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!