I did both eventually. Many people during this time hugged me and said, “I just don’t know what to say.” Actually, all I needed was the hug. What we all need to learn from my friend’s words is that if we haven’t traveled the grieving person’s road, it’s probably best not to say anything. Just give a hug.

I learned in the days after Jay died that one of the main things I needed from friends was permission to talk about him. Most of them obliged, but even today some aren’t comfortable when I talk about him. Frank had a friend who would literally change the subject if he mentioned Jay. He’d change the subject to what his son was doing. People react to death, especially the death of a child, in different ways. Children aren’t supposed to die before their parents, so the discussion of the children brings thoughts of “What if my child died?” and adults have difficulty with the topic. Anyway, that’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

One person who would always talk to me was my sister-cousin JoAnn Gaines. I remember one day thinking I just want to crawl back in bed and die. I knew I couldn’t do that because I had Wendy and Frank and Corey and needed to at least attempt to stay strong for them. I called Jo that morning because I knew she’d make me laugh, and that’s just what she did.

Every afternoon for at least three weeks, Wendy, Frank, and I gathered at our dining room table. We were there to open the mail. Every day, we received cards and letters, all of them telling us how much they loved Jay. I’m sure you can imagine the laughter and tears present during those times. Somewhere there’s a box with all of them in it. Someday I’ll find it!

I’ll tell you about one envelope that arrived. The return address was Danny Hamilton’s. You may remember that Danny was Jay’s friend who took a photo of Jay in the casket and that I said I never wanted to see it. Well, the three of us were afraid that Danny had sent the photo to us. Here’s how the “conversation” went that afternoon:

“You open it.”

“No, you open it.”

“Not me. You open it.”

This went on for several minutes. Someone opened it. In the envelope was a sweet note from Danny and a photo of Jay outside the Melon Mobile, exhibiting Danny’s art work. We all laughed and breathed a sigh of relief! Here’s the photo that we found inside:

 

(Fast forward to August 15, 2016, when we met with Danny for a few minutes between trains in Los Angeles, where he lives. We had a wonderful time reminiscing about his and Jay’s high school days. I just had to take the opportunity to ask him about the casket photo and the people who had seen it. He enlightened us. He never showed it to anyone; however, before he could put it away where no one would ever see it, a friend happened upon it lying on Danny’s desk. He asked Jay’s friend about it, and I think Danny gave a short answer, all the while taking it away from the person. After the explanation, the friend said something like, “That’s sick, Dan!” Danny hid the photo, and no one, not even he, has seen it since. I like that story!)

A little more than a month after the funeral, school started. I would be going back to my home away from home, Woodham High School, where I had taught English for more than twenty years, where I knew virtually every faculty member, where I knew that I’d be welcomed with open, loving arms. The first day back was difficult, mainly because of all the hugs and kind words. I loved them, but they brought tears. How did I handle this? I retreated from time to time to my office, where I could weep and talk to God. He got me through.

I was overjoyed to see 150 seventeen-year-olds that first day. I was back in my element, and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my grief. I had teaching to do. Since most of my students had heard about Jay, they were on their best behavior. I had taught some of their brothers and sisters and maybe even a parent or two. My classroom had been my comfort zone for twenty-four years, and it would continue to be.

I do remember two specific times when I had a hard time, though. One time was in the classroom, but I don’t remember specifics. A student said something that touched a grief nerve, and I immediately left the room, tears already beginning to come. As I left, I heard a dear student, Whitney Voeltz, say to the other student something like, “How can you say that? Don’t you know that her son just died?” I don’t remember the student who hurt my feelings, but I have never forgotten Whitney!

Another time that I remember tears starting was during my duty period not long after school started. For some reason, we had a band playing out on the campus during lunch. My duty station was just inside the back doors. They began playing a song that Velvet Melon played, and the tears came. One of my students walked by me just as I started to cry. She stopped immediately and gave me a great big hug. Later that day, she slipped a note in my hand when she passed my room, where I was standing during class change. Such a sweet note telling me how sorry she was about Jay and how much she loved me. If only I had a good memory and could tell you her name!

One morning, I went in to tell Frank good-bye, leaned down to kiss him and heard him say, “I wish I could get in my truck and drive off a cliff.” I realized that he was at the bottom of his grief and that I couldn’t leave him. I hadn’t heard him sound so despondent since Jay’s death. I immediately called Mrs. Love at school and told her I needed a substitute and whoever could come would just have to find something for my students to do. I didn’t have time to think about being a teacher at that moment: I had to be a wife and comforter. Everyone in my department came to my rescue.

I talked Frank into getting dressed, and we left the house. What I can recall of the day is that we roamed around the mall, went to a furniture store and wished for money to make purchases, and ate lunch at Pizza Hut. We both needed a day away from memories, just doing nothing in particular. If I recall, it was Friday, and we had the weekend to get ourselves together to face yet another week without Jay. Never an easy thing to do, but every time we had to face a new day, we could feel the presence of Jesus going right along with us.

And now, let me tell you about the next part of my book. For several years, I have been writing about Jay. Almost everything I’ve written, I’ve posted on either Facebook or my blog (http://www.foreveryoung279.blogspot.com) or sometimes both. As I mentioned earlier, all parents have are memories, and I have wanted through the years to preserve as many as I can.

And so . . . the next part of this book will consist of pieces that I’ve written and posted. I can’t imagine how I could have worked through my grief without writing. I’m not a professional; I’m just a mother who uses her words to preserve her son’s memory, the writing helping to heal her heart.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4 — A Mother’s Memories

                                       Prepared but Not Ready

We celebrated Jay’s twenty-fourth birthday on February 10, 1992, not knowing we’d never celebrate another. He and his girlfriend, Dana, had just broken up, but she had planned a surprise party for him and wanted to carry it out. I told her I would help. She didn’t know that Jay had found out about the surprise but would show up and act just as surprised as she wanted him to be. That’s the kind of man he was. He never disliked a girl after breaking up and wouldn’t have thought of hurting Dana by spoiling her party. Of course, Frank and I were there.

The reason this was his last birthday is that he died suddenly on July 2, 1992. I’m not writing tonight about his death or the senseless activities that led to it. No, tonight I want to take another approach. I want you to know that God prepared me for losing my boy, not that I realized the preparation at the time. One of the best things the Lord does for us is not to let us know what’s ahead. Can you imagine our knowing ahead of time that Jay would die on the day that he did? Even parents whose children suffer through health problems don’t know the exact day when they’ll lose their precious offspring. What a blessing!

I’ll begin with Christmas 1991. Usually on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Jay would spend a part of each day with us, but in 1991 he was with us until late in the evening on Christmas Eve. He even went with us to our service at church. We all gathered at Wendy and Steve’s house afterwards and had such a good time with just our little family. He was with us all day on Christmas, and I have beautiful photos of the day to prove his presence. Some people might not call this preparation, but after the fact, I viewed it that way. It was God’s way of giving us more time with Jay, more very special time that we needed, though we didn’t know it at the time.

Just after the holidays, we went to see Velvet Melon, Jay’s band, perform in Mobile at Trinity’s. At this particular place, the stage was elevated over the bar. No bad seats in the house! I was standing next to the bar and glanced up at Jay. I heard a voice say, “Enjoy him. You won’t have him long.” I don’t share this with everyone because some people would think I was just imagining the voice. I know that I heard it, and I know that the Lord spoke the words. I thought of them again on July 2.

Sometime in March, my students were working on their Anthologies. This was an assignment in which they had to choose their own literature and react to it. One of my favorite students came to me with a poem. She wanted to know if she could use it in her assignment. I read it, and we both cried. How could a parent live after losing a child? Neither of us could understand. Here’s the poem. I’ve found credit given to both Edgar A. Guest and Marjorie Holmes, so I really don’t know who wrote it. I’ve taken a few liberties with punctuation and combining the versions I’ve read.

 

Lent for a While

 

“I’ll lend you for a little time a child of Mine,” He said.
“For you to love the while he lives and mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years, or twenty-two or three,
But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for me?
He’ll bring his charms to gladden you, and should his stay be brief,
You’ll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief.

 

“I cannot promise he will stay; since all from earth return,
But there are lessons taught down there I want this child to learn.
I’ve looked the wide world over in My search for teachers true
And from the throngs that crowd life’s lanes I have selected you.
Now will you give him all your love, not think the labor vain,
Nor hate Me when I come to call to take him back again?”

 

I fancied that I heard them say, “Dear Lord, Thy will be done!
For all the joy Thy child shall bring, the risk of grief we run.
We’ll shelter him with tenderness, we’ll love him while we may,
And for the happiness we’ve known, forever grateful stay;
But should the angels call for him much sooner than we’ve planned,
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand!”

 

 

In July, I thought back to this poem and knew God gave that poem to Jennifer and that she shared it with me for a purpose. God did, indeed, lend Jay to us for a while. And we have tried to understand.

Something else that I read and that I’ve always believed God gave to me was an article in Reader’s Digest. I have no recollection of the title, but it was about parents whose little girl had died. The only way the family could deal with this tragedy was to get rid of all of the child’s belongings and to move to another house. After a period of time, because the parents couldn’t stop blaming each other for their daughter’s death, the couple divorced. Their solution to their grief horrified me. I couldn’t believe that people would really do something like this, but at the time, I didn’t know personally about the death of a child, and I thought maybe most families reacted in this manner.

God gave us Jay at Easter that year, too. Just another instance of His caring for us and proving to us later that He knew all along that Jay would be with Him soon. He was just sharing our boy more and more with us because in the not too distant future, he’d be where he always knew he’d go someday. I remember mentioning to Jay at some point during these preparatory months that he needed to get more rest. His reply to his worry- wart mother: “I can rest when I get to Heaven.”

Sometimes when a child dies, the parents feel bereft of God. Not so with me. When Jay died, I immediately felt the strong arms of Jesus around me. I heard that same voice that spoke to me at Trinity’s say this time, “I’ll get you through this. Just let me take care of you.” And He did. And He still does.

 

An Unforgettable, but Forgivable, Letter

In 2009, I posted on my blog, and maybe also on Facebook, my writing about the last days of Jay’s life. I had many messages from his friends and ours telling us how grateful they were to finally know exactly what happened to Jay. We were overjoyed that they let us know how they felt. One of our friends doesn’t have a computer. Since I really wanted her to hear details, I asked another friend to let her read my post. I thought my words would be a comfort to her. They weren’t. The following is the letter she wrote to me:

 

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 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 wrote . . .

 

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 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.

 

Hair today . . .

There has never been any love lost between me and my hair. I can’t ever remember having long hair, even when I was a child. It was always fairly short then, and now, it’s really short, never below my ears.

Not so with our son, Jay. He was a true child of the 80s and had long hair, at least in the back. You may remember the mullet cut, short on the sides and long in the back. That was Jay! I loved it, and every time he went to the barber to get it trimmed, I’d say as he left the house, “Don’t let him cut it too short!”

“Don’t worry, Mom. I won’t.”

He really had a “nice head of hair,” as we say in the South. Some mothers probably wouldn’t have liked it, but I did. However, as beautiful as it was on the outside, there was something very different underneath.

If he lifted up his long hair to show you what was strange, you’d see that the hair under his long locks was just as kinky as it could be. For a long time, I attributed this to the fact that at one time he had had a perm. I didn’t like that, but he just came home one day with his hair curled. So I kept saying the curls were left over from the perm. But how long can one perm last? Finally, I had to admit his curls were natural, but where did they come from?

My husband had the answer: Somewhere back in my history, there were blacks. I didn’t believe him, but that’s what he told me. He said a certain photo of my great-grandmother proved his claim. He swore she was black. Not so, according to family stories. She was an Indian.

Fast forward to 1994. I had my students write their autobiographies, and I wrote mine right along with them. All of us had great family photos in our books. Of course, Grandma Wiggins, my Indian grandmother, was right there.

The day came when we all had our autobiographies ready, and everyone was reading everyone else’s, really just looking at photos. A sweet little black girl on the front row was reading mine. She called me over to her and pointed to Grandma’s picture.

“Who ‘dis, Miz Young?”

“That’s my great-grandmother,” I replied.

“She black?” my student asked.

“No, she’s an Indian.”

My dear little student looked me, rolled her beautiful brown eyes, and responded, “Unh hunh,” being interpreted, “Who are you trying to fool?”

Out of the mouths of babes. Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line we’ll have a beautiful dark-skinned, brown-eyed, curly haired child instead of the fair-complexioned, blue-eyed, straight brown-haired folks that populate our family now.

But how about Jay’s hair? Did I continue to love it? Of course, I did. It was on my boy, and he always looked handsome to me, right up to the day he died at age twenty-four. He still had that mullet cut, and everyone loved it. As his friends passed by his casket on July 5, 1992, almost to a person, they reached in and touched his hair in an effort to get it just right, just the way Jay would have wanted it.

In my mind’s eye, Jay is still twenty-four, with a beautiful head of hair, curls underneath and all.

 

                                       So Young

On February 8, 1968, I informed my doctor that the baby HAD to arrive on February 10. Dr. Girard laughed at me and said the little one wasn’t finished cooking and it would be at least two more weeks before he or she arrived (Back then, we had no way of knowing the sex of a baby ahead of time. We just knew that if a mother carried the baby low, it might be a boy—or maybe it might be a girl. I forget. Pretty much speculation back in those days.). I begged my doctor to induce labor so that Cassie or Jay would be born on the second weekend in February, the last weekend he would be on duty in February. I didn’t want the doctor with the big fat hands to deliver our little baby.

Finished cooking or not, Jay needed to be born on Saturday, February 10, 1968. Those who knew Jay well in his adult years seldom heard him say he wanted something: he always needed it. And why did he need to be born then? Because he knew his papa was having a hard time even thinking of having another grandchild. Wendy was my dad’s heart, and Jay needed an advantage in order to really be accepted. He got just that! Two things immediately made him special: the fact that he was a boy and the fact that he was born on his papa’s birthday. Pretty neat, huh?

By 1968 the Lord had given us two beautiful children. We brought up both Wendy and Jay thinking they would be alive throughout our lives and would live to keep our memories alive for their children and grandchildren. I attached in an earlier piece the poem “Lent for a While.” I have another favorite poem, this one for sure by Marjorie Holmes. The title will tell you why I love it even before you read it.

 

 

 

 

HE WAS SO YOUNG

 

He was so young, God.

So young and strong and filled with promise. So vital, so radiant, giving so much joy wherever he went.

He was so brilliant. On this one boy you lavished so many talents that could have enriched your world. He had already received so many honors, and there were so many honors to come.

Why, then? In our agony we ask. Why him?

Why not someone less gifted? Someone less good? Some hop-head, rioter, thief, brute, hood?

Yet we know, even as we demand what seems to us a rational answer, that we are only intensifying our grief. Plunging deeper into the blind and witless place where all hope is gone. A dark lost place where our own gifts will be blunted and ruin replace the goodness he brought and wished for us.

 

Instead, let us thank you for the marvel that this boy was. That we can say good-by to him without shame or regret, rejoicing in the blessed years he was given to us. Knowing that his bright young life, his many gifts, have not truly been stilled or wasted, only lifted to a higher level where the rest of us can’t follow yet.

Separation? Yes. Loss? Never.

For his spirit will be with us always. And when we meet him again, we will be even more proud.

Thank you for this answer, God.

 

 

I may love this piece even more than “Lent for a While.” Both brought great comfort to me in the early days after Jay died, and they continue to do so.

So today I’m wondering what my boy would have been like had he lived. Would music still be his life? Would he still love the crowds and the joy of having them in his hands? Would he still eagerly anticipate the breaks between sets when he could “work the crowds,” as he called that time? Would he still want his dad and me at gigs? Would he and Wendy still crack me up as no one else has ever been able to do? Would his hair still be long? Would he still say, “My mom’s always hot!”? Would he still have a charisma that drew people to him like a magnet? So many things to wonder about. Such a reunion to look forward to in heaven!

If you’re a conservative talk show listener, as I am, you may be familiar with Rush Limbaugh’s conceited comment about him and God. I just roll my eyes every time he says it. I’ll borrow from him, though, and say that Jay truly was “on loan from God.”

Lord, we are forever grateful for that loan. You know I wish full payment hadn’t come due as soon as it did, but I firmly believe that You don’t make mistakes about anything. Thank you for trusting us with Jay. To say that having him with us was a pleasure is surely an understatement. It was a glorious adventure!

 

Music Memories

A couple of weeks before July 2, 2010, when I would write about Jay and post my piece on Facebook, 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 all of us Melonheads, all of us who followed Velvet Melon. 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 Jay might get the first whipping he’d had in about ten years. I tried to calm my sweetheart by telling him 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 there was no beating of the child, as if there ever had been. But I do know 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

 

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?

 

Chorus:

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.

 

(Chorus)

 

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!).

 

(Chorus)

 

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 I want on this music memory page is one 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 Jay’s words:

 

 

 

 

 

LIGHTS

 

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 how 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 twenty-four years than most men do in seventy. 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, “I’m Not Crazy.” 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 this 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 Jesus will understand if he’s late mowing those heavenly lawns. Of this, I’m sure.

 

 

 

Memories in Photos

As most of you know, I post something on Facebook about Jay on both his birthday and his deathday. After several years of posting, I was having the hardest time thinking of something to write. As I was walking through the Jay Hall at our house, I thought Why not write about some of these photos? There’s a story behind each one. So . . . here are some of my memories in photos.

 

Two Hoboes

One of Wendy’s favorite activities with her little brother was to dress him up, especially if we had company. At one time, we were very active in Amway and had meetings at our house regularly, usually at least once a week. We knew we could look for Jay to parade in while someone was “drawing the circles” (showing the business) to prospects. He’d be dressed in some outlandish garb, and Wendy would be hiding behind the door, snickering because he had interrupted us and because he looked so funny. We’d just shoo him out and carry on with our meeting.

This photo, however, isn’t of Jay entertaining our company. It’s of Jay and Wendy all decked out for the Fall Festival at Beulah School, where Wendy was in first grade. I’m sure that Wendy helped us get everything together for their costumes. Big sister knew exactly what she and little brother needed to look the part of two hoboes.

 

Mama with the Big Hair

 

This photo was taken at about the same time as the hobo one, but it was a formal family portrait. It was taken either at a place like Olan Mills or at church. Be sure to notice Frank’s sideburns (very stylish), Wendy’s dress with the leopard collar and her long hair (also very stylish), Jay’s cute little suit (sort of par for the course for little boys at the time), and my lovely hair, which was actually a wig (very, very stylish). What a lovely family!

When Jay moved out of our home and into homes of his own, always with guys in Velvet Melon, whether it was in my mother’s old house in Myrtle Grove or on Pensacola Beach or in New Jersey or in the Nashville area, he always had a framed 8 X 10 of that photo. Once, not long before he died, I said to him, “Jay, why do you always have that awful picture sitting out where everyone can see it?”

“What do you mean by awful?”

“It’s my hair that’s so awful. Everyone laughs at it now because it looks so funny for today.”

“Oh,” said my boy, “I never noticed your hair. I just have it out because I’m so cute!”

Always so sure of himself. That was Jay!

 

 

One of Jay’s Heroes . . . Bruce Lee

 

When Frank’s older brother, Sam, retired from the Navy, there were two things he wanted to do—work in a store and go to college. Frank had a store, so if Sam moved his family to Pensacola, he’d have a place to work; and we had an excellent college (Pensacola Junior College), so he’d be able to begin his college career. Sam packed up Masako and Tim and headed for Florida. We helped them find a house in the Bellview Middle School district so that Tim and Jay could attend the same school. Jay was in seventh, and Tim was in eighth grade.

The boys saw each other every day at school and planned exciting things to do on the weekend, taking turns spending the night with each other. One of the things they did was watch Bruce Lee movies. Their favorite was Enter the Dragon, with The Way of the Dragon (Chuck Norris) being a close second. They really got into the action of Bruce Lee and beat each other up regularly trying to imitate their hero’s style. Nothing would do but the next time we went to Seattle to visit his cousin and his family Jay had to go pay tribute to his hero.

Jay and Tim were best friends the year that Sam and his family lived in Pensacola. Through the years, they remained best friends (though each had other best friends) even though they lived 2800 miles apart. I know in my heart of hearts they’d still be long-distance best friends had Jay lived. And that makes me feel very good!

There’s another story buried in this picture. Did you notice Jay’s sweat shirt? On this same trip, we took the kids to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on our way to Washington. Our reason? We thought it would be really good for Jay to apply to the Academy. OK . . . stop laughing. I know it’s a real stretch to imagine our Jay at anybody’s academy, but we thought we’d try. So much for good intentions on the parts of parents.

 

European Adventures

 

Frank and I used to travel with students in Europe every summer. In 1984, we signed up enough students for the trip to allow us to take Jay for free. He really didn’t want to go because Velvet Melon was in its infancy, and he wanted to stay at home to play rock ‘n’ roll and to develop his business. We insisted, however, that he go with us because it was probably the chance of a lifetime, and he needed to take advantage of it. So he went with us, drumming on the backs of the seats in the bus, on tables, on anything . . . probably on his friends.

Students were allowed to go exploring in the foreign cities in the afternoon if they were in groups of at least three. So The Four Musketeers in the photo disappeared one afternoon in Rome, only to arrive back at the hotel with their ears pierced. I was devastated! Ear piercing on boys was just becoming popular, and I thought it was terrible. After all, only girls should have their ears pierced . . . or so my conservative little mind led me to believe. And if you think I had conservative beliefs, you can imagine Frank’s! I hated to think of what his dad was going to say and do.

When I saw my boy with a pierced ear, I cried. Yes, I cried. I guess I just felt that Jay had let me down. We had talked, at home, about his having his ear pierced, and he knew we didn’t approve. Even worse than our feelings, though, was my fear of what the other boys’ parents would say. But unhappy as I was, I still had to have a photo. You can tell by the smiles that the guys weren’t unhappy. Everyone who knew Jay knew that he and I had a “mutual admiration society,” and because of the love we shared, I never saw the earring again while we were on the trip.

Sometime later in his life, Jay convinced his dad and me that an earring wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and by the time that he died, he had three pierces. We buried him with three new earrings. We wouldn’t want him to be at his funeral in old ones, would we? Of course we wouldn’t.

Before I close this story, I must tell you that having their ears pierced was the least of the trouble that these kids got into while we were in Europe. That afternoon’s activity didn’t even hold a candle to their getting in the car with a stranger in Madrid and going to his mansion, with their rappelling down the walls of a hotel in Florence to roam the streets in the middle of the night, and with their rolling the Tower Bridge in London the night before we left for home. Jay confessed all of these activities one evening in Pensacola. We wouldn’t have laughed if we had discovered their antics while we were still in London, but after the fact, we did.

 

Jay, His Friends, and King Tut

Almost every year, when we went to Europe, we took the kids to Switzerland. And almost every year, we encouraged them to have a talent show. They had plenty of time to plan and to practice. The year that Jay went with us was no exception, and you can imagine who was the most excited about performing. That’s right . . . the one in the front, Jay. Years later, when Velvet Melon was in its heyday and Jay was playing sax and bass, I asked him if he ever wanted to be the drummer again. After all, drummers are usually the musicians that the girls are the most ga-ga over. “What?” he replied. “And not be on the front of the stage? Oh, no . . . I’ll keep on playing sax and bass!” This photo proves that his answer wasn’t something he just made up on the spur of the moment. He wanted to be the star . . . and in the front!

And so Jay and his friends performed Steve Martin’s “King Tut” routine. They were hilarious! They were the hit of the talent show! Four boys who had the same sense of humor as those “wild and crazy guys” on Saturday Night Live stole the show. Frank and I were so proud of them, and my best friends, Fran Crumpton and Annice Webb, and I have laughed so many times just remembering how funny they were.

They made their own costumes, borrowing towels from the hotel and a big spoon and foil from the kitchen for Jay’s headdress. I wish we had had video cameras or iPhones back then, but we didn’t. If we had had them, you could see my boy and his back-up for yourselves on YouTube.

As all of you know, I’ll never forget Jay. I hope you don’t think me too weird for continuing to write about him at various times during each year but especially on his birthday and on Jay Day, July 2. This is just a mother’s way of celebrating her boy.

 

Reminders of Jay

Give me a topic, and I can usually write about it. My approach and details may not be what others would write, but I can come up with something. Tell me to think of a topic, and many times I sit here with my nose against a brick wall—all I see is either a wall with nothing written on it or so many scribbles of ideas that I can’t make out anything because of the position of my nose on that wall.

I find myself in the latter fix today. I want to write about Jay because it’s his birthday week, and I always write about him on his birthday. But how do I narrow my topic so that I don’t just roam around in his 43 years, never really alighting on anything? Won’t someone help me? Let me sit here for a while to see if I hear anything. (Picture about two hours going by with Sandy just sitting before the woodstove on a beautiful New Mexico Saturday afternoon, waiting for some kind of inspiration.)

Eureka! I heard you! It’s the voices of former students groaning and complaining about yet another quotation that I want them to write about, to identify with. “Mizhung (that’s Southern for Mrs. Young, you know), you ought to do what you had us do . . . react to quotations. Find other people’s words that remind you of Jay and write to your heart’s content.” Good idea, my dear former students. Once more, you’ve come to my rescue.

So, as my mother-in-law used to say, “There you have it.” I’ll find quotations that remind me of Jay and put the long, skinny fingers to the computer keypad and write away.

 

Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.

—Author Unknown

I have a picture in my mind right now. It’s of Jay and me sitting in the rocking chair in the living room in Pensacola, his long legs dangling at age six and his head splitting from a migraine. He and I spent many an afternoon in this position, lights off, and not a sound in the room except an occasional squeak from the rocker. We’d sit there for an hour or so, just mother and son. We both might snooze a bit, and soon his headache would abate, and he’d be off and running, probably out to play with his friend, Walter Glenn. Later, after he discovered that music was in his soul and after he had outgrown his rocking place, he’d still have headaches, but can you guess what he substituted for my lap? Rock ‘n’ roll. That’s right. Loud music. Don’t ask me to explain. That was just my boy. Out of my lap but not out of my heart . . . ever.

 

He who can be a good son will be a good father.

—Author Unknown

This quotation is a daydream. Jay didn’t live long enough to be a father, though back in the early days after he died, I often wished that a young woman would show up at our door to tell us the little child with her was Jay’s. I’d have welcomed that young woman and that child with open arms; however, that visit never materialized. I still wonder sometimes what it would have been like for Jay to be married and to have children, children we’d love so very much, just the way we love our grandchildren, Corey and Jackson. I like to think that he would have been a good father, putting his wife and children above everything else, even above his music. In my heart of hearts, I think he would still be a musician, but maybe by this time, he might not be on the road all the time. After all, rock stars (you know that’s just about all he ever wanted to be, and I believe he would have achieved his dreams) can choose how often they want to travel. Perhaps his wife and children would have traveled with him, his children being home schooled. But maybe not. I know he would have been a good provider and that he’d spend quality time with his family. He and his wife would have set examples for their children as far as their relationship to God is concerned. Those who read this may remember a line from one of Jay’s songs “I don’t mix drugs with rock and roll./ I’ve got Jesus in my heart to save my soul.” He’d want his children to have Jesus in their hearts, too. Also, Jay loved traveling with Wendy, Frank, and me when he was a little boy, and he’d want his children to have the same kinds of experiences that he and Wendy had. Family was important to Jay, and he’d want family to be important to his children. Jay was a good son; he’d have been a good father. Of this I’m sure.

 

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.

—Mark Twain

After a child dies, it’s difficult for the parents not to remember him or her as perfect. Most mothers and dads don’t want to dwell on trouble the kid got into, near misses he had with the law . . . unless those parents are Sandy and Frank Young, whose son could “fess up” after the fact and bring tears of laughter to their eyes or whose son’s escapades even at the moment that they happened were just hilarious. I must confess on our parts that we laughed about a lot of things in our family that other families would consider just terrible and would probably mete out punishments the kids would never forget. In retrospect, I don’t think we were very good disciplinarians. Anyway . . . on with a few of the incidents I remember:

  • When Jay and Walter were in seventh or eighth grade, there was a rash of fights at Bellview Middle School. Those two little bad boys decided to stage a fight before school in the hall right outside their first period class. They were really going at it with fake punches and lots of “Oohs!” and “Ouches” and such, with their teacher looking on, enjoying every minute of the “fight” and laughing with the kids. Out of nowhere came Pete Payton, the assistant principal, who had just about had it with fighting middle schoolers. “You two boys . . . come with me!” I wish I were an artist. I’d draw a picture of his mouth, turned down at both corners . . . and you’d see Jay’s impersonation of him. I imagine those two little boys were pretty much worried as they followed Mr. Payton to his office. I don’t remember who went in first, and I don’t remember Walter’s story, but I know that when Jay went in, Pete said, “Do you want ten licks or ten days’ suspension?” (That evening when Jay related the story hilariously to us at dinner, he said he was tempted to say, “Please, Mr. Payton, may I have both?” but he didn’t want to push his luck.) Needless to say, he took the licks; however, just before he bent over, he remembered that he had a Visine bottle in his back pocket and that he’d really get what for if Mr. Payton found that. You see, the administration had put the word out that kids having “squirt” bottles would be suspended, and that’s exactly what that Visine bottle was. Jay managed to remove it before he bent over, probably by giving a Jay twirl as he bent. I know. I know. Back in my day, kids were more afraid of what their parents would do to them when they got home, the parents having been notified by the school authorities of their precious children’s bad behavior. In Jay’s day, there were lots of parents who would have paddled their children even harder after finding out about the punishment at school. My true confession is that Wendy, Frank, and I just doubled over as Jay told his story. If you knew Jay, you know he could embellish a story and entertain as no one else could. Enough said about this adventure.
  • We took Jay to Europe with us the summer of 1985. It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that he went kicking and screaming, but it’s not far off. He’d much rather have stayed at home playing music, Velvet Melon being in its infant stages at that time and Jay wanting to spend every waking hour with the guys in the band. As it turned out, he had a great time, but you can believe he and his closest friends managed to get in some amount of trouble while we were there. The only thing we found out about while we were traveling was the piercing of his ear, something we had laid down the law about at home. He would NOT have his ear pierced. We had some really strange beliefs about ear piercing back in those days, and when he and three friends came back to the hotel with earrings, I cried. Yes, I cried. I was so embarrassed. Through the years, I changed my mind about my boy and his ears, though, and when Jay died, he had three “holes in his head,” and I sent my very much macho brother-in-law to buy new jewelry for my boy so that he’d be all dressed up for his funeral. What we found out when we got home from Europe, though, was really scary. He confessed: The afternoon that we arrived in Madrid, he and two other boys got in a car with a stranger and went to his home. Can you imagine what might have happened to those inexperienced teenagers? Nothing did. Somewhere I’ve read a quotation something to the effect of “God takes care of fools and babies,” but I can’t find it. Even so, I think it applies here. He also told us that one of his friends took rappelling equipment with him. One night, three Florida boys went out the window of their room and out on the town in Rome, Italy. Remember my quotation about babies and fools? Applies here, too. The third confession was that on the night before we left London, headed home, he and these same rapscallions “rolled” the Tower Bridge. You heard me right. They took rolls of toilet paper from the Tower Hotel and rolled the bridge in the dark of night. After all the shenanigans were over and we were safely home when the confession poured out, what could we do but laugh and say, “Thank you, Lord” that those children . . . yes, children . . . didn’t wind up in jail.
  • I’m not going to give lots of details on this trouble, but here’s the gist of it. Just before Jay turned 21, he and the guys in Velvet Melon went to New York City to make their fortune. I could write a book about their nine months there and how, instead of making a fortune, they almost starved, but the NYC adventure is not the topic of this remembrance. The guys planned to be back in Pensacola for Jay’s birthday to play some gigs on the Gulf Coast so that they’d have a little money. On the evening of February 10, after they had set up at Coconut Bay for their gig, Frank and I took Jay out to eat at Darryl’s. We had just placed our order, when Jay leaned back in his chair and announced to us, “Well, folks, now that I’m 21 and legal, I probably should tell you about some things that have happened in the past.” Then he entertained us for the whole meal about things he and Jimmy Mills had done that almost got them in trouble with the law. Jay could have gone to jail! I don’t know that I could ever reconstruct those stories, but I might try some time. Just know that one of them involved going before a judge.
  • The last trouble I’ll talk about for now happened at least once a week at our house. Mark Twain said that his mother enjoyed the trouble he caused, and I loved this particular trouble Jay brought into my life. Periodically, Jay would come into the kitchen, where I was preparing dinner, come up really close to me, and sometimes plant a kiss on my cheek; then he’d say, “It’s time, Mom!” I’d say, “Please, Jay . . . not right now!” At that time, he’d laugh as only Jay could laugh, enjoying himself completely. He’d put his arms around me and lift me off the floor, delightedly announcing, “Yep, Mom, it’s time to put your head in the fan.” I’d laugh and squeal, just what he wanted me to do, as he walked toward the ceiling fan. Then he’d raise me up to about two inches below the fan, having the time of his life. I don’t know how putting his mom’s head in the fan originated, but it was so funny to both of us and to anyone else who happened to be in the room at the time, especially if he or she was witnessing the event for the first time. It’s a memory I wouldn’t take anything for!

Here’s my favorite quotation. I hope you like it as much as I do, and, if you knew Jay, I hope it reminds you of him and me:

 

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

 

Shortly after Jay died, I discovered this quotation in a little book that meant so much to me at the time—My Dream of Heaven (Intramuros) by Rebecca Ruter-Springer. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but I know I’ll read it again and again now because I’ve just purchased it for my NOOK e-reader. It brought comfort to me when my heart was broken, but the part of the book that meant the most to me was the quotation by Washington Irving. Every part of it applies to Jay and me, every single part. Recently, a friend told me that she was offended by the quotation because it sounded as though I love Jay more than I love Wendy. This is not true. I love both of our children with the same amount of mother love. I could change “son” to “daughter” and make the masculine pronouns feminine and have this quotation be about Wendy. But this piece is about Jay. I love this quotation!

I still miss Jay every day, but I love thinking back over the exciting times we had with him. God gave him to us for a short while, but all of us who knew and loved him were richly blessed by his enthusiasm for life. To all of you who continue to remember him and who let Frank, Wendy, and me know that you are thinking about him . . . thank you!

 

Music and a Mom

Frank and I had been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks. Every night, as we watched our favorite shows—CSI, NCIS, The Mentalist, Eleventh Hour, and other such gory, yet interesting and entertaining, programs—we’d seen the promo and determined that we’d watch. So the closer it got to 7:00 last night, the more excited we became, and at 6:55 we changed the channel from CMT, where we were watching O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, to CBS so that we could settle in for an evening of the Country Music Awards.

If a person has to be a redneck to like country music, then just call me a redneck. Reba McEntire was the host. She’s such a cute little country girl who’s made it big. I haven’t really followed her career closely because I’m not a person who follows the careers of entertainers; however, I remember how my heart hurt for her when, in the spring of 1991, seven of her band members and her manager were killed in a plane crash. I wondered how she would ever recover from such a tragedy and whether or not she’d get on with her career. I don’t know that she recovered, but she managed to get through, and she certainly has gotten on with her career. At the time of the crash, our son was still alive and playing with his band, Velvet Melon. I remember that he suggested that he and the guys in the band apply for the jobs of Reba’s “Crazy Eight,” as she referred to her band. Jay was only half kidding: he was a very confident, charismatic young man who never saw his dreams as impossible.

Anyway, we loved watching George Strait, Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flats, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, and lots of others perform. The female stars were especially stunning in their sparkly dresses—some long, some short, some exceptionally revealing, but all beautiful. Brad Paisley opted not to be in Las Vegas in person because his wife, Kimberly, was practically to the giving-birth stage with their second child. What a great husband!

Both Frank and I teared up as we watched star after star accept awards and give credit for their success to friends, family, and God. The whole evening was very emotional but lots of fun. Probably one of the main reasons it was emotional for me was that I could picture Jay winning awards someday had he lived, not in country music but in rock music. He would have been a star. As I watched Carrie Underwood’s mother hug her every time she won an award, my heart soared for her mom because I could see Frank and me sitting next to Jay at some celebration, hugging him every time his name was called. I know I’m a dreamer, but moms are supposed to dream, especially about the success of their boys.

 

The Jay Book

Not a day goes by every year when I don’t think of my boy. Just walking down the hall from the family room to the laundry room brings a rush of memories because the Jay walls are there. Every individual photo, whether a part of the collages that some of Jay’s friends helped Wendy construct right after Jay died or lone photos of him playing at Trinity’s or at Cinco de Mayo, brings back a memory. So many good memories!

As wonderful as the photos are, something even more wonderful arrived five months after Jay died. Little did I know that Angela Hinkley and Wendy were planning a big surprise for Frank and me and that it would be delivered during our Velvet Melon Christmas Party. I was in the kitchen trying to get a head start on cleaning up. Wendy came in and told me I had to take off my apron and go to the family room, that Frank was already there. Rather than just handing our surprise to us, Angela read the Introduction:

 

Since I met Jay through my writing, it seemed really appropriate to summarize my relationship with him in writing also. As I began writing, I recalled so many memories of Jay. It made me think of how many other people must carry within themselves an almanac of “Jay” memories. If only I could unleash them!

I started the idea for this book by wanting each individual in Jay’s life to write down their own favorite memories. It became apparent, almost immediately, that this was going to be an impossible task. If I excluded those who were not in this area, I would probably have created quite a simple publication. I realized that the phone would be a helpful tool in compiling all the information necessary. I knew that people would need a little help and a little prodding to begin their personal thoughts about Jay with me. I hope I succeeded.

For the past month, I have totally immersed myself in the life of Jay Young. I have laughed with, cried with, listened to, comforted, and assured these people who would be so kind as to share private times of their lives with me. I’ve never before been so involved in the investigation of a human life, other than my own. During this time, I haven’t even been able to converse with Frank and Sandy for fear of “spilling the beans”! I’ve learned so much I wanted to share with them. I’ve had to hold everything in, except for sharing with Wendy, who I know has probably heard every account in this book five times each!

I really thought I knew a lot about Jay. I probably did, but there was so much more to learn and to appreciate about this profound human being. The people he touched through his life and music were far beyond anything I’d imagined, even after witnessing the lines at the funeral home. People genuinely love him. I’m so pleased to have been able to compile these recollections. I want Jay’s memory to live on, not in mourning but in the wonderful celebration of a life—his life.

 

Angela Hinkley, Christmas 1992

 

What a beautiful “giff” (to use Jay’s pronunciation) Angela gave to Frank and me! Wendy helped her by designing the cover of what we have titled The Jay Book.

It is one of our most prized possessions, and I can assure you that if we ever had to evacuate, it would be one of the treasures I’d take with me.

Choosing which memories to include was a task that almost wiped me out, I’m afraid. Why? Just the choosing itself was very difficult because I wanted to quote each person who contributed. The main wiping out came, though, in the reading. Such beautiful memories! But my “rememberer” is attached to my tear ducts, I’m afraid, so the mama shed lots of tears during the choosing. But that’s okay. They were happy tears. The ones I’ve chosen will give everyone a glimpse of my boy. All of the contributors were friends of Jay with the exception of Wendy, his sister. But she was also his friend, one of his best friends.

 

  • Suzy Ward: Jay had a wonderful love-hate relationship with New York. He worked so hard to make a go of it there. In spite of his irritation at life in the City, financial problems, Winnebago problems, his eyes lit up whenever he saw the night lights or walked down Bleeker Street. He loved the music scene. He loved the weirdness. Jay always loved the crowds. He gave money to homeless sax players, turned cartwheels in the subway, drove through Harlem at 2:00 a.m. so Wendy could shoot photos, and spoke to every celebrity and pseudo-celebrity he would recognize on the street. Living in New York is a thoroughly exhausting endeavor. Jay made it energizing for me.

 

  • Patrick O’Donovan: The night I decided to leave Velvet Melon was perhaps the most difficult decision of my life. I was so afraid of what everyone, but especially Jay, was going to think of me. We had rehearsed and then I told Jay I needed to talk to him. We went for a drive. I was so scared to tell Jay I was leaving. I was afraid he would be upset with me. Most of all, I was afraid of Jay being disappointed in me. Jay had grown to become my brother. His opinion and views affected and meant so much to me, both professionally and personally. I slowly told Jay the news, carefully outlining all the reasons I needed to leave Velvet Melon. Expecting disappointment, anger, and even despair from Jay, I was so surprised to hear what he had to say. He told me he understood. He said he was disappointed I was leaving the band, but he was proud of my desire to return to school. He told me I had to follow my dreams. I’d been with Jay Young every day for the previous many months. However, I’d never felt closer to him in my life.

 

 

  • Jimmy Mills: My memory starts with picking on Jay in middle school, through the good times in high school, where we both developed our skills as musicians and best friends. Later, in 1984, we bonded even more on our trips every other weekend to Tampa to further develop our skills in Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps. We never quit looking for ways to be better as musicians. All my memories of Jay seem to always center around music, but there are a few occasions where we were just buddies having fun. I’m pretty sure we all know which nights those were! (When I woke up on the floor of Sandy’s bathroom one morning in my underwear! Ha! Ha!)

 

  • Nathan Tracy: My best memory of Jay . . . so many. Jay did a perfect imitation of Pete Payton. He would talk and gesture just like him. It was so funny! Jay used to say there was nothing like going to Mariner Mall and licking the telephone receivers. He was so crazy!

When we played soccer together, we always ragged Jay because he would leave early for piano lessons. We called him a “girlie” and just gave him a general hard time. Jay always took the heat. He turned out to be the best musician any one of us ever knew.

 

  • John Buck: To remember Jay is to know how spontaneous a person he was. He was so tremendously talented and such a positive person. I think Jay may have been the most talented kid I ever taught in all my 22 years of teaching. There is not enough I could say about him.

 

  • Lisa “Farmer” Hall: In 1989, Velvet Melon was playing at Apple Annie’s in Seville Quarter. Jay and I had had a disagreement, and Jay really hurt my feelings. I knew, however, that all my friends were going to be there listening to Velvet Melon. I decided to go to Seville anyhow and worry later about the deal with Jay. I arrived and the guys had already started playing. I went over to the bar for a drink. About halfway there, I heard Jay announce, “This next song is for Lisa Farmer. I did something really stupid and hurt her feelings. I’m really sorry.” The next song the band played was for me. I couldn’t believe Jay had humbled himself to me in front of hundreds of people . . . and on stage. It showed me just what kind of person he really was.

 

  • Tim Weekley: The first time Jay came to Bible Study was so memorable. We had been holding Bible Study for a few weeks. Jay showed up and listened intently. I didn’t know Jay spiritually at all at that time. I knew he was raised a Christian. However, not knowing exactly where Jay stood, I did not want to direct any questions of comments directly to him. During Bible Study, we would always ask people to read a passage from Scripture to exemplify our discussion for the evening. I asked who would like to read this rather obscure Old Testament passage. To my surprise, Jay immediately volunteered, located the passage without hesitation, and began to read. I was amazed. After that first Bible Study, Jay expressed a great appreciation for the group. He came as often as possible and we enjoyed his presence and participation so much.

 

Right before Velvet Melon left for New York, they were scheduled to play at Trader Jon’s. Jay asked me to come down after the gig and pray with the band before they left for New York. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and went to Trader’s to pray with them. I really appreciated that opportunity. Once the guys moved to New York, I would call regularly on Monday nights to get their prayer requests for the week. I’d always remind everyone at Bible Study to pray for the band and their success.

 

  • Kevin Totoian (Tall Stories band): Jay was such a profound and outgoing person. He was really positive and sincere and that came out in his music. In New York, there is a great competitiveness between bands which is almost vicious. There was never any of that with Jay and Velvet Melon. There was a real professional respect and friendship present there. Jay was so extremely talented. He stood out to us all as such a brilliant musician.

 

  • Lisa Lassiter: Before I knew Jay, I was at Trinity’s one night when Velvet Melon was playing a gig. We all noticed this kind of unattractive girl who was just really taken with Jay. She was staring at him the entire first set. After that set, at least six girls came at Jay, most of whom were really attractive. However, Jay excused himself and went over to this girl, sat down, and began talking with her. Everyone could see that this girl was just beside herself. Jay was making her day! There were several beautiful girls around, but Jay chose to notice someone who probably wouldn’t be noticed by anyone else. I was so amazed at what a down to earth person he was.

 

  • Andi Olsen: Velvet Melon played at my beach house in the summer of 1987. While the guys were playing, the balcony attached to the house collapsed. When the police came to investigate, their report states that the vibrations from the band’s music made the balcony fall off the house. From then on, we knew Jay and Velvet Melon as the “Band That Rocked the House Down”!

 

  • Gary Powell (d. May 29, 2009) Back at the time of my accident, all my friends kind of dumped me. (Gary was paralyzed after his accident.) 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 running 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 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.

 

  • Phyllis Anderson: My fondest memories of Jay were when we played at Seville. He would come and sit in with us. Just when I thought I couldn’t go on another song, Jay would fly through those swinging doors and totally light up the room. He would blow that horn and remind me of why I do what I do. Jay would play that saxophone and the entire room filled with his energy, his power.

Jay and I talked many times about the Lord. In our business, it is so difficult to express and share your feelings about much without the use of music. I knew Jay was a Christian, and he was so refreshing! It was like Jay knew I needed to converse and share my words and feelings about the Lord. We talked one night until 3 a.m. about being able to feel close to God and carry on a personal relationship with Him, despite our occupation.

Jay Young was a refreshing, wonderful human and a tremendous musician. I know that the Lord is caring for Jay and that Jay is with Him.

 

  • Todd Vannoy: Jay was always an individual. He went to church with long hair and an earring. I’m sure a lot of people stereotyped him for that reason. Jay showed everyone that you could love God and be a Christian just as you are.

 

  • Doug Stiers: My most memorable time with Jay was the moment I met him — until the day he died. (Doug, too, was a musician who died too young. We lost him on January 10, 2010.)

 

  • Scott Miller: Jay and I were in ninth grade and we were entered in the school talent contest. We dressed up in Long Johns and sang “Satisfaction” with some guys from jazz band. This was before we had ever thought of bands or singing or Velvet Melon. We were just a couple of crazy freshmen with enough nerve to get up in front of the entire student body and sing our hearts out. There we stood in our pj’s doing our Mick Jagger imitation. It was the most exhilarating experience of my life. And we won the contest!

When I entered public school in third grade, Jay was the first person to walk up to me and say, “Hi! My name’s Jay.” The rest is history. It is a history of which I am so proud to be a part.

 

  • Andy Waltrip: Jay was a true friend to me and he made me laugh so much. I enjoyed our friendship immensely and still do, when I look back on those times. One of the things about him was that he always made me feel like I was supposed to be there, that he always had time for me. Jay made everyone feel that way. Out of all the people I’ve ever met, I have never met anyone else who had such a magnetic, energetic, charismatic personality. I, just like so many other people, miss having that personality around to make the day more enjoyable. I looked up the word charisma in Webster’s Dictionary. It’s incorrect. It should have a picture of Jay next to the word. Jay Young defines charisma. I can’t wait to see him again.

 

  • Ted Berquist: Frank and Jay came into Zoellner Music to buy Jay a drum set. It seems that Jay was going to learn to play drums. I sold them the set and they were on their way. A short time later, Jay came in to buy a keyboard. This kind of confused me, but, hey, a sale’s a sale. Even later on, Jay returned again to buy a bass guitar. Jay told me he was learning to play bass for his band, Velvet Melon. He invited me out to hear him play. When I finally went out to hear the band, I looked to see Jay playing not one of the three instruments he’d bought. The guy was playing a saxophone!

 

  • Wendy Young: Let’s see, a memory of Jay . . . a memory of Jay . . . a memory of Jay. Well, I guess my first was the night Mom went to the hospital to give birth to my new baby. I hoped and hoped it would be a boy. I remember receiving the phone call at the neighbor’s house where I was staying. Nothing could have made me happier. This new entity in the house brought me great comfort. If I got scared in the night, which I was often, I could go to his room and sleep on the bed next to his crib and be okay.

As he grew, I took great delight in dressing him up in totally outrageous costumes and parading him in front of company. Maybe that’s why he had absolutely no inhibitions in front of a crowd. We also used to stand on our toy box and lip-synch to Mom’s old 45’s from the fifties, like Elvis’s “My Baby Left Me” and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Jay’s favorite was “Mostly Martha” by some group I can’t remember and “Ape Call” by Nervous Norvus.

Music was a big part of our childhood, so it came as no surprise that he became an accomplished musician. I can remember him sitting at the piano practicing. His back was always so straight and his fingers always in perfect position. Being his older sister, I could not resist coming up behind him and grabbing him by the shoulders, and giving him a good big sister shaking. He never missed a beat and never told me to stop. I think he enjoyed the challenge.

It seems funny to me that I don’t remember any of the arguments or fights we had. There weren’t very many. All I remember when I think of Jay is fun. Whether we were eating supper, hiking in canyons, or listening to Led Zeppelin albums backwards to hear Satanic messages, we had a blast!

 

  • Angela Hinkley: Jay was such a clown. Clowns enjoy life, seeking only to bring happiness to others through the life they lead. Jay was like that.

I remember that in October 1987 I traveled to Gainesville to sing at a frat party with the guys. We arrived and located our accommodations. Of course, the guys were staying in the dorms. I remember how funny the frat social chairman looked at Jay when Jay asked him where I was going to sleep. It was obvious that they had not planned for me. Jay told the guy I was his little sister and that we were orphans. He explained that I was still a minor and that he had to take me every place he played. Jay went on and on about how we were only in the music business to save enough money to get our granny the operation she needed. Mike and Wes were straining to keep straight faces, while Darin had to turn and walk away. I couldn’t stand it another second and broke out in laughter. As I was doubled over, Jay, who never cracked a smile, told the guy I was manic-depressive as well! Sometime much later, Jay let the poor guy off the hook. However, I can only imagine what stories went around about that band and its manic-depressive, orphaned, granny-saving sister!

 

 

Wendy asked me, as I was writing this piece, if I had decided to copy the whole book here. Sometimes it seemed that I was; however, I assure you there are lots more memories in The Jay Book

All of you know how much I love my boy and how much I want to preserve his memory. I think all of us — you included — are doing a good job of memory saving. Some of you have joined me this Jay week in posting photos of Jay, Scott Miller (Mullah) in particular, and I’m grateful. Even more of you have written notes to Frank and me today, telling us you’re thinking of us, and we love all of the messages. Thank you so much. As I copied what some of you said in The Jay Book, I noticed that some of the dominant themes were that Jay was happy, smiling, funny, caring, exuberant, charismatic. Thanks for impressing these traits indelibly for all to read and remember. These are the things about Jay I want to remember and ones I want others to remember. Because of you and of the memories that you’ve written about my boy, today is a day of celebration . . . celebration of a life that will always be remembered.

 

On Jay’s Forty-ninth Birthday

(Or I Envisioned a Divorce!)

 

Today would have been Jay’s forty-ninth birthday. That’s hard for me to believe, but it’s true. I often wonder what he would have been like had he lived. I don’t know anything for sure, but I do think that he’d still be a musician and might have been famous. I’ll tell you a secret. I was so sure that he’d make it big in the music world back when he was about twenty years old that I saved little things I might put on display someday, like his worn out toothbrush and his stack of bubble gum wrappers. I guess I thought there’d be a Jay Young Museum like Anne Murray’s in Canada. Pretty funny, huh?

As you know, I always write about Jay on his birthday. Today I want to tell you about something that happened on a vacation. I doubt that many of you have heard this story. I know I’ve never written it before, but I’ve told it lots of times. Please bear with me and maybe learn something new about Jay. I apologize for the length, but the background is necessary to understand about Jay.

At one time, we owned an OTASCO (Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company) store, and every summer we went to Tulsa to order merchandise for the fall and Christmas. We left after the Fall Show (I believe it was in 1975), bound for Snoqualmie, WA. We have always been campers, and at this time, a 17-foot Lark travel trailer was our mode of camping. We stopped for the night not too far from Tulsa since we were all tired after the show.

The next morning, for some reason, I started out driving. Not too far along, one of the wheels on the trailer flew off and crashed through the bathroom. Frank tells this story with lots of details about bolts and such. My version is much simpler. The four of us began walking along the highway, looking for parts; Frank had already found the wheel across a fence and out in a pasture. Jay and I had one little adventure as we were looking. The driver of an eighteen-wheeler stopped to see why we were searching and gave us a ride back to our car. We loved that part of the day, maybe the only part.

Frank managed to get the wheel back on, and we limped a little way down the highway to a junkyard, where he found some parts he could use to repair us so that we could travel on to Snoqualmie.

I’ll tell you secret: Back in those days, we had very little money for travel. In fact, my mother said many times that we wasted what little we had on travel. Frank’s response was that travel money took the place of cigarette and booze dollars. Since she was a smoker, she got the point. We always camped, and I always got dinner ready after we set up camp. This particular day had been rough on all of us, so Frank announced that we’d stop for hamburgers that evening. We were elated! Once again, I was driving, this time to give Frank a little rest from the agony of the morning.

He spotted a burger joint on the right side of the road, and I pulled over. Frank gave the instructions: everyone was to stay in the car while he went to buy our supper.

Jay, in his seven-year-old enthusiasm to help his dad, was the first to disobey. He was out of the car and almost to his dad before I could stop him. Oh, well. I was next. I went to the trailer to go to the bathroom. What could be wrong with that?

Just as I was leaving the trailer, I saw Wendy getting out of the car. I yelled, “Wendy, don’t leave the car. My purse is in there!”

“Don’t worry! I locked it!”

Oh, no! I left the keys in the ignition!

I really didn’t want to do it, but I knew I had to go tell Frank what had happened. He was going to be furious, but he’d give me his extra key, and everything would be fine. As I walked in to the burger joint, he was standing there, arms folded, staring at the car with a sickly smile on his face.

“Wendy locked the keys . . . ,” I began.

“I know.”

“You do have an extra key, don’t you?” I asked quietly.

“No.” That was it. Just “No.”

Then he said, “You and Jay stay here and get our food.” And he walked slowly toward the car.

It seemed like an eternity before our number was called. I just stood there watching Frank walk around the car, obviously trying to decide what to do.

I knew that his tools were in the car, so he couldn’t even get to a screwdriver to try to pry the window open so that he could unlock the car. As I was walking back, I saw a man sitting in his car, eating his burger. I walked over and asked if he had a screwdriver we could borrow for a few minutes.

He slowly wiped his mouth and with what looked like a sneer, said, “Locked your keys in the car, huh?” I think he chuckled a bit, reached for the door handle and started to get out of his car. “I’ll go help him,” he condescended.

My reply? “Sir, if I were you, I wouldn’t go near that car.” And I turned and walked away.

A minute later, the man caught up with me, handed me a screwdriver, and went back to his vehicle.

As I arrived at the car, I could see and hear him. Frank is not a swearing man, but he had his head down on the top of the car, beating it with his fist and shouting, “Damn locks! Damn, damn, damn locks!” This was the first and only time I seriously thought Frank might leave me. I could picture him just turning and walking away, leaving me with a locked car and two children. But he didn’t. Instead, my hero somehow managed to open the car. The window leaked every time it rained for the rest of the time that we owned the car, always reminding us of this day. I returned the screwdriver to the man, thanked him, and took my seat.

Here’s the scenario. Twelve-year-old Wendy, who had been feeling puny all day and was devastated because she had locked the car, was slumped down in her corner of the back seat, snubbing. I was sitting in the front passenger seat, openly crying. Frank was sitting stiffly at the wheel, eyes straight ahead, not saying a word. The burgers, fries, and drinks were between him and me on the front seat, getting cold and watery. No one had an appetite.

And what about your little friend Jay? He had been told that he was going to get the spanking of his life when we got to the campground. And why was Jay going to be punished for something we all had done? All of us had gotten out of the car. But to Frank, Jay was the guiltiest because he was the first one to disobey.

Jay was sitting in his corner of the backseat, probably dreading his punishment, but after a few minutes, he moved to the middle, leaned forward, and put his arms on the back of the front seat, with his chin resting on his folded hands. We rode along the Colorado highway in silence for about thirty minutes.

Then Jay said softly, “Aren’t the mountains beautiful?”

We all muttered some kind of affirmative.

Then out of the blue, a few minutes later, he said a little louder, “You know what? If I could choose the parents that I want in the whole world, I’d choose you.”

Where did THAT come from? But leave it to Jay! The ice was broken. We all laughed uproariously . . . and finally ate our cold supper. This is one of our favorite family stories because it shows early on what Jay would be like in later years. Can’t you just picture him doing this?

By the way, he still had the spanking to look forward to. But . . . after Frank set up camp, he turned to his son and told him, “We’ll forego (yes, his exact word!) the spanking this time, but you’d better not disobey me like that again!” Jay was relieved. Wendy and I laughed!

 

 

 

Music in His Bones

As I sat in the cushy seats in the Pensacola Junior College auditorium that spring morning, I could hear the children behind the curtains taking turns practicing. One played haltingly; one completely forgot the song; and one played flawlessly. The last one was Jay. They all played the same song, a piece with just enough “show off” in it to impress the judges.

The curtains parted, and the first two children each walked to the piano nervously, their eyes averted from those of us watching. Each one played hesitantly, making many mistakes. When the second one finished, it was Jay’s turn. My boy—very small for his age—walked confidently to the grand piano in the middle of the stage, nodded to the audience, gave them a crooked eight-year-old smile, adjusted the bench so that it was just right, and lifted himself up, his feet not quite flat on the floor. Not one mistake in his performance. The children weren’t in competition with each other; they were just performing in hopes of getting a Superlative rating. I don’t know what the other little boys earned, but Jay got the ranking that he wanted.

As we walked out of the auditorium, he turned to me and, with a serious look, said, “Mom, I couldn’t believe it. Those other boys were so nervous and afraid to play. I told ‘em I couldn’t wait to get on the stage!” He had completely psyched those other children out. He was just telling the truth . . . he loved to perform.

Jim Hussong, Jay’s piano teacher, entered him in every contest available because Jay always excelled. Whether it was a local competition or one for state, he won. He memorized easily. In fact, once Jim gave him the wrong music to prepare for a contest, discovering his mistake only a few days before Jay was to perform. When the teacher confessed his mistake, Jay said, “That’s OK, Mr. Hussong. Just give me the piece, and I’ll have it ready.” Amazing. When he was about twelve years old, he announced that he didn’t want to take piano lessons any more. He had several reasons: Some of his friends were making fun of him for having to go home to practice piano (it was sissy to play the piano); he wanted to play soccer because he was going to be the next Pele; he was just plain tired of playing the piano. We gave in and let him quit in hopes that he’d want to go back to the piano someday. After all, he was still involved in music—he was playing saxophone in the Bellevue Middle School band, and he had finally gotten to the point that he sounded sort of good. It was a struggle at first with all the squeaking and squawking that went on while he was learning to play. We wanted to relegate him to the barn when he practiced, and you can be sure that he wanted to practice. Going to the barn probably wouldn’t have been a punishment for him.

He was still in middle school when Wendy went away to college at Southern Miss. I think he really missed her, and every evening he’d go to his room, ostensibly to do his homework, which I guess he did at some point. As I’d be doing dishes, he’d come down, sit at the piano, and play a few bars of something that sounded a bit familiar; however, with my tone deaf ear, it didn’t sound like much. After several evenings of this routine, he came downstairs, sat down and played from start to finish Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” He had a tape of the song and was memorizing it by listening. I think that was the moment when we realized that he truly was gifted. I don’t think he read another piece of music after that. He just listened to a recording, memorized, and played it.

At the end of his eighth grade year, he announced that he wasn’t going to be in the marching band at Pine Forest High School. It was stupid to march with an instrument in your mouth——you could knock your teeth out. Wendy happened to be at home when he made his announcement, and she promptly took him out to the backyard to talk to him. We never got a real report of what she said to him, but when they came back inside, he had decided to learn how to play mallets . . . xylophone. And play that instrument, he did. He taught himself how to play, and he was all over those keys! And when he and Jimmy Mills auditioned for and were accepted into Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps, he hung out with the drummers and learned drums. During his senior year in high school, he was still playing xylophone, but he wrote the cadence for the drummers to march in to, and he led the way. Oh, but my boy was talented!

During his senior year, he lacked only English and maybe one or two other subjects for graduation. So he took a brass class. I never heard him play trumpet, but he said that he learned to “blow” it, and I believed him. Then he announced to Wendy that he was going to learn French horn. Wrong!! His big sister put her foot down. French horn was HER instrument (and she was very good!), and he couldn’t touch it. She knew he’d love playing horn and that he’d be good, to say the least. She absolutely refused to be in competition with her little brother musically.

Sometime during his junior year, Jay and a fellow musician, Joey Allred, decided to form a band. Boys began invading our home on Saturday mornings, eating us out of house and home, and playing what we vaguely recognized as rock music, not hard rock, you understand, but music that had a tune to it. I bought packages of hot dogs and buns on Friday afternoons in preparation for the onslaught. Cookies and chips were devoured by the package, too. I think there must have been about eleven of these budding musicians, but gradually the number dwindled, and when Velvet Melon finally emerged as a band, there were four or five musicians and Jimmy, the sound man. By the way, Velvet Melon doesn’t mean anything in particular. The guys were practicing one evening early on and as usual were throwing around prospective names for their band. The phone rang, I answered, it was for Jay. Gina Forsberg, Jay’s current girlfriend, was calling to chat and to tell him something funny that she had seen carved on a desk at Tate High School—VELVET MELON. “Thanks, Gina! You just named our band!” There was never a question about the name. Everyone loved it! Here is a very early Velvet Melon photo:

 

Velvet Melon became THE band in Pensacola, attracting young and old to their gigs, whether they were at Chucky Cheese or Longneckers or Coconut Bay or Chan’s Bayside or the Shell at Pensacola Beach. Melonheads thronged to their gigs, giving them all the support that a young band needed as they grew to be one of the most popular bands in the Southeast.

During the years when Velvet Melon was in existence, I never had even the slightest thought that on July 2 every year I’d be reminiscing about my boy and almost every year writing about him, hoping what I’d write would be a little remembrance for those who knew him and an introduction to him for those who didn’t. But a mother isn’t supposed to think about things like that, and I’m glad the Lord doesn’t let us know ahead of time what’s going to happen. What I knew about Jay Young throughout his twenty-four years was that God had given him a gift, and he assured me many times that he knew where his talent came from.

Not only did Jay play drums, keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, and saxophone, he also sang and wrote music. Sometimes his originals were a little bit crazy (like “Leola”), but one song, “I’m Not Crazy,” has always been special to me. Somewhere in the middle of it is the line “I don’t mix drugs with rock ‘n’ roll—I’ve got Jesus in my heart to save my soul.” Those of you who know me well know that that’s my favorite line in all of his songs!

All of us have gifts. Jay’s was music. Yes, my boy was music through and

through. He truly had music in his bones!

 

 

 

                         Chapter 4

               A Mother’s Memories            

 

             Prepared but Not Ready

We celebrated Jay’s twenty-fourth birthday on February 10, 1992, not knowing we’d never celebrate another. He and his girlfriend, Dana, had just broken up, but she had planned a surprise party for him and wanted to carry it out. I told her I would help. She didn’t know that Jay had found out about the surprise but would show up and act just as surprised as she wanted him to be. That’s the kind of man he was. He never disliked a girl after breaking up and wouldn’t have thought of hurting Dana by spoiling her party. Of course, Frank and I were there.

The reason this was his last birthday is that he died suddenly on July 2, 1992. I’m not writing tonight about his death or the senseless activities that led to it. No, tonight I want to take another approach. I want you to know that God prepared me for losing my boy, not that I realized the preparation at the time. One of the best things the Lord does for us is not to let us know what’s ahead. Can you imagine our knowing ahead of time that Jay would die on the day that he did? Even parents whose children suffer through health problems don’t know the exact day when they’ll lose their precious offspring. What a blessing!

I’ll begin with Christmas 1991. Usually on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Jay would spend a part of each day with us, but in 1991 he was with us until late in the evening on Christmas Eve. He even went with us to our service at church. We all gathered at Wendy and Steve’s house afterwards and had such a good time with just our little family. He was with us all day on Christmas, and I have beautiful photos of the day to prove his presence. Some people might not call this preparation, but after the fact, I viewed it that way. It was God’s way of giving us more time with Jay, more very special time that we needed, though we didn’t know it at the time.

Just after the holidays, we went to see Velvet Melon, Jay’s band, perform in Mobile at Trinity’s. At this particular place, the stage was elevated over the bar. No bad seats in the house! I was standing next to the bar and glanced up at Jay. I heard a voice say, “Enjoy him. You won’t have him long.” I don’t share this with everyone because some people would think I was just imagining the voice. I know that I heard it, and I know that the Lord spoke the words. I thought of them again on July 2.

Sometime in March, my students were working on their Anthologies. This was an assignment in which they had to choose their own literature and react to it. One of my favorite students came to me with a poem. She wanted to know if she could use it in her assignment. I read it, and we both cried. How could a parent live after losing a child? Neither of us could understand. Here’s the poem. I’ve found credit given to both Edgar A. Guest and Marjorie Holmes, so I really don’t know who wrote it. I’ve taken a few liberties with punctuation and combining the versions I’ve read.

 

Lent for a While

 

“I’ll lend you for a little time a child of Mine,” He said.
“For you to love the while he lives and mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years, or twenty-two or three,
But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for me?
He’ll bring his charms to gladden you, and should his stay be brief,
You’ll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief.

 

“I cannot promise he will stay; since all from earth return,
But there are lessons taught down there I want this child to learn.
I’ve looked the wide world over in My search for teachers true
And from the throngs that crowd life’s lanes I have selected you.
Now will you give him all your love, not think the labor vain,
Nor hate Me when I come to call to take him back again?”

 

I fancied that I heard them say, “Dear Lord, Thy will be done!
For all the joy Thy child shall bring, the risk of grief we run.
We’ll shelter him with tenderness, we’ll love him while we may,
And for the happiness we’ve known, forever grateful stay;
But should the angels call for him much sooner than we’ve planned,
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand!”

 

 

In July, I thought back to this poem and knew God gave that poem to Jennifer and that she shared it with me for a purpose. God did, indeed, lend Jay to us for a while. And we have tried to understand.

Something else that I read and that I’ve always believed God gave to me was an article in Reader’s Digest. I have no recollection of the title, but it was about parents whose little girl had died. The only way the family could deal with this tragedy was to get rid of all of the child’s belongings and to move to another house. After a period of time, because the parents couldn’t stop blaming each other for their daughter’s death, the couple divorced. Their solution to their grief horrified me. I couldn’t believe that people would really do something like this, but at the time, I didn’t know personally about the death of a child, and I thought maybe most families reacted in this manner.

God gave us Jay at Easter that year, too. Just another instance of His caring for us and proving to us later that He knew all along that Jay would be with Him soon. He was just sharing our boy more and more with us because in the not too distant future, he’d be where he always knew he’d go someday. I remember mentioning to Jay at some point during these preparatory months that he needed to get more rest. His reply to his worry- wart mother: “I can rest when I get to Heaven.”

Sometimes when a child dies, the parents feel bereft of God. Not so with me. When Jay died, I immediately felt the strong arms of Jesus around me. I heard that same voice that spoke to me at Trinity’s say this time, “I’ll get you through this. Just let me take care of you.” And He did. And He still does.

 

An Unforgettable, but Forgivable, Letter

In 2009, I posted on my blog, and maybe also on Facebook, my writing about the last days of Jay’s life. I had many messages from his friends and ours telling us how grateful they were to finally know exactly what happened to Jay. We were overjoyed that they let us know how they felt. One of our friends doesn’t have a computer. Since I really wanted her to hear details, I asked another friend to let her read my post. I thought my words would be a comfort to her. They weren’t. The following is the letter she wrote to me:

 

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 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 wrote . . .

 

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 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.

 

Hair today . . .

There has never been any love lost between me and my hair. I can’t ever remember having long hair, even when I was a child. It was always fairly short then, and now, it’s really short, never below my ears.

Not so with our son, Jay. He was a true child of the 80s and had long hair, at least in the back. You may remember the mullet cut, short on the sides and long in the back. That was Jay! I loved it, and every time he went to the barber to get it trimmed, I’d say as he left the house, “Don’t let him cut it too short!”

“Don’t worry, Mom. I won’t.”

He really had a “nice head of hair,” as we say in the South. Some mothers probably wouldn’t have liked it, but I did. However, as beautiful as it was on the outside, there was something very different underneath.

If he lifted up his long hair to show you what was strange, you’d see that the hair under his long locks was just as kinky as it could be. For a long time, I attributed this to the fact that at one time he had had a perm. I didn’t like that, but he just came home one day with his hair curled. So I kept saying the curls were left over from the perm. But how long can one perm last? Finally, I had to admit his curls were natural, but where did they come from?

My husband had the answer: Somewhere back in my history, there were blacks. I didn’t believe him, but that’s what he told me. He said a certain photo of my great-grandmother proved his claim. He swore she was black. Not so, according to family stories. She was an Indian.

Fast forward to 1994. I had my students write their autobiographies, and I wrote mine right along with them. All of us had great family photos in our books. Of course, Grandma Wiggins, my Indian grandmother, was right there.

The day came when we all had our autobiographies ready, and everyone was reading everyone else’s, really just looking at photos. A sweet little black girl on the front row was reading mine. She called me over to her and pointed to Grandma’s picture.

“Who ‘dis, Miz Young?”

“That’s my great-grandmother,” I replied.

“She black?” my student asked.

“No, she’s an Indian.”

My dear little student looked me, rolled her beautiful brown eyes, and responded, “Unh hunh,” being interpreted, “Who are you trying to fool?”

Out of the mouths of babes. Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line we’ll have a beautiful dark-skinned, brown-eyed, curly haired child instead of the fair-complexioned, blue-eyed, straight brown-haired folks that populate our family now.

But how about Jay’s hair? Did I continue to love it? Of course, I did. It was on my boy, and he always looked handsome to me, right up to the day he died at age twenty-four. He still had that mullet cut, and everyone loved it. As his friends passed by his casket on July 5, 1992, almost to a person, they reached in and touched his hair in an effort to get it just right, just the way Jay would have wanted it.

In my mind’s eye, Jay is still twenty-four, with a beautiful head of hair, curls underneath and all.

 

                                       So Young

On February 8, 1968, I informed my doctor that the baby HAD to arrive on February 10. Dr. Girard laughed at me and said the little one wasn’t finished cooking and it would be at least two more weeks before he or she arrived (Back then, we had no way of knowing the sex of a baby ahead of time. We just knew that if a mother carried the baby low, it might be a boy—or maybe it might be a girl. I forget. Pretty much speculation back in those days.). I begged my doctor to induce labor so that Cassie or Jay would be born on the second weekend in February, the last weekend he would be on duty in February. I didn’t want the doctor with the big fat hands to deliver our little baby.

Finished cooking or not, Jay needed to be born on Saturday, February 10, 1968. Those who knew Jay well in his adult years seldom heard him say he wanted something: he always needed it. And why did he need to be born then? Because he knew his papa was having a hard time even thinking of having another grandchild. Wendy was my dad’s heart, and Jay needed an advantage in order to really be accepted. He got just that! Two things immediately made him special: the fact that he was a boy and the fact that he was born on his papa’s birthday. Pretty neat, huh?

By 1968 the Lord had given us two beautiful children. We brought up both Wendy and Jay thinking they would be alive throughout our lives and would live to keep our memories alive for their children and grandchildren. I attached in an earlier piece the poem “Lent for a While.” I have another favorite poem, this one for sure by Marjorie Holmes. The title will tell you why I love it even before you read it.

 

 

 

 

HE WAS SO YOUNG

 

He was so young, God.

So young and strong and filled with promise. So vital, so radiant, giving so much joy wherever he went.

He was so brilliant. On this one boy you lavished so many talents that could have enriched your world. He had already received so many honors, and there were so many honors to come.

Why, then? In our agony we ask. Why him?

Why not someone less gifted? Someone less good? Some hop-head, rioter, thief, brute, hood?

Yet we know, even as we demand what seems to us a rational answer, that we are only intensifying our grief. Plunging deeper into the blind and witless place where all hope is gone. A dark lost place where our own gifts will be blunted and ruin replace the goodness he brought and wished for us.

 

Instead, let us thank you for the marvel that this boy was. That we can say good-by to him without shame or regret, rejoicing in the blessed years he was given to us. Knowing that his bright young life, his many gifts, have not truly been stilled or wasted, only lifted to a higher level where the rest of us can’t follow yet.

Separation? Yes. Loss? Never.

For his spirit will be with us always. And when we meet him again, we will be even more proud.

Thank you for this answer, God.

 

 

I may love this piece even more than “Lent for a While.” Both brought great comfort to me in the early days after Jay died, and they continue to do so.

So today I’m wondering what my boy would have been like had he lived. Would music still be his life? Would he still love the crowds and the joy of having them in his hands? Would he still eagerly anticipate the breaks between sets when he could “work the crowds,” as he called that time? Would he still want his dad and me at gigs? Would he and Wendy still crack me up as no one else has ever been able to do? Would his hair still be long? Would he still say, “My mom’s always hot!”? Would he still have a charisma that drew people to him like a magnet? So many things to wonder about. Such a reunion to look forward to in heaven!

If you’re a conservative talk show listener, as I am, you may be familiar with Rush Limbaugh’s conceited comment about him and God. I just roll my eyes every time he says it. I’ll borrow from him, though, and say that Jay truly was “on loan from God.”

Lord, we are forever grateful for that loan. You know I wish full payment hadn’t come due as soon as it did, but I firmly believe that You don’t make mistakes about anything. Thank you for trusting us with Jay. To say that having him with us was a pleasure is surely an understatement. It was a glorious adventure!

 

Music Memories

A couple of weeks before July 2, 2010, when I would write about Jay and post my piece on Facebook, 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 all of us Melonheads, all of us who followed Velvet Melon. 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 Jay might get the first whipping he’d had in about ten years. I tried to calm my sweetheart by telling him 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 there was no beating of the child, as if there ever had been. But I do know 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

 

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?

 

Chorus:

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.

 

(Chorus)

 

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!).

 

(Chorus)

 

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 I want on this music memory page is one 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 Jay’s words:

 

 

 

 

 

LIGHTS

 

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 how 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 twenty-four years than most men do in seventy. 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, “I’m Not Crazy.” 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 this 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 Jesus will understand if he’s late mowing those heavenly lawns. Of this, I’m sure.

 

 

 

Memories in Photos

As most of you know, I post something on Facebook about Jay on both his birthday and his deathday. After several years of posting, I was having the hardest time thinking of something to write. As I was walking through the Jay Hall at our house, I thought Why not write about some of these photos? There’s a story behind each one. So . . . here are some of my memories in photos.

 

Two Hoboes

One of Wendy’s favorite activities with her little brother was to dress him up, especially if we had company. At one time, we were very active in Amway and had meetings at our house regularly, usually at least once a week. We knew we could look for Jay to parade in while someone was “drawing the circles” (showing the business) to prospects. He’d be dressed in some outlandish garb, and Wendy would be hiding behind the door, snickering because he had interrupted us and because he looked so funny. We’d just shoo him out and carry on with our meeting.

This photo, however, isn’t of Jay entertaining our company. It’s of Jay and Wendy all decked out for the Fall Festival at Beulah School, where Wendy was in first grade. I’m sure that Wendy helped us get everything together for their costumes. Big sister knew exactly what she and little brother needed to look the part of two hoboes.

 

Mama with the Big Hair

 

This photo was taken at about the same time as the hobo one, but it was a formal family portrait. It was taken either at a place like Olan Mills or at church. Be sure to notice Frank’s sideburns (very stylish), Wendy’s dress with the leopard collar and her long hair (also very stylish), Jay’s cute little suit (sort of par for the course for little boys at the time), and my lovely hair, which was actually a wig (very, very stylish). What a lovely family!

When Jay moved out of our home and into homes of his own, always with guys in Velvet Melon, whether it was in my mother’s old house in Myrtle Grove or on Pensacola Beach or in New Jersey or in the Nashville area, he always had a framed 8 X 10 of that photo. Once, not long before he died, I said to him, “Jay, why do you always have that awful picture sitting out where everyone can see it?”

“What do you mean by awful?”

“It’s my hair that’s so awful. Everyone laughs at it now because it looks so funny for today.”

“Oh,” said my boy, “I never noticed your hair. I just have it out because I’m so cute!”

Always so sure of himself. That was Jay!

 

 

One of Jay’s Heroes . . . Bruce Lee

 

When Frank’s older brother, Sam, retired from the Navy, there were two things he wanted to do—work in a store and go to college. Frank had a store, so if Sam moved his family to Pensacola, he’d have a place to work; and we had an excellent college (Pensacola Junior College), so he’d be able to begin his college career. Sam packed up Masako and Tim and headed for Florida. We helped them find a house in the Bellview Middle School district so that Tim and Jay could attend the same school. Jay was in seventh, and Tim was in eighth grade.

The boys saw each other every day at school and planned exciting things to do on the weekend, taking turns spending the night with each other. One of the things they did was watch Bruce Lee movies. Their favorite was Enter the Dragon, with The Way of the Dragon (Chuck Norris) being a close second. They really got into the action of Bruce Lee and beat each other up regularly trying to imitate their hero’s style. Nothing would do but the next time we went to Seattle to visit his cousin and his family Jay had to go pay tribute to his hero.

Jay and Tim were best friends the year that Sam and his family lived in Pensacola. Through the years, they remained best friends (though each had other best friends) even though they lived 2800 miles apart. I know in my heart of hearts they’d still be long-distance best friends had Jay lived. And that makes me feel very good!

There’s another story buried in this picture. Did you notice Jay’s sweat shirt? On this same trip, we took the kids to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on our way to Washington. Our reason? We thought it would be really good for Jay to apply to the Academy. OK . . . stop laughing. I know it’s a real stretch to imagine our Jay at anybody’s academy, but we thought we’d try. So much for good intentions on the parts of parents.

 

European Adventures

 

Frank and I used to travel with students in Europe every summer. In 1984, we signed up enough students for the trip to allow us to take Jay for free. He really didn’t want to go because Velvet Melon was in its infancy, and he wanted to stay at home to play rock ‘n’ roll and to develop his business. We insisted, however, that he go with us because it was probably the chance of a lifetime, and he needed to take advantage of it. So he went with us, drumming on the backs of the seats in the bus, on tables, on anything . . . probably on his friends.

Students were allowed to go exploring in the foreign cities in the afternoon if they were in groups of at least three. So The Four Musketeers in the photo disappeared one afternoon in Rome, only to arrive back at the hotel with their ears pierced. I was devastated! Ear piercing on boys was just becoming popular, and I thought it was terrible. After all, only girls should have their ears pierced . . . or so my conservative little mind led me to believe. And if you think I had conservative beliefs, you can imagine Frank’s! I hated to think of what his dad was going to say and do.

When I saw my boy with a pierced ear, I cried. Yes, I cried. I guess I just felt that Jay had let me down. We had talked, at home, about his having his ear pierced, and he knew we didn’t approve. Even worse than our feelings, though, was my fear of what the other boys’ parents would say. But unhappy as I was, I still had to have a photo. You can tell by the smiles that the guys weren’t unhappy. Everyone who knew Jay knew that he and I had a “mutual admiration society,” and because of the love we shared, I never saw the earring again while we were on the trip.

Sometime later in his life, Jay convinced his dad and me that an earring wasn’t the worst thing in the world, and by the time that he died, he had three pierces. We buried him with three new earrings. We wouldn’t want him to be at his funeral in old ones, would we? Of course we wouldn’t.

Before I close this story, I must tell you that having their ears pierced was the least of the trouble that these kids got into while we were in Europe. That afternoon’s activity didn’t even hold a candle to their getting in the car with a stranger in Madrid and going to his mansion, with their rappelling down the walls of a hotel in Florence to roam the streets in the middle of the night, and with their rolling the Tower Bridge in London the night before we left for home. Jay confessed all of these activities one evening in Pensacola. We wouldn’t have laughed if we had discovered their antics while we were still in London, but after the fact, we did.

 

Jay, His Friends, and King Tut

Almost every year, when we went to Europe, we took the kids to Switzerland. And almost every year, we encouraged them to have a talent show. They had plenty of time to plan and to practice. The year that Jay went with us was no exception, and you can imagine who was the most excited about performing. That’s right . . . the one in the front, Jay. Years later, when Velvet Melon was in its heyday and Jay was playing sax and bass, I asked him if he ever wanted to be the drummer again. After all, drummers are usually the musicians that the girls are the most ga-ga over. “What?” he replied. “And not be on the front of the stage? Oh, no . . . I’ll keep on playing sax and bass!” This photo proves that his answer wasn’t something he just made up on the spur of the moment. He wanted to be the star . . . and in the front!

And so Jay and his friends performed Steve Martin’s “King Tut” routine. They were hilarious! They were the hit of the talent show! Four boys who had the same sense of humor as those “wild and crazy guys” on Saturday Night Live stole the show. Frank and I were so proud of them, and my best friends, Fran Crumpton and Annice Webb, and I have laughed so many times just remembering how funny they were.

They made their own costumes, borrowing towels from the hotel and a big spoon and foil from the kitchen for Jay’s headdress. I wish we had had video cameras or iPhones back then, but we didn’t. If we had had them, you could see my boy and his back-up for yourselves on YouTube.

As all of you know, I’ll never forget Jay. I hope you don’t think me too weird for continuing to write about him at various times during each year but especially on his birthday and on Jay Day, July 2. This is just a mother’s way of celebrating her boy.

 

Reminders of Jay

Give me a topic, and I can usually write about it. My approach and details may not be what others would write, but I can come up with something. Tell me to think of a topic, and many times I sit here with my nose against a brick wall—all I see is either a wall with nothing written on it or so many scribbles of ideas that I can’t make out anything because of the position of my nose on that wall.

I find myself in the latter fix today. I want to write about Jay because it’s his birthday week, and I always write about him on his birthday. But how do I narrow my topic so that I don’t just roam around in his 43 years, never really alighting on anything? Won’t someone help me? Let me sit here for a while to see if I hear anything. (Picture about two hours going by with Sandy just sitting before the woodstove on a beautiful New Mexico Saturday afternoon, waiting for some kind of inspiration.)

Eureka! I heard you! It’s the voices of former students groaning and complaining about yet another quotation that I want them to write about, to identify with. “Mizhung (that’s Southern for Mrs. Young, you know), you ought to do what you had us do . . . react to quotations. Find other people’s words that remind you of Jay and write to your heart’s content.” Good idea, my dear former students. Once more, you’ve come to my rescue.

So, as my mother-in-law used to say, “There you have it.” I’ll find quotations that remind me of Jay and put the long, skinny fingers to the computer keypad and write away.

 

Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.

—Author Unknown

I have a picture in my mind right now. It’s of Jay and me sitting in the rocking chair in the living room in Pensacola, his long legs dangling at age six and his head splitting from a migraine. He and I spent many an afternoon in this position, lights off, and not a sound in the room except an occasional squeak from the rocker. We’d sit there for an hour or so, just mother and son. We both might snooze a bit, and soon his headache would abate, and he’d be off and running, probably out to play with his friend, Walter Glenn. Later, after he discovered that music was in his soul and after he had outgrown his rocking place, he’d still have headaches, but can you guess what he substituted for my lap? Rock ‘n’ roll. That’s right. Loud music. Don’t ask me to explain. That was just my boy. Out of my lap but not out of my heart . . . ever.

 

He who can be a good son will be a good father.

—Author Unknown

This quotation is a daydream. Jay didn’t live long enough to be a father, though back in the early days after he died, I often wished that a young woman would show up at our door to tell us the little child with her was Jay’s. I’d have welcomed that young woman and that child with open arms; however, that visit never materialized. I still wonder sometimes what it would have been like for Jay to be married and to have children, children we’d love so very much, just the way we love our grandchildren, Corey and Jackson. I like to think that he would have been a good father, putting his wife and children above everything else, even above his music. In my heart of hearts, I think he would still be a musician, but maybe by this time, he might not be on the road all the time. After all, rock stars (you know that’s just about all he ever wanted to be, and I believe he would have achieved his dreams) can choose how often they want to travel. Perhaps his wife and children would have traveled with him, his children being home schooled. But maybe not. I know he would have been a good provider and that he’d spend quality time with his family. He and his wife would have set examples for their children as far as their relationship to God is concerned. Those who read this may remember a line from one of Jay’s songs “I don’t mix drugs with rock and roll./ I’ve got Jesus in my heart to save my soul.” He’d want his children to have Jesus in their hearts, too. Also, Jay loved traveling with Wendy, Frank, and me when he was a little boy, and he’d want his children to have the same kinds of experiences that he and Wendy had. Family was important to Jay, and he’d want family to be important to his children. Jay was a good son; he’d have been a good father. Of this I’m sure.

 

My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.

—Mark Twain

After a child dies, it’s difficult for the parents not to remember him or her as perfect. Most mothers and dads don’t want to dwell on trouble the kid got into, near misses he had with the law . . . unless those parents are Sandy and Frank Young, whose son could “fess up” after the fact and bring tears of laughter to their eyes or whose son’s escapades even at the moment that they happened were just hilarious. I must confess on our parts that we laughed about a lot of things in our family that other families would consider just terrible and would probably mete out punishments the kids would never forget. In retrospect, I don’t think we were very good disciplinarians. Anyway . . . on with a few of the incidents I remember:

  • When Jay and Walter were in seventh or eighth grade, there was a rash of fights at Bellview Middle School. Those two little bad boys decided to stage a fight before school in the hall right outside their first period class. They were really going at it with fake punches and lots of “Oohs!” and “Ouches” and such, with their teacher looking on, enjoying every minute of the “fight” and laughing with the kids. Out of nowhere came Pete Payton, the assistant principal, who had just about had it with fighting middle schoolers. “You two boys . . . come with me!” I wish I were an artist. I’d draw a picture of his mouth, turned down at both corners . . . and you’d see Jay’s impersonation of him. I imagine those two little boys were pretty much worried as they followed Mr. Payton to his office. I don’t remember who went in first, and I don’t remember Walter’s story, but I know that when Jay went in, Pete said, “Do you want ten licks or ten days’ suspension?” (That evening when Jay related the story hilariously to us at dinner, he said he was tempted to say, “Please, Mr. Payton, may I have both?” but he didn’t want to push his luck.) Needless to say, he took the licks; however, just before he bent over, he remembered that he had a Visine bottle in his back pocket and that he’d really get what for if Mr. Payton found that. You see, the administration had put the word out that kids having “squirt” bottles would be suspended, and that’s exactly what that Visine bottle was. Jay managed to remove it before he bent over, probably by giving a Jay twirl as he bent. I know. I know. Back in my day, kids were more afraid of what their parents would do to them when they got home, the parents having been notified by the school authorities of their precious children’s bad behavior. In Jay’s day, there were lots of parents who would have paddled their children even harder after finding out about the punishment at school. My true confession is that Wendy, Frank, and I just doubled over as Jay told his story. If you knew Jay, you know he could embellish a story and entertain as no one else could. Enough said about this adventure.
  • We took Jay to Europe with us the summer of 1985. It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that he went kicking and screaming, but it’s not far off. He’d much rather have stayed at home playing music, Velvet Melon being in its infant stages at that time and Jay wanting to spend every waking hour with the guys in the band. As it turned out, he had a great time, but you can believe he and his closest friends managed to get in some amount of trouble while we were there. The only thing we found out about while we were traveling was the piercing of his ear, something we had laid down the law about at home. He would NOT have his ear pierced. We had some really strange beliefs about ear piercing back in those days, and when he and three friends came back to the hotel with earrings, I cried. Yes, I cried. I was so embarrassed. Through the years, I changed my mind about my boy and his ears, though, and when Jay died, he had three “holes in his head,” and I sent my very much macho brother-in-law to buy new jewelry for my boy so that he’d be all dressed up for his funeral. What we found out when we got home from Europe, though, was really scary. He confessed: The afternoon that we arrived in Madrid, he and two other boys got in a car with a stranger and went to his home. Can you imagine what might have happened to those inexperienced teenagers? Nothing did. Somewhere I’ve read a quotation something to the effect of “God takes care of fools and babies,” but I can’t find it. Even so, I think it applies here. He also told us that one of his friends took rappelling equipment with him. One night, three Florida boys went out the window of their room and out on the town in Rome, Italy. Remember my quotation about babies and fools? Applies here, too. The third confession was that on the night before we left London, headed home, he and these same rapscallions “rolled” the Tower Bridge. You heard me right. They took rolls of toilet paper from the Tower Hotel and rolled the bridge in the dark of night. After all the shenanigans were over and we were safely home when the confession poured out, what could we do but laugh and say, “Thank you, Lord” that those children . . . yes, children . . . didn’t wind up in jail.
  • I’m not going to give lots of details on this trouble, but here’s the gist of it. Just before Jay turned 21, he and the guys in Velvet Melon went to New York City to make their fortune. I could write a book about their nine months there and how, instead of making a fortune, they almost starved, but the NYC adventure is not the topic of this remembrance. The guys planned to be back in Pensacola for Jay’s birthday to play some gigs on the Gulf Coast so that they’d have a little money. On the evening of February 10, after they had set up at Coconut Bay for their gig, Frank and I took Jay out to eat at Darryl’s. We had just placed our order, when Jay leaned back in his chair and announced to us, “Well, folks, now that I’m 21 and legal, I probably should tell you about some things that have happened in the past.” Then he entertained us for the whole meal about things he and Jimmy Mills had done that almost got them in trouble with the law. Jay could have gone to jail! I don’t know that I could ever reconstruct those stories, but I might try some time. Just know that one of them involved going before a judge.
  • The last trouble I’ll talk about for now happened at least once a week at our house. Mark Twain said that his mother enjoyed the trouble he caused, and I loved this particular trouble Jay brought into my life. Periodically, Jay would come into the kitchen, where I was preparing dinner, come up really close to me, and sometimes plant a kiss on my cheek; then he’d say, “It’s time, Mom!” I’d say, “Please, Jay . . . not right now!” At that time, he’d laugh as only Jay could laugh, enjoying himself completely. He’d put his arms around me and lift me off the floor, delightedly announcing, “Yep, Mom, it’s time to put your head in the fan.” I’d laugh and squeal, just what he wanted me to do, as he walked toward the ceiling fan. Then he’d raise me up to about two inches below the fan, having the time of his life. I don’t know how putting his mom’s head in the fan originated, but it was so funny to both of us and to anyone else who happened to be in the room at the time, especially if he or she was witnessing the event for the first time. It’s a memory I wouldn’t take anything for!

Here’s my favorite quotation. I hope you like it as much as I do, and, if you knew Jay, I hope it reminds you of him and me:

 

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

 

Shortly after Jay died, I discovered this quotation in a little book that meant so much to me at the time—My Dream of Heaven (Intramuros) by Rebecca Ruter-Springer. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but I know I’ll read it again and again now because I’ve just purchased it for my NOOK e-reader. It brought comfort to me when my heart was broken, but the part of the book that meant the most to me was the quotation by Washington Irving. Every part of it applies to Jay and me, every single part. Recently, a friend told me that she was offended by the quotation because it sounded as though I love Jay more than I love Wendy. This is not true. I love both of our children with the same amount of mother love. I could change “son” to “daughter” and make the masculine pronouns feminine and have this quotation be about Wendy. But this piece is about Jay. I love this quotation!

I still miss Jay every day, but I love thinking back over the exciting times we had with him. God gave him to us for a short while, but all of us who knew and loved him were richly blessed by his enthusiasm for life. To all of you who continue to remember him and who let Frank, Wendy, and me know that you are thinking about him . . . thank you!

 

Music and a Mom

Frank and I had been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks. Every night, as we watched our favorite shows—CSI, NCIS, The Mentalist, Eleventh Hour, and other such gory, yet interesting and entertaining, programs—we’d seen the promo and determined that we’d watch. So the closer it got to 7:00 last night, the more excited we became, and at 6:55 we changed the channel from CMT, where we were watching O, Brother, Where Art Thou?, to CBS so that we could settle in for an evening of the Country Music Awards.

If a person has to be a redneck to like country music, then just call me a redneck. Reba McEntire was the host. She’s such a cute little country girl who’s made it big. I haven’t really followed her career closely because I’m not a person who follows the careers of entertainers; however, I remember how my heart hurt for her when, in the spring of 1991, seven of her band members and her manager were killed in a plane crash. I wondered how she would ever recover from such a tragedy and whether or not she’d get on with her career. I don’t know that she recovered, but she managed to get through, and she certainly has gotten on with her career. At the time of the crash, our son was still alive and playing with his band, Velvet Melon. I remember that he suggested that he and the guys in the band apply for the jobs of Reba’s “Crazy Eight,” as she referred to her band. Jay was only half kidding: he was a very confident, charismatic young man who never saw his dreams as impossible.

Anyway, we loved watching George Strait, Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flats, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, and lots of others perform. The female stars were especially stunning in their sparkly dresses—some long, some short, some exceptionally revealing, but all beautiful. Brad Paisley opted not to be in Las Vegas in person because his wife, Kimberly, was practically to the giving-birth stage with their second child. What a great husband!

Both Frank and I teared up as we watched star after star accept awards and give credit for their success to friends, family, and God. The whole evening was very emotional but lots of fun. Probably one of the main reasons it was emotional for me was that I could picture Jay winning awards someday had he lived, not in country music but in rock music. He would have been a star. As I watched Carrie Underwood’s mother hug her every time she won an award, my heart soared for her mom because I could see Frank and me sitting next to Jay at some celebration, hugging him every time his name was called. I know I’m a dreamer, but moms are supposed to dream, especially about the success of their boys.

 

The Jay Book

Not a day goes by every year when I don’t think of my boy. Just walking down the hall from the family room to the laundry room brings a rush of memories because the Jay walls are there. Every individual photo, whether a part of the collages that some of Jay’s friends helped Wendy construct right after Jay died or lone photos of him playing at Trinity’s or at Cinco de Mayo, brings back a memory. So many good memories!

As wonderful as the photos are, something even more wonderful arrived five months after Jay died. Little did I know that Angela Hinkley and Wendy were planning a big surprise for Frank and me and that it would be delivered during our Velvet Melon Christmas Party. I was in the kitchen trying to get a head start on cleaning up. Wendy came in and told me I had to take off my apron and go to the family room, that Frank was already there. Rather than just handing our surprise to us, Angela read the Introduction:

 

Since I met Jay through my writing, it seemed really appropriate to summarize my relationship with him in writing also. As I began writing, I recalled so many memories of Jay. It made me think of how many other people must carry within themselves an almanac of “Jay” memories. If only I could unleash them!

I started the idea for this book by wanting each individual in Jay’s life to write down their own favorite memories. It became apparent, almost immediately, that this was going to be an impossible task. If I excluded those who were not in this area, I would probably have created quite a simple publication. I realized that the phone would be a helpful tool in compiling all the information necessary. I knew that people would need a little help and a little prodding to begin their personal thoughts about Jay with me. I hope I succeeded.

For the past month, I have totally immersed myself in the life of Jay Young. I have laughed with, cried with, listened to, comforted, and assured these people who would be so kind as to share private times of their lives with me. I’ve never before been so involved in the investigation of a human life, other than my own. During this time, I haven’t even been able to converse with Frank and Sandy for fear of “spilling the beans”! I’ve learned so much I wanted to share with them. I’ve had to hold everything in, except for sharing with Wendy, who I know has probably heard every account in this book five times each!

I really thought I knew a lot about Jay. I probably did, but there was so much more to learn and to appreciate about this profound human being. The people he touched through his life and music were far beyond anything I’d imagined, even after witnessing the lines at the funeral home. People genuinely love him. I’m so pleased to have been able to compile these recollections. I want Jay’s memory to live on, not in mourning but in the wonderful celebration of a life—his life.

 

Angela Hinkley, Christmas 1992

 

What a beautiful “giff” (to use Jay’s pronunciation) Angela gave to Frank and me! Wendy helped her by designing the cover of what we have titled The Jay Book.

It is one of our most prized possessions, and I can assure you that if we ever had to evacuate, it would be one of the treasures I’d take with me.

Choosing which memories to include was a task that almost wiped me out, I’m afraid. Why? Just the choosing itself was very difficult because I wanted to quote each person who contributed. The main wiping out came, though, in the reading. Such beautiful memories! But my “rememberer” is attached to my tear ducts, I’m afraid, so the mama shed lots of tears during the choosing. But that’s okay. They were happy tears. The ones I’ve chosen will give everyone a glimpse of my boy. All of the contributors were friends of Jay with the exception of Wendy, his sister. But she was also his friend, one of his best friends.

 

  • Suzy Ward: Jay had a wonderful love-hate relationship with New York. He worked so hard to make a go of it there. In spite of his irritation at life in the City, financial problems, Winnebago problems, his eyes lit up whenever he saw the night lights or walked down Bleeker Street. He loved the music scene. He loved the weirdness. Jay always loved the crowds. He gave money to homeless sax players, turned cartwheels in the subway, drove through Harlem at 2:00 a.m. so Wendy could shoot photos, and spoke to every celebrity and pseudo-celebrity he would recognize on the street. Living in New York is a thoroughly exhausting endeavor. Jay made it energizing for me.

 

  • Patrick O’Donovan: The night I decided to leave Velvet Melon was perhaps the most difficult decision of my life. I was so afraid of what everyone, but especially Jay, was going to think of me. We had rehearsed and then I told Jay I needed to talk to him. We went for a drive. I was so scared to tell Jay I was leaving. I was afraid he would be upset with me. Most of all, I was afraid of Jay being disappointed in me. Jay had grown to become my brother. His opinion and views affected and meant so much to me, both professionally and personally. I slowly told Jay the news, carefully outlining all the reasons I needed to leave Velvet Melon. Expecting disappointment, anger, and even despair from Jay, I was so surprised to hear what he had to say. He told me he understood. He said he was disappointed I was leaving the band, but he was proud of my desire to return to school. He told me I had to follow my dreams. I’d been with Jay Young every day for the previous many months. However, I’d never felt closer to him in my life.

 

 

  • Jimmy Mills: My memory starts with picking on Jay in middle school, through the good times in high school, where we both developed our skills as musicians and best friends. Later, in 1984, we bonded even more on our trips every other weekend to Tampa to further develop our skills in Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps. We never quit looking for ways to be better as musicians. All my memories of Jay seem to always center around music, but there are a few occasions where we were just buddies having fun. I’m pretty sure we all know which nights those were! (When I woke up on the floor of Sandy’s bathroom one morning in my underwear! Ha! Ha!)

 

  • Nathan Tracy: My best memory of Jay . . . so many. Jay did a perfect imitation of Pete Payton. He would talk and gesture just like him. It was so funny! Jay used to say there was nothing like going to Mariner Mall and licking the telephone receivers. He was so crazy!

When we played soccer together, we always ragged Jay because he would leave early for piano lessons. We called him a “girlie” and just gave him a general hard time. Jay always took the heat. He turned out to be the best musician any one of us ever knew.

 

  • John Buck: To remember Jay is to know how spontaneous a person he was. He was so tremendously talented and such a positive person. I think Jay may have been the most talented kid I ever taught in all my 22 years of teaching. There is not enough I could say about him.

 

  • Lisa “Farmer” Hall: In 1989, Velvet Melon was playing at Apple Annie’s in Seville Quarter. Jay and I had had a disagreement, and Jay really hurt my feelings. I knew, however, that all my friends were going to be there listening to Velvet Melon. I decided to go to Seville anyhow and worry later about the deal with Jay. I arrived and the guys had already started playing. I went over to the bar for a drink. About halfway there, I heard Jay announce, “This next song is for Lisa Farmer. I did something really stupid and hurt her feelings. I’m really sorry.” The next song the band played was for me. I couldn’t believe Jay had humbled himself to me in front of hundreds of people . . . and on stage. It showed me just what kind of person he really was.

 

  • Tim Weekley: The first time Jay came to Bible Study was so memorable. We had been holding Bible Study for a few weeks. Jay showed up and listened intently. I didn’t know Jay spiritually at all at that time. I knew he was raised a Christian. However, not knowing exactly where Jay stood, I did not want to direct any questions of comments directly to him. During Bible Study, we would always ask people to read a passage from Scripture to exemplify our discussion for the evening. I asked who would like to read this rather obscure Old Testament passage. To my surprise, Jay immediately volunteered, located the passage without hesitation, and began to read. I was amazed. After that first Bible Study, Jay expressed a great appreciation for the group. He came as often as possible and we enjoyed his presence and participation so much.

 

Right before Velvet Melon left for New York, they were scheduled to play at Trader Jon’s. Jay asked me to come down after the gig and pray with the band before they left for New York. I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and went to Trader’s to pray with them. I really appreciated that opportunity. Once the guys moved to New York, I would call regularly on Monday nights to get their prayer requests for the week. I’d always remind everyone at Bible Study to pray for the band and their success.

 

  • Kevin Totoian (Tall Stories band): Jay was such a profound and outgoing person. He was really positive and sincere and that came out in his music. In New York, there is a great competitiveness between bands which is almost vicious. There was never any of that with Jay and Velvet Melon. There was a real professional respect and friendship present there. Jay was so extremely talented. He stood out to us all as such a brilliant musician.

 

  • Lisa Lassiter: Before I knew Jay, I was at Trinity’s one night when Velvet Melon was playing a gig. We all noticed this kind of unattractive girl who was just really taken with Jay. She was staring at him the entire first set. After that set, at least six girls came at Jay, most of whom were really attractive. However, Jay excused himself and went over to this girl, sat down, and began talking with her. Everyone could see that this girl was just beside herself. Jay was making her day! There were several beautiful girls around, but Jay chose to notice someone who probably wouldn’t be noticed by anyone else. I was so amazed at what a down to earth person he was.

 

  • Andi Olsen: Velvet Melon played at my beach house in the summer of 1987. While the guys were playing, the balcony attached to the house collapsed. When the police came to investigate, their report states that the vibrations from the band’s music made the balcony fall off the house. From then on, we knew Jay and Velvet Melon as the “Band That Rocked the House Down”!

 

  • Gary Powell (d. May 29, 2009) Back at the time of my accident, all my friends kind of dumped me. (Gary was paralyzed after his accident.) 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 running 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 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.

 

  • Phyllis Anderson: My fondest memories of Jay were when we played at Seville. He would come and sit in with us. Just when I thought I couldn’t go on another song, Jay would fly through those swinging doors and totally light up the room. He would blow that horn and remind me of why I do what I do. Jay would play that saxophone and the entire room filled with his energy, his power.

Jay and I talked many times about the Lord. In our business, it is so difficult to express and share your feelings about much without the use of music. I knew Jay was a Christian, and he was so refreshing! It was like Jay knew I needed to converse and share my words and feelings about the Lord. We talked one night until 3 a.m. about being able to feel close to God and carry on a personal relationship with Him, despite our occupation.

Jay Young was a refreshing, wonderful human and a tremendous musician. I know that the Lord is caring for Jay and that Jay is with Him.

 

  • Todd Vannoy: Jay was always an individual. He went to church with long hair and an earring. I’m sure a lot of people stereotyped him for that reason. Jay showed everyone that you could love God and be a Christian just as you are.

 

  • Doug Stiers: My most memorable time with Jay was the moment I met him — until the day he died. (Doug, too, was a musician who died too young. We lost him on January 10, 2010.)

 

  • Scott Miller: Jay and I were in ninth grade and we were entered in the school talent contest. We dressed up in Long Johns and sang “Satisfaction” with some guys from jazz band. This was before we had ever thought of bands or singing or Velvet Melon. We were just a couple of crazy freshmen with enough nerve to get up in front of the entire student body and sing our hearts out. There we stood in our pj’s doing our Mick Jagger imitation. It was the most exhilarating experience of my life. And we won the contest!

When I entered public school in third grade, Jay was the first person to walk up to me and say, “Hi! My name’s Jay.” The rest is history. It is a history of which I am so proud to be a part.

 

  • Andy Waltrip: Jay was a true friend to me and he made me laugh so much. I enjoyed our friendship immensely and still do, when I look back on those times. One of the things about him was that he always made me feel like I was supposed to be there, that he always had time for me. Jay made everyone feel that way. Out of all the people I’ve ever met, I have never met anyone else who had such a magnetic, energetic, charismatic personality. I, just like so many other people, miss having that personality around to make the day more enjoyable. I looked up the word charisma in Webster’s Dictionary. It’s incorrect. It should have a picture of Jay next to the word. Jay Young defines charisma. I can’t wait to see him again.

 

  • Ted Berquist: Frank and Jay came into Zoellner Music to buy Jay a drum set. It seems that Jay was going to learn to play drums. I sold them the set and they were on their way. A short time later, Jay came in to buy a keyboard. This kind of confused me, but, hey, a sale’s a sale. Even later on, Jay returned again to buy a bass guitar. Jay told me he was learning to play bass for his band, Velvet Melon. He invited me out to hear him play. When I finally went out to hear the band, I looked to see Jay playing not one of the three instruments he’d bought. The guy was playing a saxophone!

 

  • Wendy Young: Let’s see, a memory of Jay . . . a memory of Jay . . . a memory of Jay. Well, I guess my first was the night Mom went to the hospital to give birth to my new baby. I hoped and hoped it would be a boy. I remember receiving the phone call at the neighbor’s house where I was staying. Nothing could have made me happier. This new entity in the house brought me great comfort. If I got scared in the night, which I was often, I could go to his room and sleep on the bed next to his crib and be okay.

As he grew, I took great delight in dressing him up in totally outrageous costumes and parading him in front of company. Maybe that’s why he had absolutely no inhibitions in front of a crowd. We also used to stand on our toy box and lip-synch to Mom’s old 45’s from the fifties, like Elvis’s “My Baby Left Me” and Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Jay’s favorite was “Mostly Martha” by some group I can’t remember and “Ape Call” by Nervous Norvus.

Music was a big part of our childhood, so it came as no surprise that he became an accomplished musician. I can remember him sitting at the piano practicing. His back was always so straight and his fingers always in perfect position. Being his older sister, I could not resist coming up behind him and grabbing him by the shoulders, and giving him a good big sister shaking. He never missed a beat and never told me to stop. I think he enjoyed the challenge.

It seems funny to me that I don’t remember any of the arguments or fights we had. There weren’t very many. All I remember when I think of Jay is fun. Whether we were eating supper, hiking in canyons, or listening to Led Zeppelin albums backwards to hear Satanic messages, we had a blast!

 

  • Angela Hinkley: Jay was such a clown. Clowns enjoy life, seeking only to bring happiness to others through the life they lead. Jay was like that.

I remember that in October 1987 I traveled to Gainesville to sing at a frat party with the guys. We arrived and located our accommodations. Of course, the guys were staying in the dorms. I remember how funny the frat social chairman looked at Jay when Jay asked him where I was going to sleep. It was obvious that they had not planned for me. Jay told the guy I was his little sister and that we were orphans. He explained that I was still a minor and that he had to take me every place he played. Jay went on and on about how we were only in the music business to save enough money to get our granny the operation she needed. Mike and Wes were straining to keep straight faces, while Darin had to turn and walk away. I couldn’t stand it another second and broke out in laughter. As I was doubled over, Jay, who never cracked a smile, told the guy I was manic-depressive as well! Sometime much later, Jay let the poor guy off the hook. However, I can only imagine what stories went around about that band and its manic-depressive, orphaned, granny-saving sister!

 

 

Wendy asked me, as I was writing this piece, if I had decided to copy the whole book here. Sometimes it seemed that I was; however, I assure you there are lots more memories in The Jay Book

All of you know how much I love my boy and how much I want to preserve his memory. I think all of us — you included — are doing a good job of memory saving. Some of you have joined me this Jay week in posting photos of Jay, Scott Miller (Mullah) in particular, and I’m grateful. Even more of you have written notes to Frank and me today, telling us you’re thinking of us, and we love all of the messages. Thank you so much. As I copied what some of you said in The Jay Book, I noticed that some of the dominant themes were that Jay was happy, smiling, funny, caring, exuberant, charismatic. Thanks for impressing these traits indelibly for all to read and remember. These are the things about Jay I want to remember and ones I want others to remember. Because of you and of the memories that you’ve written about my boy, today is a day of celebration . . . celebration of a life that will always be remembered.

 

On Jay’s Forty-ninth Birthday

(Or I Envisioned a Divorce!)

 

Today would have been Jay’s forty-ninth birthday. That’s hard for me to believe, but it’s true. I often wonder what he would have been like had he lived. I don’t know anything for sure, but I do think that he’d still be a musician and might have been famous. I’ll tell you a secret. I was so sure that he’d make it big in the music world back when he was about twenty years old that I saved little things I might put on display someday, like his worn out toothbrush and his stack of bubble gum wrappers. I guess I thought there’d be a Jay Young Museum like Anne Murray’s in Canada. Pretty funny, huh?

As you know, I always write about Jay on his birthday. Today I want to tell you about something that happened on a vacation. I doubt that many of you have heard this story. I know I’ve never written it before, but I’ve told it lots of times. Please bear with me and maybe learn something new about Jay. I apologize for the length, but the background is necessary to understand about Jay.

At one time, we owned an OTASCO (Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company) store, and every summer we went to Tulsa to order merchandise for the fall and Christmas. We left after the Fall Show (I believe it was in 1975), bound for Snoqualmie, WA. We have always been campers, and at this time, a 17-foot Lark travel trailer was our mode of camping. We stopped for the night not too far from Tulsa since we were all tired after the show.

The next morning, for some reason, I started out driving. Not too far along, one of the wheels on the trailer flew off and crashed through the bathroom. Frank tells this story with lots of details about bolts and such. My version is much simpler. The four of us began walking along the highway, looking for parts; Frank had already found the wheel across a fence and out in a pasture. Jay and I had one little adventure as we were looking. The driver of an eighteen-wheeler stopped to see why we were searching and gave us a ride back to our car. We loved that part of the day, maybe the only part.

Frank managed to get the wheel back on, and we limped a little way down the highway to a junkyard, where he found some parts he could use to repair us so that we could travel on to Snoqualmie.

I’ll tell you secret: Back in those days, we had very little money for travel. In fact, my mother said many times that we wasted what little we had on travel. Frank’s response was that travel money took the place of cigarette and booze dollars. Since she was a smoker, she got the point. We always camped, and I always got dinner ready after we set up camp. This particular day had been rough on all of us, so Frank announced that we’d stop for hamburgers that evening. We were elated! Once again, I was driving, this time to give Frank a little rest from the agony of the morning.

He spotted a burger joint on the right side of the road, and I pulled over. Frank gave the instructions: everyone was to stay in the car while he went to buy our supper.

Jay, in his seven-year-old enthusiasm to help his dad, was the first to disobey. He was out of the car and almost to his dad before I could stop him. Oh, well. I was next. I went to the trailer to go to the bathroom. What could be wrong with that?

Just as I was leaving the trailer, I saw Wendy getting out of the car. I yelled, “Wendy, don’t leave the car. My purse is in there!”

“Don’t worry! I locked it!”

Oh, no! I left the keys in the ignition!

I really didn’t want to do it, but I knew I had to go tell Frank what had happened. He was going to be furious, but he’d give me his extra key, and everything would be fine. As I walked in to the burger joint, he was standing there, arms folded, staring at the car with a sickly smile on his face.

“Wendy locked the keys . . . ,” I began.

“I know.”

“You do have an extra key, don’t you?” I asked quietly.

“No.” That was it. Just “No.”

Then he said, “You and Jay stay here and get our food.” And he walked slowly toward the car.

It seemed like an eternity before our number was called. I just stood there watching Frank walk around the car, obviously trying to decide what to do.

I knew that his tools were in the car, so he couldn’t even get to a screwdriver to try to pry the window open so that he could unlock the car. As I was walking back, I saw a man sitting in his car, eating his burger. I walked over and asked if he had a screwdriver we could borrow for a few minutes.

He slowly wiped his mouth and with what looked like a sneer, said, “Locked your keys in the car, huh?” I think he chuckled a bit, reached for the door handle and started to get out of his car. “I’ll go help him,” he condescended.

My reply? “Sir, if I were you, I wouldn’t go near that car.” And I turned and walked away.

A minute later, the man caught up with me, handed me a screwdriver, and went back to his vehicle.

As I arrived at the car, I could see and hear him. Frank is not a swearing man, but he had his head down on the top of the car, beating it with his fist and shouting, “Damn locks! Damn, damn, damn locks!” This was the first and only time I seriously thought Frank might leave me. I could picture him just turning and walking away, leaving me with a locked car and two children. But he didn’t. Instead, my hero somehow managed to open the car. The window leaked every time it rained for the rest of the time that we owned the car, always reminding us of this day. I returned the screwdriver to the man, thanked him, and took my seat.

Here’s the scenario. Twelve-year-old Wendy, who had been feeling puny all day and was devastated because she had locked the car, was slumped down in her corner of the back seat, snubbing. I was sitting in the front passenger seat, openly crying. Frank was sitting stiffly at the wheel, eyes straight ahead, not saying a word. The burgers, fries, and drinks were between him and me on the front seat, getting cold and watery. No one had an appetite.

And what about your little friend Jay? He had been told that he was going to get the spanking of his life when we got to the campground. And why was Jay going to be punished for something we all had done? All of us had gotten out of the car. But to Frank, Jay was the guiltiest because he was the first one to disobey.

Jay was sitting in his corner of the backseat, probably dreading his punishment, but after a few minutes, he moved to the middle, leaned forward, and put his arms on the back of the front seat, with his chin resting on his folded hands. We rode along the Colorado highway in silence for about thirty minutes.

Then Jay said softly, “Aren’t the mountains beautiful?”

We all muttered some kind of affirmative.

Then out of the blue, a few minutes later, he said a little louder, “You know what? If I could choose the parents that I want in the whole world, I’d choose you.”

Where did THAT come from? But leave it to Jay! The ice was broken. We all laughed uproariously . . . and finally ate our cold supper. This is one of our favorite family stories because it shows early on what Jay would be like in later years. Can’t you just picture him doing this?

By the way, he still had the spanking to look forward to. But . . . after Frank set up camp, he turned to his son and told him, “We’ll forego (yes, his exact word!) the spanking this time, but you’d better not disobey me like that again!” Jay was relieved. Wendy and I laughed!

 

 

 

Music in His Bones

As I sat in the cushy seats in the Pensacola Junior College auditorium that spring morning, I could hear the children behind the curtains taking turns practicing. One played haltingly; one completely forgot the song; and one played flawlessly. The last one was Jay. They all played the same song, a piece with just enough “show off” in it to impress the judges.

The curtains parted, and the first two children each walked to the piano nervously, their eyes averted from those of us watching. Each one played hesitantly, making many mistakes. When the second one finished, it was Jay’s turn. My boy—very small for his age—walked confidently to the grand piano in the middle of the stage, nodded to the audience, gave them a crooked eight-year-old smile, adjusted the bench so that it was just right, and lifted himself up, his feet not quite flat on the floor. Not one mistake in his performance. The children weren’t in competition with each other; they were just performing in hopes of getting a Superlative rating. I don’t know what the other little boys earned, but Jay got the ranking that he wanted.

As we walked out of the auditorium, he turned to me and, with a serious look, said, “Mom, I couldn’t believe it. Those other boys were so nervous and afraid to play. I told ‘em I couldn’t wait to get on the stage!” He had completely psyched those other children out. He was just telling the truth . . . he loved to perform.

Jim Hussong, Jay’s piano teacher, entered him in every contest available because Jay always excelled. Whether it was a local competition or one for state, he won. He memorized easily. In fact, once Jim gave him the wrong music to prepare for a contest, discovering his mistake only a few days before Jay was to perform. When the teacher confessed his mistake, Jay said, “That’s OK, Mr. Hussong. Just give me the piece, and I’ll have it ready.” Amazing. When he was about twelve years old, he announced that he didn’t want to take piano lessons any more. He had several reasons: Some of his friends were making fun of him for having to go home to practice piano (it was sissy to play the piano); he wanted to play soccer because he was going to be the next Pele; he was just plain tired of playing the piano. We gave in and let him quit in hopes that he’d want to go back to the piano someday. After all, he was still involved in music—he was playing saxophone in the Bellevue Middle School band, and he had finally gotten to the point that he sounded sort of good. It was a struggle at first with all the squeaking and squawking that went on while he was learning to play. We wanted to relegate him to the barn when he practiced, and you can be sure that he wanted to practice. Going to the barn probably wouldn’t have been a punishment for him.

He was still in middle school when Wendy went away to college at Southern Miss. I think he really missed her, and every evening he’d go to his room, ostensibly to do his homework, which I guess he did at some point. As I’d be doing dishes, he’d come down, sit at the piano, and play a few bars of something that sounded a bit familiar; however, with my tone deaf ear, it didn’t sound like much. After several evenings of this routine, he came downstairs, sat down and played from start to finish Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” He had a tape of the song and was memorizing it by listening. I think that was the moment when we realized that he truly was gifted. I don’t think he read another piece of music after that. He just listened to a recording, memorized, and played it.

At the end of his eighth grade year, he announced that he wasn’t going to be in the marching band at Pine Forest High School. It was stupid to march with an instrument in your mouth——you could knock your teeth out. Wendy happened to be at home when he made his announcement, and she promptly took him out to the backyard to talk to him. We never got a real report of what she said to him, but when they came back inside, he had decided to learn how to play mallets . . . xylophone. And play that instrument, he did. He taught himself how to play, and he was all over those keys! And when he and Jimmy Mills auditioned for and were accepted into Suncoast Sound Drum and Bugle Corps, he hung out with the drummers and learned drums. During his senior year in high school, he was still playing xylophone, but he wrote the cadence for the drummers to march in to, and he led the way. Oh, but my boy was talented!

During his senior year, he lacked only English and maybe one or two other subjects for graduation. So he took a brass class. I never heard him play trumpet, but he said that he learned to “blow” it, and I believed him. Then he announced to Wendy that he was going to learn French horn. Wrong!! His big sister put her foot down. French horn was HER instrument (and she was very good!), and he couldn’t touch it. She knew he’d love playing horn and that he’d be good, to say the least. She absolutely refused to be in competition with her little brother musically.

Sometime during his junior year, Jay and a fellow musician, Joey Allred, decided to form a band. Boys began invading our home on Saturday mornings, eating us out of house and home, and playing what we vaguely recognized as rock music, not hard rock, you understand, but music that had a tune to it. I bought packages of hot dogs and buns on Friday afternoons in preparation for the onslaught. Cookies and chips were devoured by the package, too. I think there must have been about eleven of these budding musicians, but gradually the number dwindled, and when Velvet Melon finally emerged as a band, there were four or five musicians and Jimmy, the sound man. By the way, Velvet Melon doesn’t mean anything in particular. The guys were practicing one evening early on and as usual were throwing around prospective names for their band. The phone rang, I answered, it was for Jay. Gina Forsberg, Jay’s current girlfriend, was calling to chat and to tell him something funny that she had seen carved on a desk at Tate High School—VELVET MELON. “Thanks, Gina! You just named our band!” There was never a question about the name. Everyone loved it! Here is a very early Velvet Melon photo:

 

Velvet Melon became THE band in Pensacola, attracting young and old to their gigs, whether they were at Chucky Cheese or Longneckers or Coconut Bay or Chan’s Bayside or the Shell at Pensacola Beach. Melonheads thronged to their gigs, giving them all the support that a young band needed as they grew to be one of the most popular bands in the Southeast.

During the years when Velvet Melon was in existence, I never had even the slightest thought that on July 2 every year I’d be reminiscing about my boy and almost every year writing about him, hoping what I’d write would be a little remembrance for those who knew him and an introduction to him for those who didn’t. But a mother isn’t supposed to think about things like that, and I’m glad the Lord doesn’t let us know ahead of time what’s going to happen. What I knew about Jay Young throughout his twenty-four years was that God had given him a gift, and he assured me many times that he knew where his talent came from.

Not only did Jay play drums, keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, and saxophone, he also sang and wrote music. Sometimes his originals were a little bit crazy (like “Leola”), but one song, “I’m Not Crazy,” has always been special to me. Somewhere in the middle of it is the line “I don’t mix drugs with rock ‘n’ roll—I’ve got Jesus in my heart to save my soul.” Those of you who know me well know that that’s my favorite line in all of his songs!

All of us have gifts. Jay’s was music. Yes, my boy was music through and

through. He truly had music in his bones!

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5 — Afterthoughts

I wonder if you remember the old television show Columbo. It was one of my favorites. The part that I recall best was after he presumably had finished talking to a lady. He would walk out, but then turn around and say, “Just one more thing, ma’am.” Well, this is my “just one more thing” part to My Mom’s Always Hot! Actually, there’s more than “one more thing” that I need to talk about before closing.

You’ve been reading about Melonheads throughout this book. I said a little bit about this fantastic, devoted group of young people earlier, just mentioning briefly the gist of what one of the #1 Melonheads, Angela Hinkley, had to say at Jay’s funeral. While I was writing this book, I asked her to try to remember some specifics of her words on July 6, 1992, for me to include here. Here’s what she wrote to me recently:

Twenty-five years ago when “Mama” Young asked me to reflect on what it meant to be a Melonhead, I was honored and also a little worried. Would I be able to accurately and justly express what an amazing and wonderful part of my life this was? Could I ever completely explain the phenomenon that was Velvet Melon?

On July 6, 1992, I recall standing in front of one of the largest crowds I’d ever seen. This was Jay’s crowd, Velvet Melon’s crowd. I remember thinking, “Jay would know what to say to all these people.” He always knew what to say, sing, or play. He would entertain them, make them all smile. I distinctly recall looking over my shoulder into the casket where my friend lay, and at that moment I felt the most amazing peace come over me. Jay was there, once again handling his crowd. My words then seemed to flow honestly, naturally, and completely.

I was able to express that being a Melonhead was more than being a band groupie. It was more than being friends who gathered to hear music. Being a Melonhead meant you were part of a family of believers. We believed in Velvet Melon . . . we believed in their incredible talent . . . and we believed that our friendship and community made a real difference.

We each lived our own lives, but as Melonheads we relished that special time to dance, laugh, sing, and share together. As our lives evolved and grew, Velvet Melon was there marking each milestone with music and friendship. Even when VM moved away (NYC and Nashville) to pursue their dream, new Melonheads emerged from every corner of the country.

Whether someone had been a Melonhead for ten minutes or ten years, there was always an immediate sense of understanding, love, and acceptance. Acceptance . . . we all accepted one another just as we were. There was no test to pass, no obstacle course to complete. The only requirement was joining in and enjoying the music!

There were senior Melonheads, junior Melonheads, and even Baby Corey Melonhead! Sweet Gary Powell was a quadriplegic Melonhead. Tim Weekley was a minister Melonhead. Melonheads were teachers, lawyers, physicians, photographers, and just about any other walk of life imaginable. We were all so different . . . and yet so much the same.

I don’t recall how I met any one fellow Melonhead. We just gathered together and let the music of Velvet Melon weave the beautiful tapestry of friendship.

You noticed that Angela mentioned senior Melonheads. That’s what Frank and I were, and we were at every gig that we could work in. I did lots of “chair dancing,” that is just moving to the music in my chair, enjoying every minute, drinking coffee to keep me awake. Occasionally, one of the young Melonheads would grab me and take me to the floor to dance. It was always fun to be taking part with all those youngsters, but I was more comfortable when Frank and I decided to dance to a slow song, one that allowed cuddling.

I remember only one specific dance with a Melonhead. Soon after Jay died, when we were still trying to go to the gigs, a new guy playing bass. Andy, one of two Melonheads who have been like sons to us (the other one being Jim Mills), took my hand so that I could dance with him to “New York Minute.” I remember crying on his shoulder the whole time, and I’ll bet he was shedding tears, too.

Even after twenty-five years, I sometimes yearn for a Sunday-evening gig at Coconut Bay in Pensacola. That’s where we felt the most at home, the place where a waitress would meet me at the door and say, “I’m making a fresh pot of coffee,” knowing that I’d welcome that first cup. We were Melonheads! We were always welcomed with open arms, while Jay was alive and also after he died. These young people—who are now in their forties, fifties, and even sixties— will always have a special place in our hearts.

The next “one more thing” that I want to discuss concerns my handling of grief. I’ll tell you ahead of time that I’ve already mentioned much of my working through grief; however, I have planned all along to gather my thoughts together here in one place—“Afterthoughts.” I hope that this chapter will help other bereaved parents as they’re working their way through grief if they happen upon my book.

I’m a reader. I’ve always been a reader, seldom leaving home even for a little while without a book; I read before I go to sleep; I read while we’re traveling. So it was not unusual for me to go almost immediately to books for help with my grieving. I wanted to read what other parents did when their children died. When I called my friend Martha Dickson, who worked in our church library, to ask for help, she assured me that she’d find books for me. And that’s just what she did. She had them stacked on a counter in the library at First Baptist Church, and I took them home, immediately beginning to devour them. Some of them I read more than once.

I’m listing a few books that I read early on and even later so that if you are a bereaved parent, you might read them; or if you know someone who needs help with grief, you can suggest them. They were so meaningful to me:

  • Andrew, You Died Too Soon, by Corinne Chilstrom
  • Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff
  • Cries from the Heart, by Margaret B. Spiess
  • Streams in the Desert, by Lettie B. Cowman

I read many more books, but through the years, I’ve lost either the books or the titles.

Even now, I collect books about grief. One that I discovered recently is A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Gerald L. Sittser. So many people who write about grief suggest this book for anyone grieving. I have read parts of it and don’t hesitate to mention it to those who need it even though I haven’t read it from cover to cover. Another recent discovery, a book that a friend whose son was murdered and who was given this book as a sympathy gift, is Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss, by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills. It looks like a children’s book, but it’s excellent for anyone who has suffered loss. I’ve read it several times; in fact, I just took about fifteen minutes to reread it this afternoon. I wish I had discovered it when I was in the throes of grief. This book really speaks to my heart now, and it certainly would have spoken to my heart in 1992.

As you already know, I have used writing to get me through my grief. I began by writing letters to friends to tell them about Jay’s death . . . friends here in the United States and also in Europe. Since all mail was “snail” in 1992, hearing back from my friends took a while; however, when their letters came, all of us were so happy to hear from them. More tears, but that was fine.

For the first ten years or so after Jay died, I didn’t do a lot of writing about him. I was too busy teaching school and then traveling in my job with a textbook company after I retired from teaching. After we moved to New Mexico, though, I found various outlets for writing about my boy, the main one being Facebook. Many of you who are reading this book have followed me as I write on Jay’s birthday, February 10, and on his death day, July 2. You are so faithful to read my posts, most of which are in Chapter 4 of this book, and to write your memories about Jay in the comment section of my posts. You’ll never know how much your “likes,” “loves,” and comments mean to Frank and me. I stay in tears on both of those days, but they’re good tears. Thank you for remembering.

At the end of August 1992, I read in our weekly church bulletin that a “Grief Group” would begin on Sunday nights in October. The leader would be Vick Vickery, a gentleman in our church who knew about grief: his son, one of my former students, had committed suicide many years ago. Vick led a group of about fifteen of us through the grief process, letting us talk about the ones whom we had lost. We listened attentively to each other, many times crying uncontrollably, with no one telling us that it would be all right, that we needed to get over the death, that we shouldn’t cry. We all understood. Frank went with me although he didn’t feel that he needed the group. We all handle grief in different ways.

When our class was over in December, Vick announced that we’d have another “Grief Group,” beginning in January. We all wanted to know who would lead it because he had already announced that he wouldn’t be our leader. He said with a little smile, “Sandy’s going to teach it.” What? Me lead a group about grief? How could I do that? I was still grieving. But I did it, and leading that group was one of the best activities to help me work through my grief. A person always gets more out of something if he or she is in charge. I had to study! I had to be prepared. I am forever indebted to our church for offering this course, to Vick for leading us, and to him for designating me the next leader.

We moved to Cerrillos, New Mexico, in 2003, and in the fall, I read an article by Ann Landers that would forever change our lives. In 2007 I wrote a piece about the activity that I found out about, posted it on my blog (http://www.foreveryoung279.com), and mentioned it to a writing friend in Colorado. I’ll never know exactly how she found about The Compassionate Friends’ publication We Need Not Walk Alone—For Bereaved Families and the People Who Care About Them, Following the Death of a Child. But soon after I called her attention to my piece, she wrote to see if it could be published in the magazine. I was elated and honored: I was a published author . . . for the second time. My piece appeared in the Autumn 2008 edition:

A ‘last picture’’ of Jay taken by his sister, Wendy.

Keeping Jay’s

Light Shining

~By Sandy Young

 

When our son, Jay, died on July 2, 1992, our lives changed forever. The Lord and our “compassionate friends” brought us through our immediate grief, so when people began to mention the international group called The Compassionate Friends, we didn’t feel we had a need to go to their meetings, though we knew that such groups brought relief to parents whose children had died. At that time, I had no idea that TCF would eventually touch my life in a very meaningful way.

A few years later, after we had moved to Cerrillos, New Mexico, I happened upon an article that would begin a love affair with TCF, even though we would never be official members. The article told of an event sponsored by The Compassionate Friends, an event that would become a joyous part of our holidays. Since I’ve never heard anyone else mention this activity, I’m not sure just how many people who should know about it—parents who have experienced their worst nightmare, the death of a child—are aware of something that could give them great pleasure during the holidays, which have the possibility of causing much sadness because they miss their children so much more at these special moments.

On the evening of the second Sunday in December, at 7:00 local time, bereaved parents around the globe light a candle to remember their children so that “their light may always shine.” People gather in stadiums (Albuquerque), in event centers (Hobbs), or at the homes of those involved in The Compassionate Friends (Los Alamos). These celebrations for departed children are large gatherings where parents and grandparents bring pictures of their loved ones and light a candle in their memory. Music and readings are usually a part of the program, which lasts for an hour. What a wonderful way to remember our children in an understanding atmosphere! Just imagine the wave of candlelight around the world!

Our “celebration” is a bit different because it’s held in our home with friends and family gathered to introduce Jay to those who never knew him and in remembrance for those of us who knew him well. This year on December 9, we will invite neighbors in for our fourth celebration of Jay. Here’s what will happen:

Our home will be decorated for Christmas, and as our friends arrive— some having come in other years, some coming for the first time—they’ll feel the festive holiday atmosphere. Since Jay was an uproariously funny, life-loving rock musician, be assured that we’ll be having a good time. Our daughter, Wendy, my husband, Frank, and I will tell funny stories about Jay, some of which most parents wouldn’t find amusing. We might tell about the time that he had almost 500 fans of Velvet Melon (his band) in and out of our house one night while Frank and I were in Europe taking care of other people’s kids. He had proof of the numbers because he charged a dollar a head, as he called it. For years afterward, young people around the town told us of how our house rocked that night. Our insurance agent paced in front of his house all night, just knowing that the next minute would bring a call telling him of someone having drowned in our pool. No call came. Or Wendy might tell about the time she and Jay hiked down to the floor of the Grand Canyon. Only she can make us feel the agony that she felt as she hiked up slowly behind Jay, who had run most of the way out of the canyon carrying the only water that they had between them. He was in big trouble by the time his big sister made it back up to civilization! I usually try to read a poem or a section from a book of his friends’ remembrances of him; however, the old mom has a little difficulty even after so long, so Wendy finishes for me.

Wendy is a photographer, and her favorite subject was Jay; therefore, we always have photos and/or videos. We can count on whatever she comes up with to be entertaining, funny, and sometimes poignant. At our celebration, we make sure there’s lots of laughter because that’s what Jay would want. Telling stories about Jay and poring over pictures and videos of him have been our way of getting through our grief. Stories and pictures have also been the vehicle for introducing our friends here in New Mexico to our boy. No one out here knew him except Wendy, Frank, Wendy’s daughter Corey (who remembers him, too, only through stories and pictures), and me. And we certainly don’t want to deprive our friends of knowing a young man (he was 24 when he died) whom they surely would have loved!

The celebration lasts no more than an hour, usually less, so as soon as we finish, we head for the table. Guests never come to our house without being fed, and the second Sunday in December is no exception. We don’t have an elaborate dinner, just sandwiches and Christmas cookies.

The Young Family will be indebted forever to The Compassionate Friends for introducing us to this wonderful way of keeping Jay’s light shining and of ushering in the Christmas season, truly the most joyous season of the year.v

 

Sandy, a retired English teacher and sales rep/consultant for a publishing company, lives with her husband, Frank, in Cerrillos, New Mexico, very near her daughter and her family.

 

For ten years, this celebration has been instrumental in getting us through our grief. It has also helped other parents who have lost children or grandchildren: Connie and Stuart Rosenberg (daughter Shana), Mary McFadin (daughter Sherry), and Gay Block (grandson Owen). None of us knew each other’s children and grandchildren before the Candle Lighting, but we do now.

You may be wondering how long grief lasts. It’s different for everyone. I know of a lady who didn’t leave her home until at least a year after her daughter died, grieving the whole time. And there are others who bounce back quickly. I had to go back to work a little over a month after Jay died, and, as you probably remember from my earlier writing, I did all right most of the time; however, attending Velvet Melon gigs without Jay on the stage was almost impossible. After three or four of the evenings with those young people who loved Jay so much, I had to quit going. Being there was just too much for me. For several years after Jay died, I couldn’t watch those beautiful videos that Jack Canavan masterminded. I can watch them now, but I usually shed some tears.

A few days after Jay died, I went to the door to find my sweet hairdresser, Cindy Waldrop, standing there. She didn’t come in; she just handed me a little publication from her church and left. I almost didn’t read it because I didn’t usually read the leaflets from her denomination. But since Cindy gave it to me, I read it.

I’m forever grateful to her and happy that I read it. I wish I still had the booklet so that I could tell you the name of the article in which I found a line that affected me so deeply in working my way through my grief. Here’s the gist of the line: On the day that you awaken and don’t think of your deceased loved one before you have another thought, you’re on your way to healing. I never forgot the line, and it popped into my mind in full force one day in early December. Sometime during second period that day, I realized that I hadn’t thought of Jay yet that morning. Did that mean that my grief was gone? Absolutely not. It just meant, to me, that I would survive.

And I have survived. I’ll remind you of what I said to friends at the funeral home on July 5, 1992, when they said that they didn’t know how I would get through this , meaning Jay’s death. My reply then, and I believe it today, was, “I’m calling it a lesson in prepositions. I’ll never get over it; but I will get through it with the help of God, friends, and family.”

All three have helped me through these twenty-five years, the main one being God. He made sure that I found every book that I needed; He led me in my writing; He let me find the Worldwide Candle Lighting; He always had his strong arms around me. And He still does.

 

 

 

 

 

          

 

                      

      

        

Suggested Reading and Viewing

Books

Chilstrom, Corinne. Andrew, You Died Too Soon: A Family Experience of Grieving   and Living Again. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1993.

Duncan, Kathleen B. My Journey through Grief into Grace. Wichita Falls, TX: R & K Publishing, 2015.

Holmes, Marjorie. Who Am I, God? New York: Doubleday, 1998.

Schweibert, Pat, and Chuck DeKlyen. Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss. Portland, OR: Grief Watch.

Sittser, Gerald L. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995.

Spiess, Margaret B. Cries from the Heart: Prayers for Bereaved Parents. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Lament for a Son. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.

Viewing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2klerPHgHa0 — A History of Velvet Melon by Brian Taylor
Taylor Arts Productions
, published on 7/12/12.

A documentary film to commemorate and memorialize the 20-year anniversary of Jay’s death and the band that “could have been” had Jay not left us so soon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM7aa4FKCec — “Don’t Change,” INXS . Performed by Velvet Melon. Videographers Tom Leobold and Joe Byers. Mixed by Jack Canavan at WEAR TV, Pensacola, FL, 4/18/90.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0UWem0Bh0c — “I’m Not Your Man,” Tommy Conwell, The Young Rumblers. Performed by Velvet Melon. Videographers Tom Leobold and Joe Byers. Mixed by Jack Canavan at WEAR TV, Pensacola, FL, 4/18/90.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aUGTiZIfIw — “Modern Love,” David Bowie. Videographers Tom Leobold and Joe Byers. Mixed by Jack Canavan at WEAR TV, Pensacola, FL, 4/18/90.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTBaisNU7S8 — “When I Get Home” – 4Him

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xioodawa4jo — “I Could Be Persuaded” – The Bellamy Brothers – Filmed at Seaside, FL, in 1992. Jay is the sax “player.” He’s just fingering the song since the track had already been laid down when the video was made. Notice his long, skinny fingers – the only thing he inherited from me.

With gratitude to . . .

For many years, I’ve written books to give to people to express my appreciation for what they’ve done for me. For instance, I’ve written thank-you books for my students at Woodham High School; for students who traveled with us in Europe; for my co-workers in Florida, when I retired from McDougal Littell Publishing Company; for my manager, Kathy Trapp, in New Mexico when she retired; for our friends Boyd and Susan Christensen, who invited us to go to Cancun with them; for my cousins so that I might spur memories that they’ll write about; and for my sweetheart on our 50th Anniversary. Lots of books, most of which were printed on my home printer and bound either at home or at Kinko’s. These were very much informal and meant to be read mainly by the person for whom each was written.

My Mom’s Always Hot!: A Mother’s Memories was different. I wrote it for anyone who wanted to read it: my family, parents whose children have died, Melonheads the world over. I wanted to be sure that everything made sense, that there’d be no misunderstandings. And I wanted someone to catch my careless errors in grammar, punctuation, and usage. Of course, I wanted someone to catch any typos that might have crept in while I was typing ever so quickly. And I found two ladies to be my “second eyes,” two ladies who I knew could be trusted with my manuscript about my boy, two ladies who, though they didn’t know Jay, knew my writing style and my heart. They wouldn’t try to change my voice from that of a mother’s personal memories to some kind of formal biography, certainly not what my book was intended to be. These ladies understand me, and that’s why I wanted them for my “second eyes.”

Carol Purkins is a friend here in Cerrillos and a member of our church. She was a teacher and is just as persnickety as I am about grammar and usage. She may even be more persnickety than I am because she found lots of things that this old English teacher needed to correct. Her main contribution was of a proofreading nature, though she gave me lots of editorial pointers. To say that I’m grateful is an understatement!

Melanie Faith is also a friend whom I’ve met since we’ve been in New Mexico. She’s one of my best friends, but I’ve never met her in person. I talked to her on the phone once, though, because she and I decided that we’d like to hear each other’s voices – hers definitely northern (Pennsylvania), mine definitely southern (Deep South). We met through WOW—Women on Writing, a website for women who write. I have taken about five or six online courses from Melanie; she is the only writing teacher that I’ve ever had. So . . . when I needed an editor, I naturally thought of her. She has edited many pieces that I’ve written for classes, so I knew that she’d be perfect for being “second eyes” to my book. She gave me many pointers about changes that I might want to make, and I took virtually all of her suggestions. Again, to say that I’m grateful is an understatement.

Another person to whom I’m indebted is our daughter, Wendy Young. Wendy is a photographer, and it is she who took many, maybe even most, of the photos of Jay that I’ve included. Her brother was her favorite subject for photos while he was alive, and she has carefully guarded all of them. She contributed some photos that I didn’t have and made suggestions about which photos should be included. Every mother needs a daughter like my Wendy!

And finally, my husband of almost 56 years, Frank, gave suggestions and encouragement throughout the time that I was writing. Every lady writer needs a husband who will take over chores that she usually does, like preparing dinner, every once in a while, while his sweetheart is buried in words. Toward the end of my composing, he gave me some words that he wanted me to include, but I never could find a place for them. Since I love them, let me give them to you here: “And so these are the ways that I’ve handled my grief. They might work for you, too.” What a compliment for him to think that the way that I handled my grief might work for someone else! Frank and I are alike in many ways, but the ways that we handled our grief were very much different. Both of us have relied on friends, family, and God, the only way that we could survive.