Posted by Kathy Waller
On Friday evening family and friends gathered at a small country church outside Kansas City, Missouri, to celebrate the life of my cousin Wray Worden, who died last month at the age of seventy-six.
Wray, thirteen years older than I, and his two sisters served as my parents’ first children. They set a high standard I’ve never quite come up to.
During our last visit, two years ago, Wray talked about visiting with my family in small-town Texas. Afterward, I wrote a post about that conversation. I’ve since realized that many of my memories were really his.
So I’m repeating that post here, as my part in Wremembering Wray.
January 24, 2012
I returned Sunday from four days in Higginsville, Missouri. I had accompanied my cousin Mary Veazey to see her brother, Wray, and his family. Wray has been in the hospital in Kansas City for the past couple of weeks. He’s doing much better now and will be released from captivity in another couple of weeks if he cooperates, says the physical therapist. He’s cooperating.
Before we left for the airport Sunday morning, Wray began reminiscing about the times he and Mary Veazey spent with my parents in Fentress, in the late 1940s, when the siblings were ten or eleven years old. Mary Veazey tossed in a few of her memories, too.
Note: Wray and Mary Veazey are my mother’s nephew and niece. They lived in Dallas. Fentress is my father’s hometown, and the aunts, uncles, and grandfather mentioned below are from his side of the family. Where my cousins were concerned, however, the two families sort of swamped together.
Here’s an overview of the conversation:
Wray and Donnie Tiller mixed up some gunpowder and made firecrackers. There was a lot of gunpowder left over, so they poured it into a Coke bottle and made a fuse. The fuse was short, and Wray almost didn’t make it to safety behind a tree before the bottle exploded. The wall of the Tillers’ house is probably still studded with glass.
Mr. George Meadows wanted to show Wray what a possum looked like. He caught a possum, hit it with a club, tied it up, and left it in the yard. Then Mr. George went into the house. Left alone, the possum stopped playing possum, chewed the string in two, and waddled back home, probably down in the pecan bottom on the river. So much for seeing what a possum looked like.
Wray was not allowed to go near the parrot that lived downstairs in Mrs. Bertie Smith’s house, where my parents had an apartment, because the parrot was mean. (Reason: My mother already offered her hand to the parrot. It caught the flesh between her thumb and index finger and clamped down and wouldn’t let go. Mother was pregnant at the time. She said she thought she would go into labor before the bird finally released her.)
Mrs. Bertie’s house was right on the river. When my parents moved to a house down the street, Wray and Mary Veazey took a shortcut to the river by walking through the front door of Mr. George and Miss Minnie Meadows’ house and then out the back door. Mary Veazey said they were polite and always said Hello when they passed through. But they never bothered to knock.
They played among the cotton bales on the gin yard and, unbeknownst to anyone else, borrowed cotton from some of the bales to use in various other pursuits.
One day they found a mangy dog at the river bridge and coaxed it to come with them, then told my mother it had followed them home. The dog was foaming at the mouth. Moments later, on the porch, it had some kind of fit. Mother hustled Wray and Mary Veazey into the house and called for my father, who ambled around from wherever he’d been and paused to size up the situation. The pause went on too long for Mother, who said, “Don’t just stand there with your teeth in your mouth. Do something.” (Note: Those encouraging words are still alive and well among certain members of the family.)
My grandfather took Wray trotline fishing once and they caught 149 pounds of catfish. A fish fry ensued. Wray described for his daughter how a catfish is prepared for the skillet. I won’t describe the process here, but I’ll add that I, too, used to help my grandfather skin catfish. (I was a cold-blooded little thing.) Wray could clean a fish in under a minute. I took a lot longer.
My uncle Donald taught Wray to drive his 1947 Chevy pickup. When Donald was taking Aunt Ethel’s 1951 Buick roadster to Martindale, about seven miles north on Highway 80, for inspection, he told Wray to follow in the pickup. Because of a miscommunication, they were separated, and Wray had no one to follow. On the way, he discovered the pickup would go 80 miles per hour over the washboard road. By the time he arrived in Martindale, so many things had fallen off the truck that it didn’t pass inspection. (Note: I later learned to drive in the same pickup, but if you think Donald let me out of his sight when I was behind the wheel, you have another think coming. I was a girl, and I belonged to his brother.)
One memory which wasn’t mentioned that day, but which I’d heard before, took place several years later, after I had finally made an appearance: Mother looked out the kitchen window and saw Wray using my stroller to drag race down the street, with me as passenger. She hollered at him to stop that before he killed me. He said I was having fun. I don’t remember the incident, and I’m sure it was never repeated.
I always had fun when my cousins visited. They were considerably older than I and so were extremely interesting, and they were nice enough to pay attention to me and to behave as if they didn’t mind the fourteen-year age difference. They’re still nice to me. I appreciate that more than I can say.
I also appreciate their sharing memories of a time when Fentress was a child’s paradise. Not many remember those days, and it’s important we talk—and write—about them to keep them alive as long as possible.
Addendum, August 18, 2014
To add a couple of my own memories–
When Wray’s family moved from Missouri to Houston, my mother got the job of chaperoning Wray and a U-Haul trailer of furniture from Fentress to Houston. Wray drove the car with a friend riding shotgun. Mother, Wray’s younger sister, and I sat in the back seat. Wray had a heavy foot. Periodically, Mother would get a glimpse of the speedometer and say, “Wray, slow down.” He would slow, then speed up again. “Wray, slow down.” He would slow, then speed up again. “Wray, slow down.” That was the way it went for the entire 150 miles: “Wray, slow down.”
Soon after they graduated from high school, Wray and his girlfriend, Mary, eloped. I was about four years old then, and I thought that was the most romantic thing I’d ever heard. I still think so. He couldn’t have brought a finer person into the family, or one we could have loved more than we love Mary.
At a Christmas gathering at Wray and Mary’s when I was thirteen, Wray took his sisters and our aunt riding on his motorcycle. He asked whether I wanted a ride. I looked at my father, who looked at Wray, who then took me for the safest, most boring motorcycle ride he could manage. I would have had a lot more fun if my parents hadn’t been opposed to hot-rodding.
Lest it be thought I have Fentress memories similar to those detailed above, I’ll clarify: I don’t. I never made gun powder, blew up Coke bottles, dismantled cotton bales, urged mad dogs to follow me home, invaded unsuspecting neighbors’ houses, or went roaring up Highway 80 in any make or model of pickup. And no one ever caught a possum for me. I was an obedient, unimaginative child, and I led a quiet, dull life of no adventure whatsoever.
And Veazey is my grandmother’s maiden name. In case anyone is wondering. Most people do.
The title Wremembering Wray is borrowed from the title of the memorial gathering hosted by Wray’s family.
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